‘Love God, Love Neighbor’ trains refugee supporters to become advocates

By Lynette Wilson
Posted Jun 12, 2017

Wendy Grace, diocesan liaison for refugees in the Diocese of Vermont, plays the role of a Colombian refugee during a mock meeting with a Congressional aide, while Lynn Zender, chair of the Diocese of Northern California’s immigration and refugee ministries group, looks on. Photo: Lynette Wilson/Episcopal News Service

[Episcopal News Service – Hartford, Connecticut] A year ago, the Episcopal Migration Ministries was worried about how it might rally the Church to assist in the resettlement of an additional 25,000 refugees in the fiscal year 2017. Now, EMM and other resettlement agencies are struggling for existence in an increasingly polarized environment dominated by fear, misinformation and misunderstanding.

The Rev. E. Mark Stevenson, Episcopal Migration Ministries’ director, preached during a June 5 Eucharist to begin the “Love God, Love Neighbor” refugee advocacy training at St. John’s Episcopal Church in West Hartford, Connecticut. Photo: Lynette Wilson/Episcopal News Service

“A year ago, the primary concern we had was how were we going to move from 85,000 refugees to 110,000 … and our thinking was then that if we don’t have advocacy, if we don’t have people to start embracing this very important ministry, we’re never going to be able to resettle 110 or more thousand refugees,” said the Rev. E. Mark Stevenson, EMM’s director.

“Our advocacy now is to simply educate people so that they can filter out the nonsense that they see and hear so much in the news media. Refugees are fleeing the same kinds of problems that we want to stop in our own national security. They are folks who have been attacked and we’re afraid of being attacked.”

Advocacy and storytelling that humanizes the refugee experience are two ways Episcopalians and others can correct the false, fear-based narrative that currently characterizes refugees. With that goal in mind, EMM hosted a three-day training here June 5-7 training to empower Episcopalians to be agents of reconciliation as allies, advocates and ambassadors for their refugee neighbors.

“We had this idea and wrote this program based on relationships we’ve built with dioceses and individuals — priests and deacons and lay people — over the last several years. People who are very eager to come together to not only network and meet and understand how they are doing refugee ministry in their own context, but also learn skills, especially now, to change public perception and to truly change hearts and minds in a time when refugees are deeply misunderstood,” said Allison Duvall, co-sponsorship and church relations program manager for EMM.

The Episcopal Church has resettled refugees in the United States since the 1930s. EMM is one of nine agencies partnered with the U.S. State Department to welcome and resettle refugees. EMM operates 31 resettlement affiliates in 26 dioceses, providing direct assistance to recent arrivals. EMM has resettled 3,404 refugees this fiscal year, which began in October 2016. The previous year, EMM resettled 5,761 refugees.

The Rev. Twila Smith, who serves two parishes in the Diocese of Bethlehem and coordinates a refugee community center, standing right, and the Rev. Michael Coburn, priest-in-charge of the Chruch of the Ascension, Cranston, Rhode Island, seated across the table, and others take part in a mock meeting with a Congressional aide, played here by Allison Duvall, co-sponsorship and church relations program manager for Episcopal Migration Ministries, during the June 5-7 “Love God, Love Neighbor,” refugee advocacy training. Photo: Lynette Wilson/Episcopal News Service

Eleven people from across the Episcopal Church – from California, Texas, Rhode Island, Vermont, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Florida, North Carolina and Kentucky – attended EMM’s “Love God, Love Neighbor” training.

Funded by a Constable Fund grant, the training was the pilot in a series of advocacy trainings scheduled over the next 12 months.

“The Constable Fund is one more example of how the Episcopal Church finds creative ways to do ministry in critical times. The governing bodies of the Episcopal Church were looking for various ways to help us get the word out,” said Stevenson, in an interview with Episcopal News Service at St. John’s Episcopal Church in West Hartford, the training site.

Allison Duvall, co-sponsorship and church relations program manager for Episcopal Migration Ministries, takes part in a discussion June 8 during the “Love God, Love Neighbor” refugee advocacy pilot training. EMM plans to make refugee advocacy a permanent part of its ministry. Photo: Lynette Wilson/Episcopal News Service

“They [the governing bodies] recognized the fact that truly effective ministry is done at the grassroots level and the goal of this program is to give people at the grassroots level the tools they need to advocate on behalf of refugees … this is a fantastic example of how a governing body can put into action a process that actually does hit at on-the-ground ministry.”

The Constable Fund provides support for Christian formation initiatives across the Episcopal Church that are not included in the Church’s budget. EMM plans to hold two to three additional refugee advocacy trainings before the 2018 General Convention; and, to make advocacy training a permanent part of its ministry.

