Mission of the Month: Refugee Resettlement

By Dietrich Gruen

Many of the recent election and subsequent executive orders have stirred up significant fear among our fellow citizens. Fear, anger, hate and resentment manifest in social media, street protests, and in not-so-civil family talk. Otherness can stir within us unwelcome feelings that conflict with our Christian values. We struggle enough with people who have a different skin color, political views or religious persuasion. Those things are magnified when someone also hails from a different country and speaks a foreign language.

Refugees On Pause 

Our Census Bureau reports that 40+ million foreign-born residents live in the U.S. That number includes naturalized citizens, permanent residents (green card holders), workers and international students with temporary visas, and immigrants without legal status.  Also, a limited number of refugees arrive each year—about 85,000. That totals about 3 million who have been granted refuge from documented religious, political or racial persecution since 1980. This year allowed for 110,000. President Trump cut that to 50,000, banning all asylum-seekers for four months on January 27 before a judge suspended the ban.

Many America-bound refugees settle in large sanctuary cities such as New York, Los Angeles or Chicago. More than 100 asylum seekers were set to come to Madison this year. High Point Church was set to resettle the next family off the plane in February, which was then delayed until June; now, we don’t know when this will happen. This family’s arrival date is a moving target, so watch for continued news updates—for example, a second Executive Order from the President, banning most refugee entry for 4 months, is expected to roll out this week.

High Point Church’s twelve-person resettlement committee is not political or financial; their role is to find housing, as well as provide cultural mentors, drivers, donated furniture and household supplies, friendship and prayer. As our guests are on hold for the moment, so is our work.

Here’s a look at some of the experiences refugees face when resettling in a new country—so that we can grow in our understanding of what real people are going through and know how to come alongside them as they resettle.

The Refugee’s Experience: Screening

For the current vetting already taking place in the refugee screening process, see the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s website. Defenders of the refugee resettlement program note that, out of the 3 million refugees granted entry since 1980, not one has been involved in a terrorist attack on US soil. The established decades-long policy already requires biometric and biographical data, multiple interviews of all family members (in different pairings at different intervals over 18-24 months) by several agencies such as the National Counterterrorism Center, the FBI, the Defense Department, the State Department, and U.S. Customs and Border Protection. All stories presented must sync, or the door is closed.  Syrians also go through the Syria Enhanced Review, conducted by analysts knowledgeable about the networks of armed groups in the civil war.

Finally, when this long row has been hoed, the State Department matches refugees with one of nine nonprofit groups—including Lutheran Social Services, the primary refugee resettlement agency for Madison—and gives the groups $1,125 per refugee.  Their goal is to place families in an apartment, help them find jobs within 90 days, and become self-sufficient within six months.  This is a daunting challenge under any circumstances. Our current situation adds considerable challenges.

The Refugee’s Experience: Finding Work

Even though refugees are willing to do most kinds of work, finding a job that allows for self-sufficiency is still very difficult. Even for those with extensive experience, finding new work is formidable.  Many refugees need help writing résumés, learning how to use email, and networking. While they may have been middle managers, skilled technicians or medical professionals licensed back home in Iraq, Iran or Afghanistan, their licensing is often invalid here, leaving only unskilled labor open to them until they’re able to go through the US certification process. Whether or not they have the certifications and experience in hand, language is a serious hurdle for most. As one refugee said, “My English isn’t so good, so I’ll do any job.”  Hence, for example, they will take minimum wage factory work. Then, after returning home from a long shift of menial work, they tackle the harder task of learning English. It takes great diligence and dedication to do this.

Refugees must adjust to the manners and customs we take for granted. This is why cultural guides are so critical. They can offer all kinds of assistance—everything from learning the bus system, to navigating our healthcare system, to obtaining local identification, to reading letters from landlords, to trusting the local police.

Refugees and the Church

Cultural differences make it difficult to adjust. Going to an English-speaking church helps; so does English-language classes for moms of school-age kids.  But I contend that help goes both ways.

Just as Naomi (an Israelite) and Ruth (a Moabite) bonded for mutual support and brought out the best in each other (Ruth 1:16-17), so also we need refugees as much as they need us, if we are to be the church God intended. In the New Testament, it was a Samaritan—someone not of God’s chosen people, not of the same faith or race or state, but a stranger in their midst—who shows us what it means to truly love God and one’s neighbor (Luke 10:25-37). In welcoming strangers, we may be entertaining angels (Hebrews 13:2), or even Christ himself (Matthew 25:31-40). In Christ, we are “no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household” (Ephesians 2:19).

