Mark Miller asked if I might enjoy creating a video for music he wrote for Dona Nobis Pacem sung by the Tennessee Chamber Chorus. Here is our resulting collaboration. Last year, we worked together on this video, a lament for Advent, How Long?
What measures should guide the management of a church? This is the central question in an article published last week at the Harvard Business Review website. The answer given is not the usual numbers of attendance, membership or giving. Instead, All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena, California’s use of data is given as an alternative.
The article author, Zachary First, reports that All Saints has 8,000 members on its rolls, but that they did not just want more numbers. The church’s Rector, the Rev. Ed Bacon (from Jesup, Georgia) told him, “Sure, we love to see big numbers, but what really makes our hearts beat fast is transformed people transforming the world. Membership isn’t our business. Turning the human race into the human family is.”
Guided by this approach, All Saints replaced the question: How do we grow our membership? with a question more focused on the outcome the leadership desired: How do we more deeply engage the people we serve? The size of All Saints made gathering data a little trickier than at a church where the priest and vestry members know all the other members. They began with software to track engagement and weighted some engagement more significant than others.
All Saints’ approach certainly isn’t the only option, but I do like the way they turned typical stats around by asking a different question. Rather than asking how many people are a part of the church, they asked how engaged those attending were and so rather than wondering how to get more bodies, they worked on more fully connecting with the folks already present. The full article is online here: What to measure if you’re mission driven.
What do you think of the approach? How might you adapt it to your congregation? Asked differently, if we are in the business of changing lives by the power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, then how is business?
The Rev. Canon Frank Logue, Canon to the Ordinary
with prayers for those martyred at Mother Emanuel AME Church
Also offered as a Word file: georgiaepiscopal.org/docs/prayersofthepeople-martyrsofcharleston.docx
Celebrant: In the midst of the storm, Jesus cried out, “Peace! Be Still! As we are tossed about in the storms of life, we pray to the Lord of Life to give us this peace beyond understanding, saying “Lord have mercy.”
Reader: We pray for Mother Emanuel Church in Charleston as its members gather today in grief. We pray for all the congregations of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, giving thanks for their witness and faithfulness. We pray for your whole church, that we may speak against the sin of racism even as we follow the faithful example of the families of those killed this week as they offered forgiveness in the face of hate. We pray to the Lord,
People: Lord have mercy.
Reader: We pray for this nation and its leaders that we may confront our history of oppression and our ongoing injustice. Give us the courage to break down the walls which divide us and bring your perfect justice to all people. We pray to the Lord,
People: Lord have mercy.
Reader: We pray for the peoples of the world divided by misunderstanding, fear, and hate, that every system of oppression may be brought down, the lowly lifted up and the hungry filled with good things. We pray to the Lord,
People: Lord have mercy.
Reader: We pray for this community (town, county, etc.) and all who live in it, that we may love one another as you love us and make that love known, standing together against evil in our midst, and speaking your love to hate, knowing that love always wins. We pray to the Lord,
People: Lord have mercy.
Reader: We pray for those who have murdered others out of fear and hatred that they may find repentance and forgiveness that comes from your alone. We remember the dying, the sick, the prisoners, the hungry, the homeless, and all in need or trouble, praying that you will visit them with your healing presence. We pray to the Lord,
People: Lord have mercy.
Reader: We pray for the Rev. Clementa Pinckney, Tywanza Sanders, Cynthia Hurd, the Rev. Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, Myra Thompson, Ethel Lance, the Rev. Daniel Simmons, the Rev. DePayne Middleton-Doctor, and Susie Jackson, and all who mourn for them. We remember also all the victims of hate crimes, injustice, and oppression; and for all the departed. We pray to the Lord,
People: Lord have mercy.
Celebrant: Just and merciful God, who stilled the wind with a word and silenced the sea with a rebuke; speak your peace that surpasses understanding into the storms of hatred and violence that swirl throughout our land that your love and justice may be known and that all your children may all be one; through him who is one with you and the Holy Spirit, now and forever. Amen.
Smartphones have flipped the script for advertisers. 82% of smartphone users have counted on the device to guide a purchasing decision at the point of sale according to research by Google. I am not surprised, because I am one of the 82%. I have found myself checking Rotten Tomato scores when selecting a movie, consumer reviews when buying a television, and more. And this “I want to buy moment” is just one of what Google names micro-moments. The search giant’s studies also find micro-moments for:
- I want to know
- I want to go
- I want to do
Like supplicants seeking direction from the Oracle at Delphi, we go to the internet intent on finding an answer. We pick up or tablet or phone or open up a browser on our computer and we ask a search engine to guide us as that key decision points occurs. And beyond product reviews, restaurant recommendations, and the rest of the micro-moment decisions, people around the world ask:
- Does God love me?
- Who is Jesus?
- Will I go to heaven?
Being there in those micro-moments also flips the script on Evangelism. Instead of being a nuisance, the digital evangelist answers the actual questions a person has in the moment when she or he really wants guidance.
This is the rationale behind a resolution I am proposing to the 78th General Convention of the Episcopal Church. Together with Steve Pankey of the Diocese of the Central Gulf Coast and Brendan O’Sullivan-Hale of the Diocese of Indianapolis, we call on our church to target existing communication budget dollars to create significant pieces of infrastructure that will allow an existing proof-of-concept experiment to move from beta test to full-scale launch with relative ease. Find out all about it here: Conducting an Online Digital Evangelism Test, but a few key points are that for this to work, the Episcopal Church must:
- Develop quality editorial content to answer real life questions in the moment.
- Fund advertising to attract and build an online audience.
- Build capacity to connect people asking questions online to local ministries.
Fortunately, for our church, the Rev. Jake Dell, Manager, Digital Marketing and Advertising Sales for the Episcopal Church is already well down the road on what we need. He has proven the concept works and has a handle on next steps. This resolution is designed to build on the previous work by taking the program to the next level. And best of all, no new budget dollars are needed.
Yet that is not what excites me. Let me be clear. The Incarnation is not virtual reality. The goal here is far from virtual. This program will move from real life problems, through guidance proven through centuries of Christian history, to connecting people people seeking answers to communities where questions are valued. The end goal is not building up the Episcopal Church, but connecting a lost and hurting world to the love of God as found in Jesus. Not being out there on the digital frontier is irresponsible. I am pleased to offer this resolution to support the good work already underway at the churchwide level.
The resolution is online here: D019 Conducting an Online Digital Evangelism Test
The Rev. Canon Frank Logue, Canon to the Ordinary
Episcopal Diocese of Georgia
As an Episcopal Church planter who founded King of Peace Episcopal Church in Kingsland, Georgia from 2000-2010, I remain very interested in the work of starting new congregations. Some friends and I drafted a resolution for the General Convention challenging the church to expand our church’s capacity to plant new churches. You should check it out.
Here I want to dispel some common myths that I have run across in 18 years of working with church planting in the Episcopal Church. In place of these, I want to offer the truth I have observed, even if some of the truth is more than a bit inconvenient. I am pictured here baptizing a new member of the Body of Christ while at King of Peace.
Church Planting Myths
MYTH 1 – Church Plants Aren’t Really Episcopal
Check out Grace Church in Yukon, Oklahoma and Our Lady of Guadelupe in Seattle and you will quickly discover that some very Episcopal churches that are among those traditional churches who received $100,000 grants through the churchwide budget.
