Sunday, October 11, 2015

Refugee Sunday Awareness

This resource from Church World Services served as a guide for our service of worship, and the sermon below was an adaptation of some of the speaking points from the resource.

We had about 25 guests, most from the Karen community of Comer, GA--a people with no land; as well as Burundi and Congolese--they shares songs, stories, scripture, and prayers.  It was really beautiful. Many thanks to Blake Ortman of Jubilee Partners for helping to coordinate the visit, and to the session of CPC and Natalie Pinson and Donna Greene for organizing the lunch. 

At the lunch the church was encouraged to consider helping refugees in three ways:
1. teaching English;
2. teaching Citizen classes;
3. Sponsoring a family, such as the Burundi/Congolese family who visited and played music during worship.

These things were proposed by Blake to see what "God might lay on our hearts..."

A good part of Jesus ministry centers around the shores of the Galilee. Referred to as the ‘Sea of Galilee,’ this body of water is actually a relatively small freshwater lake, about 8 miles wide. Although small, In Jesus’ time this body of water created a large boundary. The lake separated the western Jewish side and the eastern Gentile side of Galilee.
The Gentile world represented an ‘other’ for the Jews. And the Jews represented an other to the Gentiles.
Human history is one of nations, ethnic groups, and peoples establishing borders as a means of containment, management, and self- preservation. This can be a beautiful thing as different customs and practices emerge in the form of rituals, dances, music, foods, and social customs. Just think about some of our customs, traditions, music, and foods in the south.
Sometimes within these borders there is a spirit of openness and receptivity to the outsider/ the other/ the foreigner. Hospitality.  Sometimes within these borders there is a fear and a suspicion and an apathy toward the outsider/the other/ the foreigner.  
What has been your experience of interactions with people who cross borders?

When I was a child, it was not unusual for my family to host an exchange student in our home.
We hosted a Chinese student named Monica who lived with us for 2 years.
When I was 11, we hosted a Cambodian refugee a few years older than I, named Dina, off and on for 4 years.And there were others, Rotary students from all over, who stayed for weekends and holidays. These were formative experiences for me; my identity was being shaped through interaction with these people from foreign lands.  
-         ---
What has been your experience crossing borders?  
When have you left your home for what was for you distant lands?
I have left my home several times in my life….
I left to go to college,
I left to travel outside of the country
I left for jobs in South Carolina and Arkansas, as well as in Mexico, Chile, New Mexico.
Each time I left my home it was by choice, it was because I had opportunity or was seeking adventure;
Each time I left I was well supported,  
and for the most part had a sense of where I was going and who would receive me when I arrived there.   
In our global reality, roughly 230 million people have left their country of origin; and live elsewhere. Among these are an estimated 60 million who are refugees. Different from my experience leaving home, these refugees leave not by choice or because they have an opportunity awaiting them; they leave because they felt forced to do so for any number of reasons.  They had very little choice—it was life or death. Are they well supported, as I was?
Do they know where they will end up and have people to receive them when they arrive, as I did? Well that depends greatly on our response.

As Jesus and his disciples set sail to cross over the Sea of Galilee a huge windstorm arises. Jesus' disciples are terrified at this life threatening storm. Shockingly, Mark tells us that Jesus is asleep. How could Jesus – the incarnation of Godself - be so calm and passive? Surely this moment cries out for immediate intervention. The disciples shout to him: “do you not care that we are perishing?
People are perishing all around us; An estimate of 220,000 lost lives in the war in Syria.
Violence and conflicts continue in Iraq, Afghanistan, the Ukraine, in West and Central Africa,
Hundreds perish every year on the journey north from Central America; migrants drown in boats fleeing from Indonesia, or off the coast of Thailand and in the Bay of Bengal; migrants die crossing the Sahara Desert into North Africa; Many who flee often disappear without a trace.
There are certainly times when we wonder if God is awake. Does Jesus care people are perishing?

Jesus wakes up and calms the storm immediately. His voice and command reflect his authority over the wind and the water: "Peace! Be still!" Reminiscent of God’s spirit hovering over the chaotic waters of creation; Moses parting of the Red Sea; And when there comes peace it is an epiphany of God’s power and presence.
And what about the disciples? The fear of the disciples has overpowered their faith. They lose faith that God could be present even during the threat of an overwhelming storm. The plight of the refugee seems overwhelming doesn’t it. And there are many reasons we could potentially allow fear to paralyze us to inaction in the face of desperate need.
But faith...Faith allows us to see God at work.
Faith allows us to see the gift that comes when countries and cities within the international community respond to the cries of displaced people by offering immediate assistance, and long term durable solutions.
We see the hand of God at work when people of faith rise up together.
Faith overpowers fear when we respond to the needs of displaced people.
And this has been the work of Jubilee partners since the early 80s, in Comer, GA, and it is amazing to see God’s hand at work…how peace and stillness has come to overwhelming situations.  

This church’s elders recall a grace filled time when this congregation hosted a refugee family or two from Vietnam in the early 80s. After worship today, the session is hosting our new friends and neighbors from Comer who have come from various parts of the world to share a meal together. What might God be calling this congregation and each of us within the congregation to be doing in these days? How might we be part of calming the storm?

Do we contact the mayor or state representatives?
Do we consider opening our homes and church doors?
What joy it is that we can worship together with brothers and sisters who sought refuge in our area!
Let’s consider how we might join our voices with the voices of millions who cry, “peace, be still”!



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