Recipient of Christianity Today's Award of Merit in Politics and Public Life, 2016
What will rule our hearts: fear or compassion?
We can’t ignore the refugee crisis—arguably the greatest geo-political issue of our time—but how do we even begin to respond to something so massive and complex?
In Seeking Refuge, three experts from World Relief, a global organization serving refugees, offer a practical, well-rounded, well-researched guide to the issue.
- Who are refugees and other displaced peoples?
- What are the real risks and benefits of receiving them?
- How do we balance compassion and security?
Drawing from history, public policy, psychology, many personal stories, and their own unique Christian worldview, the authors offer a nuanced and compelling portrayal of the plight of refugees and the extraordinary opportunity we have to love our neighbors as ourselves.
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About the Author
MATTHEW SOERENS serves as the U.S. Director of Church Mobilization for World Relief. He previously served as the Field Director for the Evangelical Immigraton Table, a coalition of evangelical organizations of which World Relief is a founding member. He is the co-author of Welcoming the Stranger: Justice, Compassion&Truth in the Immigration Debate (InterVarsity Press, 2009), and a graduate of Wheaton College (IL) and DePaul University. Matt lives in Aurora, Illinois with his wife Diana and their two children.
DR. ISSAM SMEIR is a Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor who specializes in trauma treatment for refugees, victims of torture, and severely abused and neglected children. He holds a Master's Degree in Clinical Psychology from Wheaton College and a Doctoral Degree in Counseling and Clinical Supervision from Northern Illinois University, and has done post doctorate training in trauma and refugee issues at Harvard University. He has worked for World Relief since 2001, serving refugees and other immigrants from dozens of countries of origin. Prior to joining World Relief, Issam worked with several missions and relief organizations. Originally from the country of Jordan, Issam now lives in Suburban Chicago with his wife and four sons.
Read an Excerpt
On the Shores of the Global Refugee Crisis
By Stephan Bauman, Matthew Soerens, Issam Smeir
Moody PublishersCopyright © 2016 WORLD RELIEF
All rights reserved.
AN UNPRECEDENTED GLOBAL CRISIS
Today, an estimated sixty million people worldwide have been forcibly displaced from their homes, a number larger than at any time in recorded history. While many remain within the borders of their country, about twenty million individuals have been forced by persecution to escape, seeking refuge in a neighboring land. More than half of those refugees are children.
Our minds can only scarcely comprehend these statistics. Individual stories and images are what have ignited unprecedented global attention to the plight of refugees. In September 2015, nearly five years into a deadly civil war, the world's attention dramatically focused upon the conflict in Syria and the displacement it has engendered. With one photograph that hit newspapers and social media, millions witnessed the lifeless body of a three-year-old boy, Alan Kurdi, washed up on a Turkish beach after a failed attempt to reach safety in Europe. Filmmaker Ken Burns, reflecting on that photograph, observed: "The power of the single image to convey complex information is still there. It has that power to shock and arrest us. To make us stop for just a second and interrupt the flow."
Wincing as we glanced at the little boy, still wearing tiny shoes and a red T-shirt, we could not help but think of our own children. We grieve the loss of innocent life. We shudder to imagine the horror that would inspire a parent to embark upon such a dangerous journey, and, in a subconscious pivot from compassion to fear, wonder if such terror could reach our shores — our children — as well. We ask God why He allows such horrific injustice and suffering. And in response, we might hear the still, small voice of God asking His church, How will you respond?
This book is designed to be a tool for the church — followers of Jesus in every part of the world — to answer that question in ways informed both by the Bible and by the facts of the current crisis. While we hope what's written here will be useful to those of any faith or of no faith, our focus is particularly informed by our shared Christian worldview and by our conviction that, to quote pastor Bill Hybels, "The local church is the hope of the world." We believe that the church, in its many local incarnations throughout the world, must be at the center of the response to the global refugee crisis. That includes those, like the three of us, who form the church in the West: as columnist Michael Gerson, writing from Lebanon, a nation where nearly one in four residents is now a refugee, observes, "If American churches ... are not relevant here, they are irrelevant."