An interesting issue though is that I have seen some push back around the church on the work funded through Mission Enterprise Zone and Church Planting grants from the 2012 General Convention that seems to have forgotten recent history. I was in the hearings that led to those resolutions and the whole goal (and the reason for excitement) was that Deputies and Bishops wanted to grant greater freedom in order to foster creativity. The idea was to fund some projects that point to new possibilities. So, yes, we are seeing some innovative projects like The Abbey in Birmingham, Alabama, which is a coffee shop with a church. That is perfect. The 2012 General Convention said clearly that we need to experiment boldly for the sake of the church. Those experiments have been taking place and we can see the fruit that new work is already bearing. (Pictured here is one of six baptisms on Pentecost at Grace Episcopal Church in Yukon, Oklahoma.)
Just don’t buy the myth that new church starts don’t look and feel Episcopal. This not only misses the work we did in Kingsland, but also the church plants started by colleagues like Susan Brown Snook at Nativity in Scottsdale, Arizona and Alex Montes-Vela at St. Mary Magdalene in Manor, Texas. I am just equally excited about the work done by my friend Jimmy Bartz at Thad’s in Santa Monica, California. Thad’s is a mission station doing work I am proud to find in the Episcopal Church. We need all of these ways of being church and more and one can easily show how they are all true to the best of our Anglican tradition.
MYTH 2 – Church Planting Harms Existing Churches
This seems like common sense, that a new Episcopal church would sap strength from any nearby Episcopal church. But as by design new church starts reach out specifically to those with no church home—usually in different age, ethnic, or socio-economic groups from those already reached—little crossover exists. This is not to say that no parishioner from an existing church ever wanders to the new church, but that this small amount of movement has no large impact. And at the same time, the missional focus of the new ministry is not without its effect on neighboring parishes. I know that prior to our starting King of Peace, Christ Church in St. Marys was 10 miles away and our nearest Episcopal neighbor. The congregation had discussed for years whether to build a new church building as the existing space was lovely, but tight on Sundays. After we got well underway, they started building and the county had two new Episcopal church buildings within a year of each other (Christ Church’s new building, with the historic one in the background is pictured here). The spirit of taking a risk for the Kingdom of God is sometimes caught by other congregations.
MYTH 3 – Church Plants Are Too Expensive
With our preference for full-time seminary-trained priests, Episcopal churches carry significant start up costs. Yet, money invested on a church start quickly leverages other money. The vision and passion in a new church often attracts sacrificial giving rather than simply dues paying members. From a strictly monetary viewpoint (which I do not hold), we have found in the Diocese of Georgia that as new churches buy land and build buildings with money raised from the congregation, they come to enjoy assets well beyond the value put in by the broader church. This is not to say that starting churches is cheap, but that it is fiscally responsible to invest the money given to the glory of God to expand the work of Christ’s Body, the church.
MYTH 4 – Church Plants Are Not Sustainable
Moving to self-sustainability is the goal held out for every new ministry. We will get you going, the denomination or diocese says, but you need to stand on your own feet as quickly as possible. Some new church starts will never reach this goal. This is just true. In every venture begun without assurance of success, the possibility of failing to meet the mark is ever present. Let us first acknowledge that there are two types of new ventures. Each can and should become self supporting, but there is more than one way to achieve that goal.
Traditional church starts can attract enough people to the new ministry to support that work within a projected period of time, whether the advanced planning sets that target at 3 or 5 years. After which the new congregation will begin to give back to the diocese.
But then there are new starts like Kairos West, a Community Center which is a cathedral ministry in Asheville, North Carolina, that offers a mid-week worship service in their store front. As long as a new ministry like this can generate the interest and excitement of others to support this work, even though they never attend, the ministry is self-sustaining. This model has worked for decades with campus ministries, for example, where no one expects the college students to give enough in offerings to pay the full costs of the ministry. So, let us broaden our definition of self-sustaining before holding out the goal for all new ministries equally. (Pictured is the Rev. Alex Montes-Vela with one of this year’s Easter baptisms at St. Mary Magdalene in Manor, Texas).
MYTH 5 – Episcopalians Don’t Know How to Start Churches
Across this church, I know gifted priests with proven skills in starting new congregations. At one point I spent 18 months assisting the Rev. Tom Brackett, the Episcopal Church’s Missioner for New Church Starts & Missional Initiatives, in hosting online meetings for those interested in and already working in founding new congregations. Month after month, I met an ever broadening circle of practitioners who know this work well and carry out this evangelistic work in their day to day ministries. Tom continues that work. My friend Susan Brown Snook has also just written the book on Episcopal Church Planting, God Gave the Growth. Buy this book even if you never intend to plant a church. The strategies, approaches, and problem-solving
techniques she offers are good for the whole church.
TRUTH 1 – Church Plants Form Outside In
I started by knocking on 100 doors and asking my new neighbors what an Episcopal church could do for Kingsland, Georgia. Then the new church set about to make ministry to the community its first priority. This is a common approach. In all cases, I find that new churches start by considering the context in which the new worshiping community will form and then matching the ministry to that context. Being context sensitive is not just a clever use of buzzwords, but a way of engaging the corner of the vineyard in which you plant. I find this common to the DNA of church planting work. This outward focus is Gospel driven and a compelling example to other churches.
TRUTH 2 – Church Plants Are Demonstration Gardens
Because of that outward focus, church plants try new things. Sometimes new ministries try and fail, sometimes they try and succeed wildly. The failures as well as the successes lead to important lessons. This work then germinates new ideas for others to try. One example is the Lutheran congregation St. Lydia’s whose dinner party style of worship has led to other congregations in different denominations to try dinner church.
TRUTH 3 – Church Plants Reach New People
Reaching new people is no accident. The work of church planting is not stealing sheep from other stalls, but leaving the sheep fold and going after the lost sheep. People with the passion to go into this risky enterprise do so out of a desire to reach more people with the love of God as found in Jesus Christ. As church plants focus on the demographics we are not reaching in an area, they come in contact with folks who would not otherwise enter the red doors of an Episcopal Church. This is good news.
TRUTH 4 – Church Plants Challenge Complacency
Every time I look at the statistics and feel some despair for the future of the church, I look to church plants taking root and regain hope. How can I read about the Rev. Toua Vang in planting Hmong Churches and not get pumped up? Or when I am challenged by a new idea like the Lutheran-Episcopal campus ministry that led to a farm church at The Abundant Table., how can I do other than rejoice. I find this work inspiring and I am not alone. We are seeing community gardens like Food for a Thousand at St. Patrick’s Episcopal Church in Albany, Georgia inspired by the ministry they saw elsewhere across the church. The garden in Albany then further inspires others.
TRUTH 5 – Church Plants Are Risky
As long as I am telling the truth, I need to name that starting new churches is risky. Not all will survive. In Evangelical church circles, I read that 4 in 5 new churches won’t survive the first few years. Here in Georgia, we have started five new congregations since 1999 and two of those have closed since their founding. This is painful and true. Yet, we learned from those experiences. And as we have learned a lot as a denomination, our success rate improves. Those new churches that follow best practices like those Susan Brown Snook describes in her book, and those practices shared in Episcopal conferences like Plant My Church, will have increased chances of success. We will never reach 100%, with every new start founded still around in 20 or more years. But if we had not attempted new work out of fear of failure, the Diocese of Georgia would have three fewer congregations and hundreds fewer Jesus’ followers gathering to worship each week. More importantly, the many lives changed by our savior would have been left untouched, at least by us, had we not decided to take the risk and start new churches.
Why Plant New Churches?
Susan Brown Snook’s post Treasure to Share: Why Plant New Churches makes an excellent case for this work based on the research for her book. Finally, Adam Trambley explains the Church Planting Resolution, sharing the vision which animates the resolves.