For Amanda Payne, a youth minister in the Diocese of Dallas who works with refugees at St. James Episcopal Church, learning about the intensive security screenings refugees face before they’re cleared for resettlement in a session called “Refugee 101” was new information that will help her in her advocacy efforts, she said. The Rev. Paula Ott, a deacon at Christ Church Cathedral in Lexington, Kentucky, and the daughter of a Syrian Jew who came to the United States as a refugee in the 1920s, said learning storytelling skills to personalize refugees’ experiences is just one advocacy tool she plans to use as she intensifies her advocacy efforts.

Besides Refugee 101, other education and training sessions included storytelling techniques to reframe the narrative; the principles of Asset Based Community Development; and context, strategies and actionable tools for advocacy.

The Rev. Sean Lanigan, associate rector of St. Peter’s Church in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, takes part in a June 6 Asset Based Community Development training exercise as part of the June 5-7 “Love God, Love Neighbor” refugee advocacy training. Photo: Lynette Wilson/Episcopal News Service

The Rev. Sean Lanigan serves as associate rector of St. Peter’s Church in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, a church that works with a local refugee resettlement agency to co-sponsor a family of Bhutanese refugees. For him, the conference reinforced the message that storytelling needs to include not just the refugees’ stories, but stories about how co-sponsorship changes church volunteers and congregations.

Throughout the United States, Episcopalians partner with EMM and other affiliates to resettle refugees; church co-sponsorship is an important part of the resettlement program. And while community-level engagement and church co-sponsorship and one-to-on ministry are important, advocacy also is an important engagement tool.

“Advocacy absolutely must be a component especially when you are talking about refugee resettlement,” said Lacy Broemel, the Episcopal Church’s refugee and immigration policy analyst. Congress approves the funding and the president annually determines the number of refugees to be resettled. “If you want refugees in your community, you have to talk to them [elected officials]. You don’t have to be an expert to be a good messenger, you don’t have to have worked in refugee resettlement for 45 years as a case manager to know, to see someone’s humanity to know that this program is good and right and beneficial.”

The Episcopal Church is non-partisan, but Episcopalians do engage in politics at the local, national and international level from a Christian values-based approach.

The advocacy training comes at a critical time. Since its formalization in 1980, the U.S. Refugee Resettlement Program has, for the most part, enjoyed bipartisan and widespread public support. Additionally, the United States historically has led the world in welcoming large numbers of refugees fleeing violence and persecution. In 2015, however, Americans’ acceptance and attitude toward refugees began to change from one of mostly quiet acceptance to fear.

Lacy Broemel, the Episcopal Church’s refugee and immigration policy analyst, leads a “Prophetic Ministry of Advocacy” training June 7 during the “Love God, Love Neighbor” pilot training. Photo: Lynette Wilson/Episcopal News Service

Two things happened, explained Broemel during a June 7 session she led on the prophetic ministry of advocacy.

First, in early September of that year, a photograph a drowned, 3-year-old Syrian boy washed up on a beach on Turkey’s southwest coast, went viral and initiated a worldwide outpouring of support for Syrian refugees fleeing the country’s ongoing civil war. Alan Kurdi, his older brother and his mother, when the crowded dingy they’d boarded to travel from Turkey to Greece capsized minutes into their journey.

Then, two and a half months later, on Nov. 13, 2015, terror attacks killed 130 people and wounded hundreds more in six locations across Paris, France. Immediately following the attacks, the media erroneously reported that one of the attackers was a Syrian refugee, when in fact the attackers were Belgian and French nationals. Regardless of the attackers’ identity, fear, nationalism and massive influx of refugees fleeing Syria and other crisis zones arriving in Europe began to turn public opinion against refugees in Western Europe and the United States.

After the Paris attacks, the rhetoric of anti-refugee fringe groups became mainstream, fear flourished and refugee resettlement became a polarizing political issue exacerbated by misreporting and misunderstanding of the resettlement process, said Broemel.

Still, in 2016, then-President Barack Obama increased the number of refugees from 85,000 to 110,000 during 2016 and pledge to resettle 10,000 Syrian refugees in the United States during the fiscal year 2017, which ends Sept. 30.

Earlier this year, when President Donald Trump took office, one of his first acts as president was to sign an executive order suspending the U.S. resettlement program. A federal court stayed the order, which is likely to end up in front of the Supreme Court later this year. The order also reduced by more than half the number of refugee admissions this fiscal year; an action that has forced Episcopal Migration Ministries to reduce the size of its affiliate network.