As American citizens (two of us by birth, one by naturalization), our focus in Seeking Refuge is primarily on how local churches and individual Christ followers in the West — in the United States, in particular, but also in Canada, Europe, and beyond — might best respond to the refugee crisis. In recent years, about 105,000 refugees (from all countries, not just Syria) have been resettled annually to developed countries, including around 70,000 that the United States accepted in 2015. Nearly one million more have made their own way to Europe in 2015 to seek asylum. Yet these numbers account for only a small fraction of the world's displaced people. The vast majority of refugees live outside of the West, generally in developing countries adjacent to the homelands they have been forced to flee. Most of those people find shelter in refugee camps or urban settings where basic needs such as food and water are often in short supply, and where most are barred from working to support themselves. As Christians in the West, our primary focus must be to support our brothers and sisters in these countries bearing the most significant weight of the refugee crisis.
Nevertheless, while the number of refugees who arrive on the shores of the Chesapeake Bay or Lake Michigan (near to our respective homes) or elsewhere in North America account for just a small fraction of all displaced people globally, they present the most proximate opportunity to respond with compassion. We need not and ought not choose between caring for refugees locally and caring for refugees overseas, because how we respond here directly impacts what happens there. The world is watching how we in the United States respond to the relatively few refugees who reach our shores, and our government's encouragement to other nations to protect those fleeing persecution lacks credibility if we do not do our part.
As Christians, our faith compels us to respond with welcome even as we support those helping the much larger numbers of displaced people elsewhere in the world. Reacting to this crisis will require much more from the Western church than simply sending a check overseas: while we can and should help financially, we must also emulate our brothers and sisters throughout the world who are responding with generous hospitality.
It is also important to note that, while much of the recent media coverage on refugees has been focused on the shores of the Mediterranean — on the refugee crisis emanating from Syria's civil war in particular, which has driven hundreds of thousands to seek safety in Europe and ignited fiery debates over whether Syrian refugees should be welcomed into the United States — this refugee crisis is much broader. This crisis is indeed global, affecting people on the shores of Africa's Lake Kivu and Lake Tanganyika, of the Andaman and South China Seas in Southeast Asia, and of the Pacific Ocean in Central America, among others.
Until recently, the response of most Westerners to refugees was generally one of sympathy. The US refugee resettlement program, though perhaps not widely understood, enjoyed bipartisan support in Congress and drew criticism only from a small segment of Americans. While broader immigration issues, including border security and how to respond to those in the country unlawfully, have long been controversial, refugees — who all enter the United States with full legal status, and who, by definition, have fled persecution and thus almost always have compelling stories — have not been particularly controversial.
By late 2015, however, the question of refugee resettlement had become contentious, particularly as the refugee crisis fueled by the Syrian conflict and the arrival of hundreds of thousands of asylum seekers into Europe dominated news headlines. Anti-refugee sentiment further intensified after the horrific terrorist attacks in Paris and then in California, which led many to speculate that the US refugee resettlement program could be infiltrated by terrorists. The US House of Representatives, where refugee resettlement had long enjoyed broad bipartisan support, voted in November 2015 to dramatically halt resettlement of refugees from Syria and Iraq, while another bill proposed a moratorium on refugee resettlement altogether. Governors of more than thirty states announced their opposition to Syrian refugees being resettled within their states. A Bloomberg News poll found that a slim majority of Americans (53 percent) now wanted the United States to abandon an announced plan to resettle ten thousand Syrian refugees in the upcoming year.
The question of refugees — and refugee resettlement, in particular — has divided the church as well. Many Christians feel torn between the natural desire to protect themselves and their families and the desire to minister compassionately to the vulnerable. Given the scope of this crisis, how Christ followers respond to this tension could define the church for a generation or more.
Our perspective on the refugee crisis is closely informed by our many years of experience in serving and resettling refugees in partnership with local churches through World Relief, the organization we serve. World Relief was formed in 1944, in response to the devastation and displacement of millions of refugees caused by World War II. The people of Park Street Church in Boston resolved to forego meals and send the money they would have spent on food to what they called the "War Relief Fund." When other churches, linked through the National Association of Evangelicals, joined the effort, they collectively raised $600,000 — in today's dollars, nearly $8 million — to help rebuild Europe. Over time, as that sacrificial compassion extended to serve other regions plagued by poverty and conflict, the War Relief Fund became World Relief.