The Episcopal Church of the Nativity in Scottsdale, Arizona.
“We can no longer wait inside our sanctuaries to welcome those
who want to become Episcopalian….We can continue to watch our church dwindle
until it someday becomes an endowed museum to the faith of our forebears….
Or we can lose our life for Jesus’ sake so that we might save it.”
The text above is from a document I am proud to have been on the team to create: A Memorial to the Church. The text is meant to give focus to the work of the General Convention of the Episcopal Church which meets next month in Salt Lake City. My friends and I created nothing new. Not only did will build on the good work done by the Task Force for Reimagining the Episcopal Church, but the decline of mainline Christian churches is no secret and so many of us across a number of denominations are all looking how how best to be faithful in these changing circumstances. Life-giving transformation must come. Fortunately, the Holy Spirit is quite capable of making all things new.
What is a Memorial?
A Memorial is an odd term used by the Episcopal Church for a written statement urging action by the General Convention. Memorials written by Chicago, Montana, New Jersey, and South Florida in 1964 led to a name change dropping “Protestant” from the “Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States.” More notably William Augustus Muhlenberg and others presented a Memorial to the House of Bishops in 1853 which touched off increased ecumenical work by our church.
Not a New “Decade of Evangelism”
Following the lead of the 1988, meeting of all the bishops of the Anglican Church, called the Lambeth Conference, the General Convention of the Episcopal Church named the 1990s as the Decade of Evangelism. Let’s forget for the moment that a church declaring a Decade of Evangelism is like an airline declaring a Decade of Flight. The 1990s saw steeper church decline than in previous decades. This doesn’t mean evangelism is a bad idea. The decline just means we, as a denomination, didn’t share the Gospel the way we hoped. But we never really thought we could grow the Body of Christ by passing resolutions in meetings did we?
This is why the present Memorial to the Church acknowledges clearly that none of what we might hope will occur other than on a foundation of reading scripture, praying individually and corporately, and serving God through serving others. In that sense, we don’t need the General Convention to bring about the transformation for which we yearn. That just comes through faithfully following Jesus and sharing the love of God with others.
Specific Action to Make this Real
The Memorial gains meaning when it is made real with actions of the General Convention which live into the change for which it calls. So, those of us who wrote the Memorial also crafted nine resolutions that give substance to the initiative. I will write about these resolutions in the coming days, but they are all gathered with the Memorial at EpiscopalResurrection.org
Please note that you will see people have joined us in signing the Memorial, but doing so is not endorsement for this group of resolutions. Each Deputy and Bishop will prayerfully decide their own way to support the goals of the Memorial through the votes they cast in Convention. But the key is that each of us who sign the Memorial agree that this is the vision toward which we are working. We hold in common a desire to remove obstacles embedded in current structures and to refocus “our energies from building up a large, centralized, expensive, hierarchical church-wide structure, to networking and supporting mission at the local level, where we all may learn how to follow Jesus into all of our neighborhoods.”
I believe if we take concrete action in support of this while building up the Body of Christ through the practices of the faith we uphold, then whether the specific resolutions found at that website pass or not, the General Convention will begin to turn our beloved church toward the right goal.
As Anglicans, we stongly believe in the power of scripture and the importance of reading scripture in our worship. Our worship has a dual emphasis of both Word and Sacrament and a significant amount of sacred scripture is read each time we gather to worship. Having the scripture read so that all hear and understand is then very important to liturgy done well. (Mimi Jones is pictured reading the Epistle at Christ Church Episcopal, Savannah)
I remember being struck by how well the readings in worship were done when I first visited Virginia Theological Seminary. There was a reading from a complicated argument being put forward by St. Paul in his letter to the Romans which I heard so clearly that it was compelling in a way I had not previously encountered. I was struck then by the power of scripture itself to strike a chord before anyone comments on it. The sermon that day was not on the reading from Romans, yet I left the chapel still ruminating on the reading as well as on the Gospel on which the sermon did focus.
Oscar winner Olivia de Havilland (pictured here and below) has been for many years a lay reader at our Cathedral of Holy Trinity in Paris. The Rt. Rev. Pierre Whelon, Bishop in Charge of the Convocation of Episcopal Churches in Europe, wrote an essay on his interview with her on how she prepares to read in church. She says in part that “reading the Scriptures in church has to be an authentic proclamation of the reader’s faith. Preparation is essential – there are far too many last-minute readings in our churches.”
She points out what a difference it makes for the reader to pray through the text and wrestle with its meaning before proclaiming the text in worship. The full article is well worth reading. It is online here Reading the Bible as a Statement of Faith. The award winning actress does not recommend a dramatic reading, but reading must flow out of the faith of the reader. Yet she does come around to an actor’s understanding. She told Bishop Whelon “I once asked Jimmy Cagney, ‘just what is acting?’ He said at first, ‘I dunno…’ But then he said, ‘All I know is that you have to mean what you say.'”
In Romans 10:14 Paul writes, “How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?” But lay readers should also know that in their public proclamation of God’s Word that a congregation can also hear and so come to believe.
I know that nothing is more formational than encountering the Word of God and so nothing can be more foundational to our liturgies than scripture read well. I commend this essay to all who read scripture in our congregations.
The Rev. Canon Frank Logue
Canon to the Ordinary
I often hear from congregations that they want to grow their attendance. While growth for growth’s sake does not sound like the Gospel to me, I do share the interest in expanding the Kingdom of God. Here are a few thoughts on some actions most every church can undertake.
Some who attends your church now making a personal invitation to friends, family, or co-workers is the best way for you to connect with new people. This is true for everyone, but even moreso for those who are new to your church. Newcomers know a whole new group of people to invite who may not yet have heard of your church. Teach newcomer classes on the importance of invitation and talking through ways to do this. Then combine this together with teaching the five-minute rule (that those who attend the church should give the first five minutes after church to meeting new people, before turning to talk to those they already know). Doing this raises the awareness with those new to your congregation and in so doing extends the reach of your church. In support of this, creating an attractive brochure to share.
Sending out invitations to those with changes of address is a great way to reach those most likely to be looking for a new church. There are mailing services found online that will sell changes of address information. Real Estate agents should have access to this information for free. Sending out a card with an invitation to join you for worship is a way to make a direct connection with those who may be shopping for a church. Hanging doorhangers with an invitation to worship in homes close to your church is another way to sow these seeds.
Hospitality and Incorporation
No matter what you do to invite people to your church, it is hospitality and newcomer incorporation which connect people to your congregation. Get the invitation right and this wrong and your church will not grow. Skip all of the above and get this right and you can still grow. Put it all together and you set the stage for numeric growth in attendance. I have found that when we do all we can to prepare to welcome new people, the Holy Spirit speaks to hearts and minds and new people start showing up. For in the end, all we are discussing is not about the church alone, but about the church as a means of connecting people more closely to God through the local church, and this is not something we do alone, but an activity in which we join with what God is already doing in the lives of the people we want to reach.
Celebrate the Gift of Hospitality-This means that we will need to identify people with a real gift for hospitality. These naturally welcoming folk need to be encouraged. The work they do in looking out for and speaking to visitors needs to be elevated and set as a model to others. Call people out in the bulletin or newsletter giving them credit for their gift of hospitality. This will not be a gift shared by all in your church, so make sure those who are good at greeting know their abilities are valued and encourage them in this vocation.
