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The Path of Syrian Migration, Day 1

 

March 21, 2016 Monday of Holy Week

SyriaSituationMapasof09March2016

 

During Holy Week and the first few days of Eastertide, I will be traveling with several colleagues from the Presbyterian Church, USA and our Moderator, Heath Rada, in Hungary, Greece, and Germany. Our purpose is to follow along the path of Syrian migrants who have fled the war in their homeland and are seeking safety throughout Europe and the world. As the United States continues to struggle to practice welcome to these neighbors from the Middle East, countries in the European Union are struggling as well. Germany has provided a haven for many, but borders are closing throughout many countries and migrants are stuck on the borders of Greece and in Turkey, seeking safe passage and refuge. Throughout this journey, we will be conversing with faith partners, who are engaged in this work, and trying to see through the eyes of our Syrian refugee neighbors in order that we might share what we have seen and learned back home. It is significant to me that this journey takes place during Holy Week, when Jesus walked his way toward the Cross through the streets of Jerusalem on a path that has become known as the Via Dolorosa, the Way of Sorrows, or Suffering. For many Syrians who have fled their homeland as the war there enters its sixth year, the migrant journey—fraught with desperation and danger and the risk of death—is a via dolorosa, a way of suffering that too often ends in refugee camps, poverty, a reception marked by suspicion rather than welcome, or even a return to the place from which they sought to escape. Some fortunate few find safe harbor, welcome, and a chance to build a new life. Presbyterian Disaster Assistance, working with partners through the ACT Alliance and Church World Service, has been providing financial resources to support those seeking to provide welcome and care along the journey. Each day of Holy Week, I will post photos and a reflection to mark this journey, and to honor those who are walking this via dolorosa. PDA’s catalyst for Refugee and Asylum, Susan Krehbiel, will also be posting facts and figures about the refugee crisis in Europe and the Middle East to give context and scope to these reflections.

 

As I write, I am mindful that many of those migrants whose path we are following practice faiths other than my own, with differing beliefs and paths toward God. It is not my purpose to ground the journey of so many, whose religious beliefs deserve our respect, in my own tradition; but since it is from the Christian faith that I find the words and images to make meaning; it will be from that narrative that I frame these observations. At the Palm Sunday service in my home church in Louisville, the Rev. Dr. Cynthia Campbell preached from the great hymn in Philippians 2:5-11 that speaks of the death of Jesus as an emptying of himself, a choice to relinquish power through accepting crucifixion, a shameful death reserved for those who were non-citizens of Rome. He thus identified himself, in his dying, with those who were powerless, poor, and barred from the privilege of belonging. Speaking about this contrast between our human obsession with power and success and Christ’s embrace of a way many considered shameful, Cynthia quoted New Testament scholar Diane Bergant who said: the best way to enter Holy Week with (Jesus) is in the company of those with whom he has identified himself: the poor and the broken, the humiliated and the marginalized; those who suffer the abuse of others…If we are to be saved we must go where salvation takes place—in our streets and in our homes where violence rages; in the dark corners of life where despair seems to hold sway; wherever the innocent are abused or the needy neglected; wherever there is misunderstand or fear or jealousy. We must go wherever Christ empties himself for (us).

 

It is a deep prayer for Holy Week that the journey we undertake today may take us to those very places, with the One who is Way, Truth, and Life for us.

 

The Rev. Dr. Laurie Kraus, Coordinator, Presbyterian Disaster Assistance

 

FACTS:

  • In 2016, the world is experiencing the largest number of refugees and displaced persons since the end of World War II – Over 60 million persons.
  • Syria is the single largest humanitarian crisis. Today there are 4.8 million Syrian refugees registered with the UN refugee agency (UNHCR). This figure includes 2.1 million Syrians registered by UNHCR in Egypt, Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon, 1.9 million Syrians registered by the Government of Turkey, as well as more than 28,000 Syrian refugees registered in North Africa. Only 1⁄2 million of these are living in refugee camps, the vast majority are living in cities, towns and rural areas across the region.
  •  In 2015, the number of Syrian refugees continued to grow in the Middle East as the violence raged on and the death toll in Syria reached a quarter million. In the midst of such human tragedy, international aid to the surrounding countries waned, leading to cuts in food and other basic needs.
  • In 2015, 1,015,078 individuals arrived in Europe by sea in search of safety and hope.
  • As the UNHCR describes them: Increasing numbers of refugees and migrants take their chances aboard unseaworthy boats and dinghies in a desperate bid to reach Europe. The vast majority of those attempting this dangerous crossing are in need of international protection, fleeing war, violence and persecution in their country of origin. Every year these movements continue to exact a devastating toll on human life.

 

For more information on Presbyterian Disaster Assistance’s response to Syria, visit: http://pda.pcusa.org/situation/syria/ The Rev. Dr. Laurie Kraus, Coordinator, Presbyterian Disaster Assistance is traveling the path of Syrian migrants who have fled war and are seeking safety through Holy Week. As she travels with colleagues from the Presbyterian Church (USA), she is writing and reflecting about the experience. Kraus worships with Highland Presbyterian Church and her reflections are reprinted with the author’s permission.

Presbytery Support for Syrian Refugees

Resolution for Protection and Hospitality for Syrian Refugees

Passed by the Mid-Kentucky Presbytery on November 21, 2015

 

We, on behalf of the 53 congregations and more than 8,000 members of Mid-Kentucky Presbytery, affirm our commitment as followers of Jesus Christ to share the love of strangers and care for the vulnerable. Remembering that Jesus as a child was a refugee and as an adult welcomed strangers, we seek to provide safe refuge and hospitality to those fleeing war in Syria.

 

We call upon our neighbors in Kentucky and our fellow citizens in the United States to join us in seeking to protect and to provide hospitality to Syrian refugees.

 

We call upon our state and national leaders to remember our nation’s commitment to inclusion and choose justice over fear in responding to those affected by the Syrian war.

 

The Presbytery of Mid-Kentucky directs the Presbytery Moderator to send the Resolution for the Protection and Hospitality for Syrian Refugees to Governor Beshear, Governor-Elect Bevin, our members of Congress, President Obama, and our regional media outlets.

 

Sincerely,

Greg Cohen

Moderator

Mid-Kentucky Presbytery

21 November 2015

Minute for Mission

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.

 

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