Cynthia M. Campbell delivered this Minute for Mission in worship on Sunday, November 22, 2015 about Kentucky Refugee Ministries and Refugee Resettlement.
Twenty-five years ago, Donna Craig, a member of this congregation, began a mission project to resettle refugees fleeing violence in Central America. Today, Kentucky Refugee Ministries is an independent, non-profit agency that operates out of our Pleune-Mobley Building. It settles over 1,000 refugees each year. On any given day, approximately 100 people come to KRM to learn English, to begin the process of finding employment, to sign up for medical insurance, to get help registering their children in school, to start the process of becoming citizens of the United States.
In the midst of a great deal of fear and confusion about refugees, especially refugees from Syria, I want to remind us of what these new neighbors of ours have been through. The process of coming to the United States is already incredibly rigorous. After fleeing their country, refugees register with the United Nations Refugee Agency which makes the determination of whether they merit refugee status. While they are living in camps outside their home country, biometric data is collected on each person by the UN agency. If refugee status is granted and if they seek resettlement in the U.S., refugees begin a rigorous screening process by various U.S. government agencies including the Department of Homeland Security and the State Department. Fingerprints and personal histories are thoroughly checked against watch-lists and databases in various intelligence agencies. The average processing time is 18-24 months. It is the most rigorous screening for any persons entering the U.S.
Most of the refugees resettled by agencies such as KRM are families – parents with the children. They are fleeing villages and cities that have been overrun by violence. They have left everything behind. They want what we all want: peace, the opportunity to send their children to school in safety; the ability to practice their faith without fear. John Koehlinger, Executive Director of KRM, writes: “How we treat refugees reflects our commitment to the values that define us as Americans…. Refugees have defied all odds to leave behind discrimination, threats and violence. Bringing your family here to build a better, safe life, is a quintessentially America thing to do.”
Yesterday, the Presbytery of Mid-Kentucky passed a resolution saying that we “affirm our commitment as followers of Jesus Christ to share the love of strangers and care for the vulnerable. We call upon our neighbors in Kentucky and our fellow citizens in the United States to join us in seeking to protect and provide hospitality to Syrian refugees. We call upon our state and national leaders to remember our nation’s commitment to inclusion and welcome, and to choose justice over fear in responding to those affected by the Syrian War.”
I am proud to be a member of the board of KRM, but in comparison to many of you, I am a newcomer to this ministry. I hope and pray that we will all now be part of a ministry to truth-telling to our fellow citizens as we continue to extend hospitality to families who have left everything behind in search of opportunity and peace.