Incorporating Visitors-Once newcomers have arrived, have those who greet them encourage signing in the guestbook. This will get a physical address and an email address and phone number. It is a best practice for each visitor to get a letter from the Vicar or Rector within a few days of the visit. One other contact is also a best practice. For some congregations, this means “mugging” the newcomer by having a couple of people on a hospitality committee drop by with a coffee mug in a bag with a brochure and the most recent newsletter. Other congregations take fresh baked bread. Still others rely on a phone call. Whatever you choose to do, make sure it is a low impact contact. Whether dropping something by or making a call, it should only be a brief visit in which it is clear that something is being dropped off with no expectation. We want to balance being in contact, with seeming to attack.
Newcomers who come back a couple of times should be encouraged toward a newcomers’ class or meeting. Whatever your church uses to do this, it should be made clear how someone can get more involved in your church in a way meaningful to them. (The photos above are from the Facebook albums of St. Paul’s, Augusta, St. Patrick’s, Albany, and Christ Church, Savannah.)
The Rev. Canon Frank Logue, Canon to the Ordinary
How we respond to people who are most in need demonstrates our beliefs more than any statement of faith. On this week when we enter anew into the passion, death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus, I can’t help but reflect on these sacred mysteries in the light of having sojourned this Lent with refugees and those working with them. The Episcopal Migration Ministries Pilgrimage to Kenya and Rwanda brought our group face to face with some of the worst of man’s inhumanity to man. We met those who suffered in the Congolese War, spent time learning about the Rwandan Genocide, and encountered the victims of gender-based violence finding anew their dignity with the help of others.
Moving past identity as refugees
First, I want to acknowledge briefly the very problem of discussing “refugees” as the term, while helpful, creates an unecessary distance. The term “refugee” is an important political word which seeks to assist persons who “owing to wellfounded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion….” Refugee is a useful political term, but not a theological one. For Christians working in migration ministries, we must push past this identifier to something more essential.
The Image of God
From the first chapter of the first book of Hebrew scripture, we learn that all humans are made in the image and likeness of God (Genesis 1:26–27). The Image of God is a central concept referred to in theology by its Latin name, Imago Dei. This theological truth for Jews and Christians alike grounds any understanding of work with persons displaced by persecution in their essential worth as people made in God’s image and likeness.
For Christians, Imago Dei is further understood in terms of the deep relationships among the persons of the Trinity which means to be made in God’s image is relational and not primarily individual. Jesus taught that all of the Law and the Prophets depend on loving God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength and loving your neighbor as yourself. Jesus would define neighbor as broadly as possible with his Parable of the Good Samaritan in which the Samaritan, an often hated and mistrusted “other” for Jews living in Israel, was the neighbor to a person in need. For those who seek to follow Jesus, caring for widows, orphans, and yes refugees, is essential to our faith rather than something optional.
The Heart of an Alien
This is certainly seen in the Hebrew scriptures as applying specifically to those forced out of their homeland. “You shall not wrong or oppress a resident alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt,” (Exodus 22.21) and “You shall not oppress a resident alien; you know the heart of an alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt,” (Exodus 23.9) are but two of many examples.
The second chapter of Matthew’s Gospel tells of the Flight into Egypt in which Jesus’ earthly parents fled persecution by King Herod. Jesus earliest memories would have been of living as a refugee and in a synagogue in Egypt where he would have heard the words of the Torah concerning treatments of aliens.
Seeking and Serving Christ
For Episcopalians, this is also found in the 1979 Book of Common Prayer in the Baptismal Covenant. In particular, the two questions, “Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?” and “Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?” The answer to both being, “I will with God’s help.”
These questions in the Baptismal Covenant flow from our understanding of the Christian virtue of Charity, or caritas, found in the self-giving agape love of Jesus. That agape love is most fully embodied in the Great Triduum, which is as one prayer celebrated in the three days from Maundy Thursday evening to Easter. As we see most fully how far the love of God extends to all humanity, we are challenged to make that love real in our own lives. While there are many ways this can be lived out, assisting refugees will remain a vital one in a world where roughly 15 million people have fled their homeland to escape persecution and many millions more are internally displaced in their own country due to the same pressures.
What We Accomplish Together
There is no denying that issues of migration are politically thorny. Working with refugees identified by the United Nations and U.S. State Department is more straightforward, but also involves a tangle of issues. Yet for those of us of faith, we can not simply consider these political realities with no reference to our theology which reminds us of our common identity binding us to all other humans.
This Holy Week, the agape love we encounter in the story of Christ’s passion, death, and resurrection also points to the need to show that same love to persons suffering persecution. Through thirty affiliates across the country, Episcopal Migration Ministries makes the love of God real each year for more than 5,000 persons resettling in the United States. This is, of course, purely to serve others and without proselytizing or other motives other than assisting people in need, especially in there first months in this country. Through this ministry, the Episcopal Church practices what we preach about seeking and serving Christ in all persons and respecting the dignity of all. On average, our churchwide efforts help 100 persons a week begin a new life. While not every Episcopalian need support this great work of our church personally, we can still appreciate this ministry as an important part of what we do together that none of us could accomplish on our own.
The Rev. Canon Frank Logue, Canon to the Ordinary
All photos above are from our visit to Gihembe Refugee Camp in Rwanda and are by Wendy Karr Johnson.
“I never knew I could be a human being
and could make something of myself.”
These words were said with wonderment by Zewditu, a refugee from Ethiopia I met last week at RefugePoint in Nairobi, Kenya. She was looking back on the life she had as she fled her homeland from the perspective of being a small business owner in Kenya. The life she and her children now share is one she could not have imagined when she fled persecution at home. (Zewditu is pictured here at right).
Taking part these past two weeks in Episcopal Migration Ministries’ Pilgrimage to Kenya and Rwanda has opened my heart as well as my mind to the plight of refugees. Along the way, I discovered anew more about the big-hearted nation in which we live. For those who don’t know, my wife, Victoria, and I were in a group of eight pilgrims from across the Episcopal Church. Our group included Spencer Cantrell, who grew up at St. Michael and All Angel’s, Savannah.
The eight pilgrims and staff on our trip used the lens of the people living in Gihembe Refugee Camp in Rwanda to learn about issues facing refugee populations across the globe. This was not simply a visit to a developing nation. Our trip opened doors for us to meet those who faced the ravages of war head on and were now stuck in limbo as their homes and lands have been confiscated and they can never go back (I detailed the reasons this group can never return home in a blog post here). Photo by Wendy Karr Johnson
During the trip, we visited the Genocide Memorial in Kigali, which recounts in some detail how the 1994 genocide occurred in Rwanda (read about that visit here). The tragic 100 days in that small country touched off the war which would engulf most of the nations in the middle of the continent. This became Africa’s World War in which three million died. The fighting displaced millions more in their own country and led to hundreds of thousands fleeing to Tanzania, Kenya, Rwanda and elsewhere.
Stories of Hope
On our pilgrimage, we met people of great resilience, both refugees and the humanitarian workers who assist them. In Gihembe, I met with 38 women who joined together for a farming cooperative program growing mushrooms and passion fruit. These HIV positive women have taken advantage of the little control of their lives made possible while in Gihembe. Together the group tills the soil, tends to the plants and in the process, they have raised one another up (Read more online here). Photo by Wendy Karr Johnson
We also met Alice Eschuchi of Heshima Kenya who provide a safe haven for girls under 18 and boys under 10 who have suffered rape and other gender-based violence, which is a world wide means of victimizing the enemy in war. Heshima provides childcare, education, mental health and medical services, and a chance to earn income (More on that visit is online here).