Trump’s proposed 2018 budget reduces funding by 25 percent for the resettlement program.

Episcopal Migration Ministries is a partner in the June 12-16 Stand With Refugees national campaign.

-Lynette Wilson is managing editor of Episcopal News Service.


Comments (17)

  1. Pjcabbiness says:

    “EMM is one of nine agencies partnered with the U.S. State Department……….” Why? This relationship is inappropriate and clearly demonstrates how far the Church has gone astray. This is yet another example of political action and promotion by the church for purely partisan purposes and is beyond the scope of legitimate Church activity. Isn’t it time for the PB to admit that the Episcopal Church is really a political, progressive social action institution rather than a Christian denomination?

  2. Susan Salisbury says:

    The Episcopal Church is looking more and more like a government funded left wing propaganda mill. What does the EMM to encourage assimilation? mainly teach them how to apply for welfare. And, of cours, EMM receives hundreds of millions in government and private foundation grants. Do they ever even mention Jesus to these migrants? I doubt it because that would be a violation of the first amendments establishment clause. ( and no I’m not being sarcastic). Being kind to your neighbor doesn’t require inviting him to,live in your house.

    1. Bill Louis says:

      I’m amazed at the incessant need for the Episcopal Church to bring in refugees from the middle East. No one seems to pay attention to all the crime and chaos thats going on in Europe with all of the refugees they have brought into their countries. Many of these refugees are military age men who should be defending their own country. No one seems to notice that most of the oil rich Arab countries are taking none of the refugees under their wing, a solution that makes sense because of their similar cultures. Why is always up to the U.S to step up. We have plenty of needy people to care for here in our own country. I expect to hear quotes from Scripture that will attempt to show that I am a bad Christian for not joining as an advocate for this cause. Susan is correct. The Episcopal Church is run exactly like the goverment and as parishioners, we are funding it.

  3. Roger Hamilton says:

    EMM needs to shut down. It has become a parody of what it pretends to be.

  4. John Miller says:

    I stand amazed at the people who seem to forget Jesus’s teachings—as well as the OT prophets re refugees. I feel blessed that my church is standing up for refugees and fulfilling the commission Jesus gave to his disciples. Some people seem to have no sense about refugees—they are not looking for welfare and indeed, they are usually hard-working people who want what we want: peace, a job, a chance for the kids to advance, and to contribute to their communities.

    1. Bill Louis says:

      John I suggest you do some research. Refugees receive an initial payment of $1850 each from the federal government. Then they are eligible for the Refugee Cash Assistance program for up to eight months. They can also receive SNAP and Medicaid benefits. Most cannot speak English and have few skills to bring to American businesses. The children put into our schools are a drain on our teaching resources. Did you read about the older teenage boy refugees that were put into classes with 14 year old girls? That did not turn out well and it was virtually swept under the rug by the media and courts. Meanwhile we have homeless American citizens on our streets. Perhaps you should sponsor some refugees in your home or community to get a sense of what is really going on with the refugee program.

      1. Jamie Mills says:

        What “really goes on” (speaking as someone who worked as a local resettlement office Director, receiving refugees through EMM) is that the vast majority of these refugees find jobs to become self-sufficient, pay taxes, buy homes, and help their kids graduate high school. They are hard-working, grateful, and kind people, for the most part. They just want a chance to build a new life of freedom and safety for their families. I only pray that other countries would show you and me the same compassion if a Civil War war to break out here and force us to lose family members and our homes.

  5. Compassion is not something we hang up in the church cloakroom on our way out the narthex.

    Let me share this anecdote for my brothers and sisters in Christ: The second refugee family our parish agreed to co-sponsor was a family of four from Afghanistan. Turns out the father had been an interpreter for the U.S. military for 10 years! He took bullets shielding our men and women. Had the current administration’s restrictions been in place three months ago when they arrived, even they would not have been allowed in. Thank God that didn’t happen! But most refugee families are ordinary people, and must go through 24 months of vetting by multiple layers of US immigration authorities before they are accepted or rejected. Are there some bad apples? If there is one further down the road, do we turn our back on everyone else, because the odds are not 100% in our favor? No.
    EMM is exemplifying what Jesus taught us to do, and is doing a remarkable job of it! And thank you Lynette Wilson, for your report.