Since the late 1970s, World Relief has been one of fewer than a dozen national agencies — and the only distinctly evangelical organization — authorized by the US State Department to resettle refugees within the United States. Our resettlement program began when a couple named Grady and Evelyn Mangham, who had served for many years as missionaries in Vietnam with The Christian and Missionary Alliance, wanted to help churches in the United States welcome Vietnamese refugees. The Manghams worked with the US State Department, as well as their denomination and World Relief, to find local churches throughout the country to welcome refugees. From those origins, World Relief has helped to welcome more than 275,000 refugees into our nation, partnering alongside thousands of local churches and tens of thousands of church-based volunteers.
While we are committed to presenting fairly the diverging views on this complex and now controversial topic, we do not come to the question of how to respond to refugees as dispassionate observers: in our work with World Relief, each of us, from different vantage points, has been a practitioner deeply involved in serving refugees, driven by our belief that doing so is an important way that we can live out Jesus' command to love our neighbors (Matt. 22:39). Though we each work toward the same mission of empowering local churches to serve the vulnerable, we bring different experiences and perspectives to this topic.
In our early twenties, my wife, Belinda, and I left our rural hometown in Wisconsin for what was meant to be a six-month stint in West Africa, working with Mercy Ships. I took a leave of absence from my career in business and Belinda from hers as a schoolteacher. Having barely traveled, we were inexperienced and naive. Within months the directors asked us to co-lead a medical team among two warring tribes in Northern Ghana. It was here, in the bush, where we first experienced how violence devastates people, often destroying their homes and tearing families apart.
It was several years later, though, while working in the Balkans near the end of the Bosnian war, that I began to seriously grapple with forced migration. I met refugees in the process of fleeing — Bosnians, mainly, but also Croatians and Serbians — who were forced to escape their homes because of the conflict. Some were nearly killed; many had lost family members. All wished they could return home. But they couldn't.
One man had fled his home in Bosnia with his wife and his accordion. Although he had lost everything else, including family members, he remained hopeful that someday he could rebuild his life. His accordion became his means to earn a living.
Today, two decades later, I serve as president of World Relief. Helping refugees, both internationally and domestically, is a major area of focus for us. It's an honor to work alongside my colleagues on the front lines in the United States and in countries where people are displaced, such as Jordan, Iraq, Turkey, South Sudan, Congo, and many others.
I recently returned from Jordan where I met a pastor who opened his church to Syrian refugee children and their mothers to learn life skills and participate in activities to overcome their trauma. When he did, however, many people from his congregation left for good. Even kids from the community taunted Syrian children as they walked to the church.
"They come to us bleeding," he said. But he told me how his church has changed for the better. "For so many years we tried to share God's love to the people in Syria but we were stopped. Now Syria has come to us and to our church." It is a privilege to work with churches like this one and others throughout the globe who are responding to the crisis in profound ways.
I was born in Mafraq, Jordan, a city that is known today for hosting the largest Syrian refugee camp in the world. At that time, however, Mafraq was a small Bedouin town on the edge of the desert that hardly anyone had heard of.
While growing up in Jordan, I became accustomed to wars, crises, and refugees. Over the years Jordan became an oasis of peace in a troubled region, hosting millions of refugees (Palestinians, Lebanese, Iraqis, Libyans, and finally Syrians). When I was seven years old, our local church welcomed several Lebanese families who had fled civil war in their country. At that time, the idea of refugees did not mean much to me. The children whom I befriended from Lebanon were just like other friends who came to live in our town and attended school with us. They moved with their families after a year or two, to settle in a faraway country called the USA. I never heard from my friends again, but often wondered what had become of them.
My first encounter with the word refugee was quite personal. One day as a child I opened the door to an old woman whom I did not recognize. The woman was wearing a colorful dress and carried many bags. She knew my name, so I ran deeper into the house to call my mom. My mom was very excited: this old woman was my grandmother. She had come to visit us from the West Bank/Palestine. I later learned that my parents had left their small town of Nisf Jubeil in the West Bank and moved to live in Jordan after the second Arab-Israeli war. They could not go back. That day refugee became personal. I was a refugee's son.
Twenty-five years after that incident, in 2000,1 came to the United States to study clinical psychology at Wheaton College. The peace process between the Israelis and Palestinians had just collapsed. The news from the region was bad. I recalled spending most of my day reading and listening to disturbing reports that left me angry and resentful. During that time one of my professors asked another international student, who I discovered later was an Israeli, to open the class with a prayer for peace in the Middle East.
A few days later, the Israeli student approached me and invited me to his house for dinner. I was surprised by his invitation, but more stunned that I accepted. I walked to his house that evening with many questions ruminating in my mind. What if we ended up arguing about politics? What if he was rude or insensitive to me?