The Objective of Working with Refugees
The goal for both war refugees and the 148 countries that assist them through the United Nations High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR) is to keep persons displaced by war (and other threats) safe until the refugees can return home. This happens in most cases. Another group is resettled in the country to which they fled for safety. The smallest group, just 1 in 100 refugees, must be moved to another nation as these are persons who for various reasons can never return home and can not remain where they have fled. Roughly 3 in 4 of this group resettles in the United States as we are the nation that receives most refugees worldwide according to targets set in a process which involves both our State department and the US Congress. Photo by Wendy Karr Johnson
How the Episcopal Church Helps
Episcopal Migration Ministries (EMM) and the others of the nine agencies which work with resettling refugees in the U.S. Episcopal Migration Ministries, its affiliates, and church partners provide assistance to arriving refugees as they adjust to their new communities and begin building for the future. Meeting this group served as an example of one of the many refugee crises around the world. These Congolese Refugees is a group the Episcopal Church has already assisted and will continue work with in the coming years (pictured at left is Kaltun, one of three Somali Community Health Volunteers in Nairobi who go door to door where western aid workers fear to tread).
EMM assists in resettling more than 5,000 refugees each year. Episcopalians can be a part of that story through co-sponsoring a Congolese refugee family and other refugees from across the globe with similar stories. In an upcoming article here in From the Field, I will share more about how your congregation can be a part of this effort.
-The Rev. Canon Frank Logue, Canon to the Ordinary
Children of young women who are in the program at Heshima Kenya and below a woman in the program spends time on the grounds of the non-profit’s main house in Nairobi. Photos by Frank Logue.
Taking part in Episcopal Migration Ministries‘ Pilgrimage to Kenya and Rwanda has opened my heart as well as my mind to the plight of refugees. Yet, gentle reader, as I have traveled with one of only nine groups approved by the State Department to work in resettling refugees, you might get the impression from my writings that most refugees are assisted in settling in another country. The prime goal is to assist refugees in returning home. Only 1% of persons recognized as refugees are resettled to a third country, such as the United States.
The United Nations High Commission on Refugees seeks to find a “durable solution” for those who flee their country to avoid persecution. The three options are:
- Resettle in their home country.
- Resettle in the second country where they currently have asylum.
- Resettle in a third country.
Number three is the durable solution for just 1 in 100 refugees.
Who is a Refugee?
148 nations all work from the same UN framework first approved in 1951 which defines a refugee as someone who:
“owing to well founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it.”
There are further rules which, understandably, do not apply this definition to those who have committed serious crimes, including war crimes. And there is also a desire to keep families together so that the UNHCR states “If the head of a family meets the criteria of the definition, his dependants are normally granted refugee status according to the principle of family unity.”
Assisting those who can never go home
So the people identified for resettlement to the U.S. with the assistance of EMM and the other of the nine agencies are those who can not return home and can not stay in the country where they are now living as a refugee. They are clearly the marginalized, the lost and the left out who we as Christians are called to serve as if serving Christ.
By the time a person identified as a refugee is approved to move to our country, she or he has been through extensive interviews which are cross checked by the Department of Homeland Security and other relevant agencies. They have been through numerous evaluations at several levels to confirm all of the information provided. Speaking at length with people involved in this work demonstrated to me the rigorousness of that work.
How You Can Help
At the end of this usually multi-year process, a refugee family finds themselves in an airport in an unfamiliar country, facing a new future with determination, but a great deal of uncertainty. This is where you and your church can come in. EMM works through 30 affiliates around the US to resettle more than 5,000 persons each year (Map shows states with EMM Affiliates.). These affiliates need congregations to partner with the for the first six months of that resettlement. These EMM affiliates do not need you to fund this process or to handle the details of resettlement. But they do love to partner with congregations. Co-sponsoring congregations agree to help refugees become self-reliant, emotionally secure, and culturally adjusted as they put down roots in this country. Co-sponsors offer refugees hospitality and friendship along with basic resettlement services like orientation to a new environment and culture, help in building language skills and seeking employment, assistance with initial housing, food and clothing, and many other critical forms of support. For more information, visit episcopalmigrationministries.org
To get a better feel for the work EMM does, you will also find extremely helpful, the series of short videos they created. I have embedded one below, the others are found online here: EMM Media Page
In the photo above, a translator shares the comments of one of the adults taking part in the town hall style meeting we took part in while visiting the UNHCR camp. This and the other photos below of Gihembe Refugee Camp were taken during our visit by Wendy Karr Johnson.
Living in a United Nations High Commission on Refugees Camp (UYNHCR) in Rwanda, far from either their home in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) or the capital of Kigali, more than 14,000 refugees fill Gihembe Camp. They are stuck in limbo due to their particular history which both gives them claim to citizenship in Rwanda and DRC and also virtually assures the refugees of Gihembe will never again permanently settle in either of those nations.
On our Episcopal Migration Ministries Pilgrimage to East Africa, the eight pilgrims and staff used the lens of the people living in Gihembe to learn about issues facing refugee populations across the globe. And in a town hall style meeting in Gihembe, we came face to face with the deep frustration born of just shy of two decades in the camp. More than 100 adult residents of Gihembe Refugee Camp filed into the plastic chairs in the large, open windowed, concrete floored meeting room. They came to meet our group and a UNHCR staff member explained at the outset how we could not help address any specific camp concerns or address their particular issues with resettlement. We were there as one of nine refugee agencies that assists the US States Department in its role of settling refugees according to targets approved by Congress. We could speak to life beyond the camp and encourage refugees taking advantage of English classes, school for their children, and other opportunities made available by the UNHCR.
Understandably, this proved frustrating to those in attendance. Their only concern was when can they leave Gihembe. Many made it clear that their preferred option is to return to the provinces in the DRC where they lived prior to the Congolese War. Like any of us would likely feel if unimaginable horrors descended on our current homes, what we would most want is to return to life as it was prior to the conflict. Others were in routine contact with friends and relatives already resettled oversees and they most wanted to join them in the safety of a new country, often the United States.
Overseeing this camp is a very dedicated UNHCR staff. We spent time with some key staff and saw first hand their professionalism, dedication, and compassion. But the problems faced are not easily resolved as the weight of history bears down on the situation.
Why Refugees in Gihembe Can’t Go Home Again
A very brief sketch of their history shows the particular issue of statelessness which is the crux of the problem. When Germans colonized Rwanda beginning in 1895, they found three groups of people present—Hutu, Tutsi, and Twa. The Twa, sometimes referred to as pygmies, were the people of the forest and they existed in the smallest number by far. The Hutu were identified as those shorter and darker color skin persons living largeley as subsistence farming. The Tutsi (also known as Watutsi) were taller and usually has a lighter skin color. European colonists defined “Tutsi” as anyone owning more than ten cows (a sign of wealth) or with the physical feature of a longer nose, or longer neck, commonly associated with the Tutsi. Historians believe that the Tutsis had governed Rwanda since the Bronze Age. First the Germans and then the Belgians who replaced them after World War I, kept this system and allowed only the Tutsi to be educated and only they could participate in the colonial government. These policies engendered resentment among the majority Hutu population.
In 1959, the Rwandan King, Mutara III, died after being treated for a headache by a Belgian physician in Bujumbura on the way back from a consultation with Belgian officials, in what Rwandan conspiracy theorists consider to have been an assassination. The king was a member of the Tutsi tribe. A wave of anti-Tutsi violence ensued and from 1959 to 1961, Tutsi fled from the oppression in large numbers. This is when the residents of Gihembe or their parents or grandparents left Rwanda. They settled in the Eastern Provinces (mostly North and South Kivu) in the Belgian Congo. In time, these refugees were given citizenship in what became Zaire as President Mobutu Sese Seko needed voter support in that region.
