June 20 is World Refugee Day, and Church World Service (CWS) is offering congregations multiple ways to meet and honor refugees and to become involved in the important ministry of welcoming and protecting refugees.
New educational, worship and advocacy resources, including a congregational bulletin insert and backgrounder, are available on CWS’s World Refugee Day web page ― http://www.cwsglobal.org/what-we-do/refugees/world-refugee-day.html.
These materials are ideal for use on or around June 20 in both congregational and ecumenical gatherings. Also, a more generic version is being prepared for use the entire year.
In addition, many of CWS’s 36 offices and affiliates in 21 states ― http://www.cwsglobal.org/what-we-do/refugees/irp-affiliates.html ― host or co-host community celebrations on or around World Refugee Day.
For example, in Omaha, Neb., a day-long program attracts more than 1,400 refugees and non-refugees every year. CWS affiliate Lutheran Refugee Services is among co-sponsors, and the faith community ― including Lutherans, Presbyterians, United Methodists, Baptists, evangelical and nondenominational churches, and many others ― partners with the Omaha Public Schools to help plan, promote and implement the day.
The day’s activities include a parade of nations, a naturalization ceremony, speakers from resettlement and community agencies, a market for refugees to sell their art, children’s events, a fashion show and food from around the world.
“We are expecting a big turnout of faith communities to this year’s celebration, set for June 22 at Benson High School in Omaha,” said Lacey Studnicka, leading LRS’s outreach to the faith community. “Faith communities are essential to helping refugees thrive when they arrive here in Omaha.
“World Refugee Day is a day of celebration, education and affirmation of community; and that community starts when churches and other faith groups are there to welcome newcomers,” she said. “It’s a chance for people to meet and learn from one another. Relationships happen, and we make progress towards creating welcoming communities it’s wonderful!”
In Omaha, that can mean meeting former refugees from the Sudan, Somali, Bhutan, Burma, the Democratic Republic of Congo or any number of other countries, Studnicka noted.
The Benson Area Refugee Task Force in Omaha brings together 40 members, including 11 churches, in support of resettled refugees’ successful integration into U.S. life. Co-Chair Nancy Meyer said that, for faith communities, commemorating World Refugee Day is an opportunity “to understand better who refugees are, what their lives were like before they came, why and how they come here, and what their lives can be if we help them resettle here.”
World Refugee Day invites people of faith to prayerfully reflect on the lives of refugees. Currently, there are more than 43 million refugees and internally displaced people around the world, and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) provides assistance and protection to 34 million of them.
For its part, Church World Service has helped more than 500,000 refugees resettle to the United States since 1946. It is a partner in the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program, through which the U.S. government invites refugees to safety and welcome.
“We are called to honor the courage, strength and determination of the women, men and children who are forced to flee their homes under threat of persecution, conflict and violence,” said Erol Kekic, CWS Immigration and Refugee Program Director.
Joya Colon-Berezin, CWS ecumenical relations coordinator for refugee resettlement, urged congregations to take advantage of the CWS World Refugee Day toolkit ― http://www.cwsglobal.org/what-we-do/refugees/world-refugee-day.html.
“I would be happy to discuss ways to use this toolkit,” she said, “or to just brainstorm how to strengthen faith community involvement in this vital ministry of welcome. Please feel free to contact me at 212-870-3304 or firstname.lastname@example.org.”