Fortunately, none of that happened, and the evening turned out to be pleasant. While playing with his children after dinner, for the first time it hit me that this man was just like me. We were experiencing opportunities that our fathers never had. We were both told things about each other that were not true.
Over the years our friendship deepened. Whenever I heard news that made me angry and resentful, I remembered my friend and his family. I needed him, as much as he needed me, to give me the right perspective, that we are all created in God's image. Today as I look back at that encounter, I have come to believe that God was preparing me for the next chapter of my life. I needed to find inner peace before I could help others find it.
As I was finishing my studies in the United States, I received a call from the director of the counseling center at a World Relief office, asking me to help a newly resettled Iraqi refugee who was struggling to adjust to his new life in this country. The refugee was a military officer in the Iraqi army. He was having such a difficult time adjusting to his new entry-level job that he had threatened to go on a hunger strike until World Relief would find him different work. Later I joined World Relief as a full-time counselor, and for the last fifteen years, I have counseled traumatized refugees who are dealing with a haunting past and a challenging present.
If I had one word with which to summarize my work with refugees, it would be stories. Most whom I have spent time with have had one thing in common: a horrific story of trauma and loss. Day in and day out, young moms have shared with me about being forced to abandon their babies. Men have told me about being raped repeatedly in prison, and boys have recalled walking for months in jungles, seeking safety and witnessing friends eaten alive by wild animals.
Stories of triumph against all odds are common as well. I always enjoy working with new groups of people. The Somali Bantu population, an ethnic group systematically enslaved for decades in Africa, was particularly interesting. They came to the United States after living for many years in tents in Kenya. When they arrived in this country, they had to catch up on hundreds of years of technology. I witnessed Somali Bantu children on their first day in the United States stand in the shower and squeal with delight at the sight of water sprinkles, which they had never seen before. Today some of those children are in college.
Between the tears, I have also heard many funny stories of cultural misunderstandings that, though perhaps frustrating at the time, we could eventually all laugh at. Once, a refugee who was not aware of the "daylight savings time" concept went to work one hour early for several days before finally understanding the time change. It actually ended up helping him with his reputation for tardiness at work!
While I continued to serve refugees resettled to suburban Chicago, in 2011,1 also began to spend three months each year in countries such as Libya, Tunisia, Egypt, Jordan, Turkey, and Lebanon. As one of a few Arabic-speaking experts in trauma therapy, I train local mental health professionals and supervise their work from a distance via the Internet. While this experience has been extremely rewarding, it has not involved the local church in these afflicted nations. I have prayed for an opportunity to help the church shine as a city on a hill, serving as an oasis for healing.
In 2015, my prayers were answered when a local Syrian church leader, whom I had never met, called and asked me to train Syrian Christian leaders in the area of trauma therapy. Two months later, I spent four days with fifteen Syrian church leaders — Jesuit priests, nuns, doctors, and others from the provinces of Aleppo, Homs, and Damascus — at a monastery in Lebanon. Every morning, I awoke to the sound of hymns, eager to meet with these brothers and sisters who were filled with a joy and peace that "transcends all understanding" (Phil. 4:7).