The tide turned once more in November 1996, when Mobutu’s government issued an order forcing Tutsis to leave Zaire on penalty of death. What followed as other African nations joined the fight became known as ‘Africa’s world war’ and would be responsible for the deaths of around three million people. Rape became endemic and staying in Zaire meant all but certain death. The former Rwandans living up until now as Zairan citizens fled once more across the border into Rwanda. The UNHCR set up a Mudende Refugee Camp, but that camp was too near the border and the UNHCR knew it. They were making efforts to move the refugees when hundreds of refugees (some claim as many as 3,000 people) were killed in multiple attacks on the camp between August and December 1996 by the group responsible for the 1994 Rwandan genocide. The camp at Gihembe was created to move the Mudende survivors to a relatively safe location. The refugees have now been there for 19 years. Though getting good support from that government for the camp, these refugees are not welcome to repatriate to Rwanda as they are viewed there as Congolese. They can likewise not repatriate to the DRC as the area not only remains volatile, but their land and houses have been confiscated by others and they are now considered Rwandans, not Congolese by the DRC. Though they have claim to citizenship in both Rwanda and the DRC, the group is stateless.
What next for the Congolese Refugees?
The UNHCR and its participating states have seen the Catch 22 that has held these refugees on a Rwandan hilltop for nearly two decades. The have agreed that at least 50,000 Congolese refugees would be submitted for resettlement from 2012 to 2017, making the Congolese one of the largest resettlement operations currently underway. Everyone in Gihembe is in contact, often through Facebook, with persons already settled in a third country. While some resettle in Sweden, Denmark, Finland and the Netherlands, the large majority of the Congolese refugees will be resettled to the United States. Episcopal Migration Ministries and the others of the nine agencies which work with resettling refugees in the U.S. Episcopal Migration Ministries, its affiliates, and church partners provide assistance to arriving refugees as they adjust to their new communities and begin building for the future. While our meeting this group serves as an example of one of the many refugee crises around the world, this is one we have assisted with and will continue work on in the coming years. Due to security concerns and other issues, not everyone in that meeting room at Gihembe will be resettled. But thousands will find there way out of that hilltop camp to a new life.
Episcopalians can be a part of that story through co-sponsoring a Congolese refugee family and other refugees from across the globe with similar stories. Contact Episcopal Migration Ministries to find out how: episcopalmigrationministries.org.
Students look out the window of a sixth-grade classroom we visited in Gihembe’s 3,000-student school.
In a dangerous world, some people are at the very limits of safety. No matter how well intentioned all of those working with refugees, some who flee persecution at home, find themselves still in truly perilous living conditions where survival is an hour by hour consideration.
Sasha Chanoff co-founded RefugePoint (and serves as its executive director) specifically to have the freedom to continually work creatively only with those at the very limits of vulnerability. Sasha had worked extensively Sudanese Lost Boys, Somali Bantus, Congolese Tutsis-at-risk, Liberians, Sierra Leonians and other groups. After two decades in refugee rescue, relief and resettlement operations in Africa and the United States, he found that there were always some people outside the bounds of solutions being offered by traditional means. He started the non-profit to not just identify and protect refugees who have fallen through the cracks of humanitarian assistance, but to move them as quickly as possible to stabilization and self-sufficiency. They offer counseling sessions as well as a medical clinic as part of the work of stabilization.
Aiming for Self Reliance
For the majority of clients, the goal is to assist them in working toward earning enough money to care for their basic needs while providing for increased safety. This means offering a food program that provides 75% of calories they need (more for children 5 and under in the family) and grants which assist with housing that start at 100%, back down to 50% after a few months and then go away. Non-food items such as mattresses and a simple stove and pots, and similar items help establish a new household. All children eligible start primary school, which is free in Kenya for all kids resident in the country no matter their status. RefugePoint assist with uniforms and books to make this education open to all in their program.
The emphasis is always the client’s goals so that social workers assist clients in creating their own case plans. To assist in this, home visits are always a part of intake of cases to determine the real needs. As refugees have social systems which are broken down, counseling is done in groups sharing the same language and culture. Trauma counseling is the main issue and the sessions give refugees room to talk while learning stress and anger management techniques. This work happening with those from their own culture assists clients in creating their own networks of support with others in the program.
“When it is dark, you do not know when the light is coming.”
Two Amazing Women
Visiting RefugePoint’s Nairobi office this week, we met two women who exemplify the work of the innovative team Sasha has gathered for the work—Zewditu and Kaltun.
Zewditu (pictured above at right) fled Ethiopia 14 years ago. Like most refugees, she was most concerned for her children. Looking back as someone aided by RefugePoint to start her own business using her knowledge and love of cooking her country’s traditional food, she said, “I never knew I could be a human being and could make something of myself.”
Now she is a successful small business woman whose children are now in school with improved prospects. Marveling at the reversal of fortune, she said, “My kids can even take a taxi to school and I never dreamed of this.”
Kaltun (pictured at left) is a diminutive Somali who doesn’t look old enough to have lived as a refugee in Nairobi for 24 years. Yet she shoulders an important work load as one of three Community Health Volunteers who go door to door where western aid workers rightfully fear to tread. Her work takes her into the homes of the urban refugees in the dangerous Easterly neighborhood. There her fellow Somalis face routine round up and threat of arrest from police, usually getting out of the system through bribes. They also face shake downs from the gang Superpower, among others. They prey on the at risk people in the community. Into this dangerous terrain, Kaltun takes medical services including education on diabetes, delivery of prescriptions to those who can’t afford losing a day of work to negotiate Nairobi’s infamous traffic to pick them up in person. Beyond this, she can be the eyes and ears of RefugePoint to discover new needs in her community.
The Most Vulnerable
This glimpse into their Urban Refugee Protection Program including stories of just how life-saving their interventions have been for the most vulnerable urban refugees. Most amazing is how the team works to quickly stabilize at risk persons as they work not toward dependence on aid from the outside, but a concrete plan towards true self-reliance.
To read a few more brief examples of their inspiring work, visit www.refugepoint.org/stories/.
The women and young girls escaping the ongoing turmoil in the eastern provinces of the Democratic Republic of Congo emerge with stories making it painfully clear how vulnerable they are in conflict. Not only is rape a common weapon of war worldwide, but some are further forced to be sex slaves for a group of soldiers while others on the run are forced into marriages. Those who make it out are further at risk wherever they land.
While the journey is different, young women are also at risk in other refugee populations found here in Nairobi, including Somalis and Ethiopians.
Whenever such a girl makes contact with the United Nations High Commission on Refugees here in Kenya, an option for protection is a Safe House run by Heshima Kenya. Heshima is the Swahili word for “respect”. The non-profit exists to protect and build up women under 18 escaping persecution and their children. They also care for boys under the age of 10 who are similarly at risk, as boys victimized by rape has been increasing in the eastern DRC in the past five years. The Safe House, which can also be used for up to 3 weeks by women over 18, is in a location known only to Heshima and key UNHCR staff. Once in safety, an assessment begins to seek a durable solution for the girl, and her child if she has one.
Many of the girls will move from the Safe House to Heshima Kenya’s main facility in Nairobi. Located on a large wooded lot at the end of a quiet street, this house too is not marked at the street. In its sheltering walls, the approach is holistic with not just shelter, but also childcare, education, mental health and medical services, and a chance to earn income.
Heshima’s slogan, embodied throughout their work, is “One girl at a time.” Alice Eschuchi is the Country Director in Kenya whose concern for these young women is evident in her passion for her work. Alice says, “Each girl’s needs are different depending on her past experiences and where she is now.” Alice is pictured here at left.
