Churches unite in support of migrants

Recent immigrants work on exercises during their German class at Erlöserkirche Evangelisch-methodistische (United Methodist Church of the Redeemer) in Bremen, Germany. Photo by Mike DuBose, UMNS.
Recent immigrants work on exercises during their German class at Erlöserkirche Evangelisch-methodistische (United Methodist Church of the Redeemer) in Bremen, Germany. Photo by Mike DuBose, UMNS.

As United Methodist congregations prepared for the coming of the Christ child on the first Sunday of Advent, many also recognized the importance of welcoming the stranger.

Churches around the world celebrated Global Migration Sunday on Dec. 3 with a day of prayer and a special offering to aid migrants and refugees.

Today, more than 65 million people worldwide have been forcibly displaced from their homes due to conflict, persecution or natural disasters. Over 22 million of those are refugees.

“Our church needs to continue (to provide) ways we are the home for strangers and we are the friend for the migrant, and we need to open up the landscape so that the church can be outfacing, engaging with those in such a critical situation today,” said Wisconsin Area Bishop Hee-Soo Jung, president of United Methodist Board of Global Ministries.

While it’s too soon to know full participation numbers, Jung estimates that at least half of the churches in his episcopal area, roughly 250, participated on Global Migration Sunday through liturgy sharing, prayers or a special offering.

The Rev. Judith Reedy celebrated Global Migration Sunday with her congregation at Grace United Methodist Church in Dallas. The church has a communion rail offering every week and Reedy rearranged the schedule to include Global Migration Sunday.

The church also invited fellow United Methodist Bill Holston to speak. Holston, a lawyer, runs the Human Rights Initiative of North Texas, a nonprofit that provides legal support to refugees and immigrants seeking asylum in the U.S. 

“We collected $250 for that one Sunday at our communion rail. The congregation responded overwhelmingly in a positive manner. … Almost every single person came through the receiving line to shake hands with our guest speaker,” Reedy said.

The money raised on Global Migration Sunday goes to the denomination’s Global Migration Advance (#3022144), a fund set up in 2014 for donors to designate gifts specifically to support work that alleviates the suffering of migrants. To date, more than $1.5 million has been raised, with $53,000 donated since September. The Global Migration Sunday offerings are still being tallied.

At least 10 percent of the funds raised will support the refugee resettlement work of partner organization Church World Service. The money also will provide advocacy and education materials and grants to help conferences and congregations become better equipped to minister to migrants locally and globally.

Two recent grants will support refugees and migrants in Germany and Mexico. A nearly $50,000 grant from the Advance migration fund will provide refugees in Bremen, Germany, with language skills and health-care assistance and help them access government funding and find employment.

In Apaxco, México, a $25,000 grant will provide food bags and hygiene kits to more than 2,200 migrants, mostly from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala, who are fleeing violence and poverty in their home countries. The grant also will allow the Methodist Church La Santisima Trinidad to continue its ministry of providing overnight shelter to the migrants as they pass through Apaxco on their journey north toward the border with the United States.

The Rev. Russell Pierce, executive director of mission engagement at Global Ministries, said working with migrants and refugees is a key mission for the United Methodist Committee on Relief, the humanitarian relief and development arm of The United Methodist Church. He said UMCOR and Global Ministries are committed to continuing that work and finding new ways to collaborate with organizations around the world on the issue.

For churches that were unable to celebrate Global Migration Sunday on Dec. 3, Pierce said it’s not too late to take up a special offering and raise awareness about the crisis.

“The resources on UMCmigration.org are resources congregations can use at any point to recognize the current situation for migrants around the world — both when you’re thinking about immigration issues in the U.S. and you’re looking at refugee situations (around the world). It’s a broad set of resources that a church could use at any point,” he said.

The resources are available in several languages and include prayers, offering talks, sermon starters, videos and social media graphics.

Jung said it’s crucial that churches continue to support migrants beyond Global Migration Sunday and to celebrate the gifts they have to offer.

“It’s so critical, because there’s a lot of reverse mission happening from this migration community,” he said. “They’re the ones who are giving real mission here, (they’re) not just recipients (of help from the) U.S. toward them, but now they are among us and they are a great witness. That’s why the church needs to really think this migration matter is our matter, a common matter.”

Pierce agrees. He said it’s not only important for United Methodists to understand the issue but also to recognize that churches are being revitalized by engaging with migrants, refugees and immigrants in their own communities. The church needs to continue to lift up those stories, he said.

“We’ll raise awareness, we’ll continue to work on the migration ministries, but especially raise up that this is a way that churches are being revitalized.”

Julie Dwyer is a writer and editor for United Methodist Communications. Contact her at (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org

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