United Methodist bishop shares stories of Syrian refugees

In the midst of calls to cast out refugees, United Methodist Bishop Sally Dyck traveled to Capitol Hill to add her voice to those of other national faith leaders and three U.S. senators calling for lawmakers to show mercy.

Dyck, Northern Illinois Conference, wrote a letter to Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner in November advocating for Syrian refugees seeking asylum. She spoke about those families at the press conference organized by Church World Service on Dec. 8.

“Many young families find themselves between the violence behind them and the refusal of resettlement in some place with peace and safety, which is all that they really want,” she said. “I trust that our senators will not prevent these refugees from coming.”

Dyck talked about Justice for Our Neighbors, a United Methodist ministry that offers free legal assistance to immigrants and refugees. She said in her conference, the organization is working with eight Syrians.

“Amira is a young mother with three young children, and these three girls are every bit as silly and rambunctious as any of our children or grandchildren. But they have seen huge trauma, and they are just getting resettled by going to school,” Dyck said.

She applauded Illinois Senator Dick Durbin’s call for 100,000 Syrian refugees to be resettled in the U.S.

U.S. Sens. Durbin (D-IL), Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Tim Kaine (D-VA) joined the national faith leaders in pressing the administration to welcome refugees.

After the attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, California, both linked to terrorists, many politicians and leaders are calling for harsh steps to keep out refugees.

“Some have reacted to these horrific terrorist attacks by calling for our government to suspend refugees coming to this country,” Durbin said. “Make no mistake: that is precisely what terrorists want. They commit these atrocities to disrupt our lives, make us look over our shoulders and turn neighbor against neighbor in fear. We cannot allow the United States to fall into that trap.”

“The United States presently has resettled only 2,000 Syrian refugees, and that number should be significantly increased in order to show authentic global leadership,” said Bill Mefford, director of civil and human rights for the United Methodist Board of Church and Society. The social justice agency of the denomination advocates for immigrants, migrant workers and refugees.

“Refugees are the single most scrutinized and vetted individuals to travel to the United States, undergoing more than seven security checks by intelligence agencies and taking individuals longer than 1,000 days to be processed before entering. This is not a national security issue; this is a moral issue, and it is time for us as people to welcome refugees as Christ has welcomed us.”

Denominational concern and action

Other United Methodist have joined in calls for compassion and moved to help Syrian refugees.

Three bishops sent letters Dec. 8 to all United Methodist clergy in Alabama and Florida, offering a pastoral response to the war in Syria and rise of the terrorist group ISIS, or the Islamic State. The letters were from Bishop Paul L. Leeland, Alabama-West Florida Conference; Bishop Debra Wallace-Padgett, North Alabama Conference, and Bishop Ken Carter, Florida Conference.

“As we approach Christmas, we remember that the Gospel of Matthew, likely written in Syria, tells the story of the Holy Family who flee the violence of their own home,” the letter to Florida clergy said. “We call upon our churches to welcome our brothers and sisters of all faiths.”

Hospitality can be balanced with security, the bishops pointed out, noting that the U.S. resettlement screening process often takes 18 to 24 months.

In New Jersey, Morrow Memorial United Methodist Church of Maplewood recently welcomed a Syrian refugee family of five, despite New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's opposition to accepting Syrian refugees in the state.

During a Nov. 20 press conference in Topeka, Bishop Scott J. Jones, Great Plains Conference, announced that at least 35 United Methodist congregations in Kansas and Nebraska have agreed to sponsor one or more Syrian refugee families when immigration to the U.S. becomes possible,

United Methodists also signed open letters asking the U.S. to welcome refugees from Syria and elsewhere and urged political leaders opposing resettlement to reconsider those opinions.

After the Paris terrorist attacks, Bishop Gary Mueller of the Arkansas Conference responded to Gov. Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas, who was among more than two dozen U.S. governors wanting their state borders closed to Syrian refugees.

Mueller said he favored heightened security but also “heightened compassion towards Syrian refugees who are suffering at the hands of ISIS in ways we can only begin to comprehend.”

Ginghamsburg United Methodist Church in Tipp City, Ohio, is collaborating with the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries and the United Methodist Committee on Relief on a special Christmas offering, Beyond Bethlehem, which focuses on the overall refugee crisis, and encouraging other churches to do the same.

Gilbert is a multimedia reporter for United Methodist News Service. Contact her at (615)742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org. Bloom is a United Methodist News Service multimedia reporter based in New York. Follow her at https://twitter.com/umcscribe or contact her at (646) 369-3759 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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