Starting where the girl is when she arrives is foundation. Alice says, “We do not judge. We take what we are told by the girls and work with them.”
Common needs are safe care for their children so that the girls can study to graduate from Primary School (which goes through what is 8th grade in the US). The schooling is free for all who are resident in Kenya. Last year all eight of the girls at Heshima who took the examinations passed. 30 girls are preparing for the examination this year. Because secondary education is prohibitively expensive for those who remain in Kenya, Heshima also teaches tailoring and creates items to sell with cloth. This gives ten girls the ability to earn an income.
The focus is is on building up the girls both in terms of self esteem and in life skills. While the goal is not resettlement, as only one percent of refugees are resettled in a third country (with the country they fled and Kenya being the first and second). Heshima works with the UNHCR to conduct a Best Interest Determination based on the specific young woman. This then helps them work with the girl in deciding on the future. Among the many who pass through the program, about 20 are resettled each year in another country.
In describing her work, Alice talks of how the girls arrive extremely shy and showing obvious signs of suffering trauma. Then she proudly shows photos of the girls who have graduated from the program. Some of the young women have been settled in America, Canada, Sweden, and the Netherlands. They email of their lives there and send photos that give Alice and other staff members deep joy as shown in how they share the stories. “These are our girls,” Alice says, “It is amazing how far they have come.
“I was not lost. I was just a boy on a journey,” says Ger Duany, whose life has taken him from serving as a child soldier to acting in five movies, most recently in “The Good Lie” with Reese Witherspoon. He says fellow South Sudanese refugees have been very supportive of the film as it captures their story. Ger adds, “My heart still pounds when I see it on the screen and I see the problems again.”
Today our Episcopal Migration Ministries Pilgrimage spent time with Ger at the United Nations High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR) Regional Hub in Nairobi. He has come a long way from a childhood in which he learned every part of an AK-47 before he reached puberty. And yet, he remains connected to and concerned for his home land as well as those who have followed him in resettling in the US. My photo of EMM Pilgrim Scott Gunn with Ger Duany.
The film, “The Good Lie,” offers rare insight as it is about resettlement in the US from the South Sudanese perspective.
Ger is clear that many of the South Sudanese who went to the western world lost their way. For himself, he says that he was fortunate to find basketball and through that sport, a scholarship. Ger found it difficult to navigate his way in America until he graduated from college, which is not open to all who are forced to leave their homes due to persecution.
Ger says, “Many of the guys I came with did not have that opportunity and so they went into the military and they died in Iraq and Afghanistan.”
Beyond college, he also cites the importance of finding a home in a Lutheran church choir. He notes that at home and abroad, Sudanese tend to stay together through churches. Ger says, “I got my help in churches and that is how I thrived.”
Ger works now to support work with refugees. He says, “UNHCR has impacted my life and I want to add my small voice and also to work with those who are helping South Sudanese.”
In a pilgrimage focused on better understanding refugees, it was a delight to meet a so called Lost Boy who not only found his way, but who also continues to help others.
This and all of the other photos of the women referenced in the story are by Wendy Karr Johnson
Women living in the developing world are not perhaps the first image that comes to mind in considering powerful people. When these are HIV positive Congolese women living as refugees in Rwanda all ideas of power are gone. This is not completely wrong as far too little ability to control their circumstances is given to such women, and yet…
Last week in Gihembe Refugee Camp, I was privileged to meet part of a group of fifty HIV positive women who formed a cooperative farming project. They farm both passion fruit and mushrooms, both to improve their diet and to add the ability to generate a small income.
Meeting the women was a study in contrasts. Gihembe is crowded with more than 14,000 refugees in a fairly small hilltop space. Its deeply rutted dirt roads also make for a dusty environment. The women who met us in their finest clothes with their neat as a pin farm stood in stark contrast to the setting.
All of the group shares the same story of refugeeing out of Congo in 1996 when rousted from their homes at gun point. The first refugee camp the group settled in was too close to the border and many were raped, tortured, or killed in an attack on their camp the following year. The United Nations High Commission on Refugees then opened the camp at Gihembe to move the refugees further from the conflict. They have been in place for 18 years since that move.
So, yes, this is a group that has suffered much and that back story I knew from my homework reading for the Episcopal Migration Ministries Pilgrimage to East Africa. I was pleased to see the women taking the power they could to work to better themselves and the lives of their children.
As the women showed us the mushrooms and gave us passion fruit, the told how 12 of the original 50 women have now been settled safely in third countries, including many to the United States. Thanks to technology, they stay in touch. The women share then a glimmer of hope for a safer life beyond the hilltop in Rwanda where they each await news of their own resettlement. They U.S. State Department has given priority to assisting the members of this group who qualify. As the State Department says,
“While third country resettlement cannot be the durable solution for the vast majority of the world’s refugees, it must remain a possibility for those refugees who are most vulnerable and for whom repatriation or local integration in countries of refuge are not viable options.”
This group is vulnerable and they can not return to the area of the Democratic Republic of Congo they fled as their land and houses have gone to others and they are not safe to return. The priority (P2) status for this group was set by our Department of State in consultation with the Department of Homeland Security, Non-profits working with refugees, UNHCR, and others. The experts have determined them as being in need of resettlement.
So these women who have taken advantage of the little control of their lives made possible while in Gihembe have worked together to till the soil and tend the plants. In the process, they have raised one another up. They also to continue to share community with the members of their group already resettled. I look forward to many of these women first resettling and then after years in our country, earning U.S. Citizenship. Yes, some may be resettled elsewhere, but whatever nation they settle in will be blessed to have such determined women and the children they are raising.
Resettling families who can never return to their home countries due to political persecution involves amassing a mound of paperwork. Details are checked and cross checked while medical and security screenings and myriad other steps grind forward. Earlier on this pilgrimage in visiting the impressive operations of Church World Service‘s Resettlement Service Center in Nairobi, Kenya, the Episcopal Migration Ministry Pilgrims met a number of the 300 people who shepherd that process for persons refugeed from a variety of places across Sub-Saharan Africa. The level of professionalism and dedication they apply to their current case load of more than 71,000 refugees is nothing short of awe inspiring.
I asked the Center’s Director, Miro Marinovich, how he and the staff stay so upbeat in a process that involves so much detailed, beaurocratic effort. Without pausing, he said, “Small wins.”
Miro (pictured at left) went on to give the example of a family approved for refugee status by the United Nations High Commission on Refugees who nonetheless had spent nine years in “the pipeline.” This time languishing from approval to resettlement occured for a variety of legitimate reasons. He then told of how many of the staff at RSC pulled together to get the family through the steps to resettlement. He went on to recount the satisfaction they all felt when the family was able to move to a new home in the United States. He also told of how the same team worked hard for an at risk refugee moved to resettlement in 30 days.
Adding to these two extreme examples, a random file was picked off a stack of files in processing to show us a sample case file. Carefully documented in the thick folder were the lives of a family of five from Burundi. In multiple interviews the file meticulously documents the life stories of five people moving away from difficulties I can only imagine to a life lived in relative safety, where these core issues will never come up again. Through each of the three cases, we could see the immense care taken with the lives of the more than 71,000 refugees the Center is working with across 44 countries.
These changes of circumstance, of course, are much more than small wins for the refugees who were moved from persecution and grave danger to the safety of a new life. Miro knows this too as his own life experience includes being refugeed from Bosnia in the 1990s. The amazing fact I discovered during our visit is how the team at the Resettlement Service Center stays focused on that bigger picture while shepherding refugees along the pipeline toward a new beginning. I am humbled by their work and the example it sets.