    1. Bill Louis says:

      I’ve seen several references to the teachings of Jesus. I was brought up in a Christian home like most of you. I believe Jesus wants us to be welcoming, loving, forgiving and compassionate. However, I don’t believe He meant to be stupid about it and just roll over for those that would do us harm. How many times are we as Christians expected to turn the other cheek? From the accounts I have seen in the news, mostly from abroad because our biased media does not want report what is really going on, there are packs of young men attacking their hosts, mollesting their women and creating chaos when they feel they have not been given enough from their host countries. Are there many good refugees that deserve our compassion? Yes I believe there are but there are also more than “one further down the road” to cause concern for my family especially my young grandchildren. So, with those odds I would rather be certain of exactly who we are allowing into our country. I don’t believe EMM looks any further than there nose when it comes to vetting refugees. I suppose its going to take a string of incidents before people wake up! Once they are here it is too late.

      1. The Rev. Barry M. Signorelli says:

        In response to your question about how many times we are to turn the other cheek, I believe Jesus would respond that it’s like how many times we are to forgive those who wrong us: seventy times seven, which itself is a rhetorical number indicating that we NEVER stop forgiving and NEVER stop turning the other cheek. Sounds like a radical idea, you say? Welcome to the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth, who never allows us to quantify, and thus limit, the amount of love we are willing to offer our neighbors, nor to qualify, and thus restrict, our view of who those neighbors are. “This is a hard saying,” I know, but there’s not a lot of wiggle room when you remember the lengths the Teacher himself went to to make his point. He stretched out his arms upon the hard wood of the cross to answer your question; I suppose you could say he was stupid about it and rolled over to those who would do him harm. Then he has the audacity to look each of us in the eye and say, “Follow me.” What to do, what to do…?

        1. Bill Louis says:

          You win. I guess I refuse to be the Christian in the arena about to be fed to the lions. I will pray that your tolerance works out well for you.

  6. Karen Mills says:

    I am proud that my Church takes it call seriously – politics aside. Please read and do a little more research before you smear this great organization. EMM and its affiliates are giving people who have lived in fear a new life. And I can tell you from experience, they are grateful.

  7. Pjcabbiness says:

    I continue to marvel at the ability of the left to transform the risen, atoning divine Messiah of scripture into a progressive political activist. They have been working diligently on this effort for over four decades and are, unfortunately, succeeding.

  8. Pjcabbiness says:

    Jamie Mills. We did have a civil war here. Instead of fleeing to foreign countries for relief, our forefathers stayed the course and saw the conflict through to a favorable conclusion. It would be refreshing to see the same resolve in others.

  9. Jawaharlal Prasad says:

    I find it difficult to understand why people think that the church is engaged in a leftist agenda. The refugees come to US or go to other countries because each country has some humanitarian laws in place. Is US State Department guilty of allowing the church to pursue a leftist agenda by partnering with EMM. Many years ago, when the dictator Idi Amin threw Indians out of Uganda, countries such as India, England and US accepted these refugees and helped them settle. I met a few such refugees in US. They were very grateful to the US people and through their hard work were doing well on their own.
    At one point, I briefly helped Hindu refugees in Houston. They had lived in a refugee camp for some 16 years before coming to US. For a while, their rent was paid by the government but they had to find their own way to pay for their upkeep. They were hardworking and worked at whatever jobs they could get. Some members of a Hindu temple helped these refugees through donations and providing temporary jobs. The refugees were very grateful.

  10. Lynette Wilson says:

    While the editors of ENS encourage polite discussion here in the comments section, we don’t encourage the spread of misinformation. As the author of this story, which was intended to educate readers about the role of advocacy and some of the false narratives and misinformation regarding the United States Refugee Resettlement Program, I urge you to further educate yourselves about refugees and the federal resettlement program by reading the information here:


  11. Susan Husson says:

    Endless repetition of false and misleading information about the refugee resettlement program only serves to spread fear and foments ever more misunderstanding. As Executive Director of an EMM affiliate, I can assure each of you that we do not receive millions of dollars from this program. I can also assure you that we MUST find jobs for those who are able bodied – and we do. The average length of time between a refugee’s arrival and first employment is at 75 days. SNAP and Medicaid programs are tied to income and as income rises those amounts decrease. Jamie Mills (hi Jamie) is quite right about the benefits refugees bring to this country. They become tax-payers as soon as they go to work and consumers as well. They save and scrimp to purchase homes; their children graduate from high school and college. Some of them go into OUR military to protect this country. They have come here because of persecution and are vetted by many agencies, not by EMM nor its affiliates. Added to all of that, it is my belief that we are here to help each other in whatever capacity we feel called to do. If I choose refugee assistance and you choose veterans, aren’t we all part of the same family helping each other along this road of life as best we can. I don’t pretend to know what Jesus would do, but I have read what he said and that includes …” when you have done it to the least of these, you have done it to Me.”

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