The Christian Response

Our current crisis is an occasion for us to examine our hearts afresh. Are we harboring fears or resentments that are flying free, untethered by the gospel? In what ways do our hearts, minds and eyes need to be reformed by our knowledge of God’s will and character, his promises, our relation to him, and the role to which he has called us?

Refugee policy will change with elections and a judge’s ruling, but not the calling of the elect: as moral citizens, we duly honor civil authorities who work for the common good, and we always stand compassionately with true refugees.

Regardless of our political convictions or fears, let us be sure to intercede in personal, corporate, and God-sized prayers for refugees, for those serving and loving them, and for the public servants making critical decisions about these concerns. Pray about national policy regarding refugees that is being made as we speak. Pray for the refugees in limbo and their immediate spiritual and human needs. Pray that the Lord would redeem their tragedies by leading them to Him.

And let us form our hearts around the sure promise that the fate of people and nations doesn’t rise or fall based on our efforts. As the apostle Paul reminds us: “God has determined the times set for all nations [ethnos, or ethnic groups] and the exact places where they should live. God did this so men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us” (Acts 17:26b-27). Amen.

When the refugee family assigned to HPC finally gets here, how might you welcome them?  For links to helpful resources on the refugee crisis and various Christian responses, visit the We Welcome Refugees website.

Mission of the Month: Child Sponsorship in El Amirante

By Dietrich Gruen

It was a father-son bonding moment. When Josue first sighted and tugged at me, I gazed into his big, brown, irresistible eyes. I said to myself, We could be related. My friend, Casey, took his picture, capturing this “please-love-me” moment for all time.

Josue is just what Sue (my wife) and I were looking for—a 5-year-old, fatherless child to sponsor. It was hard to pick one from among the hundreds of young kids crowding our team members in the poor barrio of Santo Domingo. Much easier if one particular kid picks me, I thought. That’s just how our connection came together for Josue and me.

However, over half of our child sponsors do not go on mission trips to our partner community, El Amirante, in the Dominican Republic (DR). But while you may not be able to go, you can still impact a child’s life through child sponsorship.

On Sunday, March 5, Hands of Hope-DR will again host the annual Pancake Breakfast in the High Point Church Micah Center, where you will have the opportunity to sign up to sponsor a child. Need more time to think it over after the breakfast? You can visit the Hands Of Hope-DR website to check out the ministry and the communities it serves. Under the Child Sponsorship tab, choose the community of El Almirante to view the 50 children available for sponsorship in our partner community. Browse the profiles, then take the step to start a relationship of encouragement and hope.

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Wait—is this kind of charity helpful and effective?

Your sponsorship gift of $32/month provides a child (and siblings) with school uniforms and supplies; annual medical, dental, hearing and vision checkups; birthday and Christmas parties; and food boxes twice a year. Plus, the healthcare can result in a child receiving additional benefits, such as hearing aids or asthma medication. To hear more about child sponsorship and community development in the El Amirante community, listen to the Dominican Republic Partnership interview posted on Tuesday, February 28 on the High Point Church Engage & Equip podcast.

As a child sponsor, you will see God work and have a story to tell.

The sponsoring churches in Madison (High Point Church and Crossroads Church) have formed many relationships in the Dominican Republic over the years. Here is evidence of these connections that I’ve witnessed. May these stories “spur you on to more love and good works” (Hebrews 10:24).

I’ve seen Doug, Brennen and Rick try to master spinning tops as several kids in the Dominican Republic taught them how to play. And I’ve seen Rick teach Kiever to throw and catch a baseball, just as I’ve taught Josue football.

I’ve seen Codi and Marisa laugh and hug their sponsored boy for the first time.  And at a band concert held in the town square one night, I’ve seen kids and their sponsors dance the night away together.

I’ve seen Brennen get kids to chase him so that Lynn Rawhouser could personally visit her sponsored kids and family members without other onlookers crowding in.

I’ve seen kids line up in front of the church to be lifted in the air by Doug and Femi, and kids in the library cram side-by-side on the couch to look at donated books as a sponsor parent Rhonda pointed out things of interest.

I’ve seen child sponsors provide kids with what they need. Jeff and Rhonda once gathered under the tree outside the shed that serves as their sponsor boy’s house, supplying him with physical care. With the boy’s father long gone and his mother disappearing with boyfriends, his grandmother and grandfather are the only ones who regularly care for him. Jeff and Rhonda get to support the family and supply clothes and shoes for the boy.