This and the photos below are by Wendy Karr Johnson of our visit to the Kigali Genocide Memorial
Facing humankind’s inhumanity is daunting. Yet you have come this far and I encourage you to stick with me a few moments to share a tragedy as large as any in history as we seek to learn from it. For failure to remember the great tragedies in our history could doom us to repeating the cycle. And for the group of pilgrims on the Episcopal Migration Ministries pilgrimage now underway in Kenya and Rwanda, the Rwandan Genocide of 1994 was ground zero for a series of events that would engulf the heart of the African continent. Yes the events of this hundred days came out of an ongoing history dating back to at least Rwandan colonization by Germany in 1895, but something turned in 1895 to bring in many nations.
Earlier this week, our Pilgrimage visited the Kigali Genocide Memorial where a tour guide took us through exhibits documenting the genocide in context of Rwandan history with photos and some videos. This straightforward telling of the genocide was quite devastating in its own right.
On April 6, 1994, persons unknown at the time shot down an airplane carrying Rwandan President Juvénal Habyarimana and Burundian President Cyprien Ntaryamira as it approached landing in Kigali. Everyone on the plane died. This news made hardly a ripple in our country, but in Rwanda, the Hutu Power movement used the incident to incite the broad scale mass killing of those identified as Tutsi and those who sympathized with them. Over the next roughly 100 days, members of the Army, police, militias and armed civilians killed more than a million people, often with machetes and clubs. Infants and children were also killed as brutally as adults. Rape and torture were also part of the frenzied killing. Nearly twenty percent of Rwanda’s total population and roughly seventy percent of the Tutsi then living in Rwanda died. The genocide had been planned and prepared for by the nation’s political elite.
I knew from my own reading of the book We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families. The title comes from a letter to the president of a church association by Tutsi pastors. The denomination president was later convicted of aiding in the next day’s killings of those church members. As the genocide memorial painfully shows, he was not the only religious leader using the sanctuary offered by a church to lure members to their deaths.
The details of the Rwandan Genocide would be terrible enough, but we know too of German atrocities against the Jews and others, the Killing Fields of Cambodia, and genocides in Guatemala and Bosnia in more recent decades. None of us can make this a problem faced by others. In fact, naming people as other is the first step in the slide toward such atrocities. For when we name another human other, then we begin to blame the problems we face on that group, we will tend to dehumanize them and then we have seen time and again how inhumanity follows.
The Genocide memorial included a room with photos of several thousand of the 250,000 victims buried just there in 14 mass graves. There was another room with additional skulls and bones of victims and a third with the stained and damaged clothes from around the capital city. Finally an exhibit had large photos of children shown in life. Beneath was a plaque giving the child’s name, age at time of death, favorite food, favorite activity, sometimes last words and always how the child was killed. This amplified the impact of all that came before. And just as my own tendency to want some old fashioned smiting, there were quoted from survivors. I found it hard to read through tears the words of a young man who was praying for vengeance from God and his mother told him not to do this. She told him he was to forgive, even if they killed her. These words were uttered as the genocide continued. I am not worthy so much as to carry that woman’s sandals.
While I believe that earthly justice is needed and those who planned and promoted the killing should rightly have faced criminal proceedings, I could also see the benefit of the communal approach taken for most of the cases where perpetrators told their stories, usually while giving the hidden location of some they killed so to offer closure to families seeking to bury their dead. In so doing, many were able to find a path toward healing.
Forgiveness is an issue we al face. Seeing such forgiveness offered in response to seemingly unforgivable acts is humbling. This was not the only response and the fleeing Genocidaires were to lead to destabilization of neighboring Zaire, which further led to a war involving Uganda, Rwanda, Congo, Angola, and other nations led to many hundreds of thousands more deaths and much more rape and torture in the process. So while it is hard to imagine such powerful forgiveness as embodied by the woman warning her son to pray not for vengeance, but forgiveness, we can readily see how bad the situation gets when we insist on an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.
We concluded our visit by laying flowers on one of the mass graves and then walking amid the beautiful gardens on the grounds of a site dedicated to preserving the story of one example of the worst of human cruelty. It was a small act. Yet, if the whole world could continually remember with small acts the loss created by our indifference and cruelty, then we could begin the much harder task of redeeming tragedy. For we can not take away the immense suffering that has occurred, but we can work toward redeeming it.
For more on our own personal forgiveness, see my:
“Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night,
and went to Egypt, and remained there
until the death of Herod.”
Jesus earliest memories would have been of living as a refugee. An ancient Jewish synagogue in Cairo still carries the memory of being the ex patriot community that had welcomed Joseph and Mary and their infant son. I visited there in 2004 and know that whether that old stone building is where it happened or not, Jesus first heard the words of the Torah concerning treatments of aliens while living in a foreign land on the run from a cruel dictator who would have killed his family for returning to their homeland.
“You shall not oppress a resident alien;
you know the heart of an alien, for you were aliens
in the land of Egypt.”
Essential to Our Faith
Jesus would come to distill the essence of his teaching to Love God and Love your neighbor as yourself. He would then define neighbor in such as way as to make it clear that the term is inclusive of all persons, with an emphasis on the poor and needy. Christians then do not have the luxury of deciding whether we would like to care for refugees so much as deciding whether we want to follow Jesus. For those who seek to follow him, caring for widows, orphans, ans those in need, is all part of the journey that is essential to our faith rather than a possible extra curricular add on.
Today, the United Nations High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR) works with more than 10 million refugees around the world with another 4.8 million in the Middle East cared for by United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA). The sixth largest situation is the result of what is rightly termed Africa’s World War, the turmoil in the Democratic Republic of Congo that included fighters from Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Angola, Zimbabwe, and other nations. The conflict had such tragic consequences for civilian populations, especially women and children. This conflict led to untold suffering, including making the region the rape capital of the world.
This week, my wife, Victoria, and I travel with a group of Pilgrims on a trip set up by Episcopal Migration Ministries (EMM). We will be on an 11-day journey into the Great Lakes region of Africa to visit the Gihembe Refugee Camp in Rwanda, to meet refugees and those who work with them and observe the process through which these Congolese refugees are resettled to the United States.
In preparing for the trip, I have been immersing myself in the history of the conflict back to its precolonial roots through reading first King Leopold’s Ghost and then bringing the story forward with Africa’s World War. This would be an unbelievable story if while singular it were not also common. Unchecked greed led to a rape of the land and its people first in the creation of the world’s only colony under the power of not a nation, but a single person (Leopold II of Belgium). But then the independent African nation was led by those who learned the lessons of the colonizers all too well and likewise ran the Congo for primarily personal benefit. The history is well summed here by EMM: DRC Webinar
Prepare to be Changed
I don’t know what the trip will bring. I do know that travel like this brings change. I am open to being changed and I ask those who journey with us to likewise be open to change. For to encounter the stories of others is to be open to them in a different way. The Messiah, Jesus, was himself, in his humanity, shaped by the experience of growing up a refugee in Egypt, dependent on others making room for his family. This was of course no accident. God’s intent in the Incarnation was that in becoming human, God the Son would begin life with this refugee experience.
So we certainly do not go to take Christ to Kenya and Rwanda for God the Son, in his divinity, has never failed to be found in the refugee camps of the world. We go to experience Christ there and to share that journey with others. I hope you will #SharetheJourney. For we will also be returning with news of how you can share this journey too in your own church community.
-The Rev. Canon Frank Logue
The images are Merson’s Flight Into Egypt and Christ Maryknoll by Br. Robert Lentz, OFM. You may purchase Lentz’ image by clicking on the icon above.