Excerpted from Seeking Refuge by Stephan Bauman, Matthew Soerens, Issam Smeir. Copyright © 2016 WORLD RELIEF. Excerpted by permission of Moody Publishers.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
ContentsForeword by Bill and Lynne Hybels, 11,
CHAPTER 1: An Unprecedented Global Crisis, 15,
CHAPTER 2: Jesus Was a Refugee: Thinking Biblically about Migration, 29,
CHAPTER 3: The Human Face of Forced Migration: The Power of a Story, 49,
CHAPTER 4: No Fear in Love: Grappling with Genuine Concerns over Refugee Resettlement, 65,
CHAPTER 5: From Strangers to Neighbors to Family: Understanding Refugee Resettlement, 85,
CHAPTER 6: Not (Quite) Refugees: Other Displaced People, 99,
CHAPTER 7: The Church's Moment: Practical Opportunities to Respond, 113,
CHAPTER 8: Helping without Hurting: Understanding Challenges to Refugee Adjustment, 131,
CHAPTER 9: Root Causes: Responding to the Larger Issues That Compel People to Flee, 153,
CHAPTER 10: Confronting Injustice: Why Policy Matters, 167,
CHAPTER 11: "A Shining City on a Hill", 181,
APPENDIX: U.S. Refugee Resettlement Program Contacts, 185,
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Seeking Refuge sounds like it might be the title of a novel, and then you read the subtitle: On the Shores of the Global Refugee Crisis, and decide that this book is probably more than fiction. And as you read you quickly come to realize that this must be true because there is no way anyone could make this up. Seeking Refuge , (Bauman, Soerens, and Smeir, Moody Publishers, 2016, is the all too true story of an ongoing crisis. The crisis is a global crisis and shows no signs of slowing down. It starts in one country and quickly moves to another. People on one continent are affected, and soon they move to another continent, and eventually some move to still a third continent. Seeking Refuge is the story of 60 million people who have been forcible displaced from their home. For many of us immigration, migration and Refugee resettlement is a just political term, a nightmare, full of misconceptions and misperceptions. But within the pages of this book we are confronted with the harsh reality. Several harsh realities in fact. There is a crisis, and we want someone else to deal with it, after all, how does it affect me, but then our cities become places of refuge and we can no longer hide from the facts. The authors ask us to think biblically about migration: Jesus was a refugee. His family was forced to flee their homeland because of a tyrannical government ( Matthew 2:13-15). And for those who do read the Bible, there were many heroes of the faith who left their homeland and traveled to another land. Throughout both Testaments of the Bible, there are admonitions on how to treat the alien, the stranger, the foreigner, the refugee. And it should come as no surprise to read that they are to be treated kindly and with love, while expecting them to respect the laws of the land to which they have migrated. Christians should be aware of and take into account the biblical perspective on forced migration. And then comes the next step. Put a human face on the story. And the stories in this book are markedly human. Of course when dealing with the unknown, there are fears, and the authors also address that fact, along with some ways to alleviate those fears. Facing the fears is a first step on a wonderful journey that moves us from fear to seeing those who migrate here as good neighbors, friends and sometimes even family. That's on a personal level. But maybe we need more than that. This is a global problem, a global crisis that needs to be addressed on a larger level. In this country the President has raised the limit on the number of UN approved refugees, all of whom have been thoroughly vetted by several Departments of our Government. The president can raise the limit, but he is not going to personally meet an additional 15, 000 refugees, get them settled, help them find their way around, teach them how to shop and bank here in the US. So this is an excellent opportunity for the Church to get involved. You or your church can contact World Relief or (as in my case in Utah) Catholic Community Services, and learn how to be a volunteer, learn how to get involved in this rewarding endeavor. The authors provide several practical opportunities to help, and then offer a word of caution. As helpful as we want to be, sometimes we have to be careful that our helping doesn't hurt. Doesn't hurt those we are trying to help, or doesn't hurt the one helping. It's sometimes much easier to 'do for' than to help others learn how to do f
Moody Publishers has teamed up with Stephen Bauman, Matthew Sorens, and Issam Smeir for this very timely, very relevant book on the global refugee crisis. The staggering number of people who have been forcibly displaced from their homes is higher today than at any other time in recorded history. This fact puts us all, especially American Christians, in a critical position. Seeking Refuge provides a Christian perspective to the refugee crisis along with a biblically based response. We are reminded in Matthew 2:13-15 that not long after Jesus' birth, He along with Mary and Joseph were refugees in a foreign land. As pointed out in the book, the Bible contains multiple examples of people who had to flee under the threat of violence or persecution including Jacob, Moses, David, Elijah, and the early followers of Jesus. What I love most about this book is that it is truly grounded in Scripture. Readers are encouraged to think of refugees as image-bearers of God and as such have inherent dignity and intrinsic worth. They have talents. They are answers to problems in the world. They need and deserve our time, our attention, our resources, our prayers, and perhaps most important of all our love. Seeking Refuge is very well-rounded in that it addresses so many aspects and viewpoints. The reader gets economic facts and statistics, the processes for volunteers and their organizations, and interesting comparisons of refugees and immigrants. There are stories from refugees and volunteers. Also included is extensive information about the process for refugee entry into the United States. I believe this book is perfect for churches, anyone interested in volunteer work concerning refugees, as well as the average everyday American citizen. Seeking Refuge addresses the many concerns some have about accepting refugees into the United States, particularly those from the Middle East. The only question that remains is one we must answer individually and as a nation which is: will we live by fear or by faith? I received a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest review of it.