Like in other relationships, I’ve seen child sponsors share heartaches with their sponsor children and intercede in prayer on behalf of their families during adversity. Vicki learned that her sponsor children’s father, an alcoholic and spendthrift, also suffers from Lyme disease. Similarly, I learned that Josue’s father abused and abandoned the family, leaving the family to survive on $2/day.

Child sponsorship inspires initiative and hope that spreads to the community. I’ve seen Casey visit Kiever’s house, ask him about his favorite things to do, and learn that the boy likes to read. And when she didn’t see any books in his house (or in any Dominican Republic house that year), Casey was inspired to start a library—benefiting all the kids and adults in the community. Now dozens are learning their ABCs and numbers. Can you image a 10-year-old not knowing those basic skills? Child sponsors are doing something about that.

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Reaching the world through cross-cultural connections

These connections form into strong bonds as sponsors share life with their sponsor children through written letters. If you have children of your own, they can learn to pray for their sponsored child as one of their siblings. As a sponsor, you will also get Hands of Hope’s quarterly newsletter that brings you up-to-date on what’s happening in the El Amirante community.

So, will you join us? Check out the sponsorship program at the Pancake Breakfast on March 5 or visit the Hands of Hope website.

Living On-Script In The Modern World

I have talked with many people over the years that were uneasy about the script they felt was associated with Christian faith. It looks to them like some kind of script in which Christians are expected to follow every line—leaving no room for free improvisation in the romance of living itself.

And yet I’ve also run into quite a lot of people who quickly tire of making up everything as they go along. This is especially the case when large groups of people are working together spontaneously in profoundly complex sets of relationships. What if one person wants to get married, but it’s the furthest thing from the mind of another? Is getting a job negotiable? What if a parent wants to write a script that includes their child leaving the house, but their child wishes to read a script of them staying in the basement rent-free?

Is there a script?

Most actors know that there are various relationships that films and productions can have to scripts. Some stick exactly to every word of the script, and others leave some freedom to the actors. But according to this metaphor, following Christ is a little bit more like being in the writing room. Continue reading Living On-Script In The Modern World

Mission of the Month: International Justice

By Dietrich Gruen 

We know of many needs in the world around us: food for the hungry, shelter for the homeless, healthcare for the infirm or disabled. But have you ever considered justice as a category of need?

Consider these scenarios:

  • Someone I know borrowed money for a proper funeral for his mother. He was given a 305% interest rate on a title loan, causing him and his family to eventually lose their car, a job that depended on that car, and almost their marriage.
  • One individual had to borrow dowry and other funds for a proper wedding of their only daughter, only to go auction off another family member to repay their ever-mounting debts.
  • Another family had to work off debts incurred by the father’s illness so they sent their kids into low-wage jobs—never to return for two years—as the loan interest rates rose and other payments for service continued.

The first story unfolded in my office where I counsel Benevolent Fund applicants. The other two stories I heard at the annual Global Prayer Summit in Washington, DC last April. The effect on me was at first shock, then disbelief, and then outrage. How could such injustice happen today? Is it ever right to indenture servants in a free market economy? And what if the fight for justice for widows, orphans, rape victims, and modern-day slaves has to go through a corrupt legal system where money trumps all? Continue reading Mission of the Month: International Justice

Mission of the Month: Year End Gift

By Dietrich Gruen

Several worthy causes vie for where we spend our hard-earned dollars at the end of the year. Toys and travel factor into giving to our families. Charities compete for our attention; we get hit from every angle. From the sound of Salvation Army bells to the clamor of other organizations—at checkout lines, on the phone, in our email inboxes and mailboxes—the ask is ever-present, inescapable. At our favorite stores and restaurants, some worthy cause may also lure us in. And don’t forget the civil servants, housekeepers, news carriers and office staff who serve us so faithfully all year—many of us want to tip them, too.

Somehow, the pervasive marketing and giving strategies seem to work, despite being tiresome, routine and competitive. Given this competition for year-end gifts, why would you give to the gift for High Point Church?

What if?

What if we could fund special projects on the global, national and local fronts not in the annual HPC budget? Continue reading Mission of the Month: Year End Gift

Mission of the Month: A Designated Day

By Dietrich Gruen

For one day we will gather to lament, intercede, advocate for and learn from those who suffer for the gospel. This year, the internationally recognized day of prayer was the first Sunday in November. However, so that we can bring in a speaker and tie in with an already-called congregational meeting, the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church is happening for High Point Church this Sunday, November 20.

What we’re praying for.

Continue reading Mission of the Month: A Designated Day

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