In 2000, the United Nations General Assembly marked June 20 as World Refugee Day.
Since then, this day has provided an opportunity to recognize the blessings of refugees in our communities and to educate ourselves about the growing global refugee crisis.
We live in a world where the potential for connectedness and mutual understanding is unprecedented. Yet, suspicion and fear of "the other" dominate the headlines, and the number of forced displacements around the world continues to climb. How are we as the Church— the body of Christ—to respond?
The CRCNA Social Justice team, the Christian Reformed Centre for Public Dialogue, and World Renew invite you and your congregation to recognize World Refugee Day throughout the month of June. It is our prayer that this toolkit furthers the already faithful work of the Christian Reformed Church in welcoming refugees– fellow image-bearers of Christ. Our churches and our faith are stronger because of this work.
In this toolkit, you will find resources and ideas for celebrating World Refugee Day both as congregations and individuals. Whether you participate through worship, acts of advocacy, building community, or drawing on your own creative ideas, you can actively demonstrate that Christians across North America stand with refugees.
Welcoming Refugees: It's Who We Are
Welcoming refugees has been a faithful response of the Christian Reformed Church for decades. Throughout the 1960s, World Renew helped over 25,000 refugees fleeing persecution. World Renew’s first U.S. ministry was to help Cuban refugees arriving in Miami through the Good Samaritan Center.
In the Canadian context, World Renew began its official refugee work after signing its first Sponsorship Agreement with the Canadian government in 1979. At this time, the CRC welcomed thousands of Vietnamese refugees to Canada. World Renew has been sponsoring and resettling refugees for over 40 years!
These examples of refugee resettlement work, as well as other early, informal acts of involvement, led CRC churches across North America to join the refugee ministry through donating food, household items, and financial support to incoming families.
The CRC’s ministry of resettlement has continued ever since. Through World Renew, CRC members in Canada have welcomed refugees from all over the world, including Cambodians fleeing the Khmer Rouge in the 1980s, and Karen refugees fleeing Thailand in the early 2000s. Similar waves of refugee resettlement have also taken place through Christian Reformed churches in the United States through a partnership with Bethany Christian Services.
Today, congregations across the United States and Canada have opened their churches and homes to refugees from Syria, Eritrea, Iraq, Afghanistan, South Sudan, and beyond. In this ministry work, CRC members have seen the face of God in refugees and have been forever changed.
Explore just a few of the many stories of CRC church members across North America who have resettled refugees with this interactive map.
Who is a refugee?
The United Nations Convention of 1951 defines a refugee as a person fleeing persecution due to race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.
Refugees come to North America in a variety of ways: as a refugee claimant (also referred to as an asylum seeker), government assisted refugee, or privately sponsored refugee (Canada).
Though the overwhelming majority of refugees will never be permanently resettled into a new country, some individuals may come to the host country through the sponsorship of the government or, in Canada’s case, a private organization or group. While the hope for many is to return to their homeland, many will wait decades. They may eventually return, but home may have become unrecognizable and family members may have been lost along the way. Refugees typically wait in urban centers or refugee camps run by the United Nations until they can return home or are selected for resettlement. Those who are considered for resettlement are among the most vulnerable members of their community. Government assisted refugees and privately sponsored refugees (Canada) undergo the refugee and resettlement screening process abroad and arrive in their new home with documentation.
In Canada and the United States, it is also possible for individuals to arrive in the host country and make either a port-of-entry or inland asylum claim. Learn more details on this rigorous process in the U.S. and in Canada.
These facts and figures begin to paint a picture of the plight of refugees around the world:
42% of refugees are under the age of 18
68% of the world’s refugees come from just five countries: Syria, Venezuela, Afghanistan, South Sudan, and Myanmar
Over 1.4 million refugees were estimated to be in need of resettlement in 2020 but only 2.4% were actually resettled
As you try to absorb the scale and significance of the numbers above, we invite you to pause for a moment. Remember that each statistic represents real peoples’ lives. Though we may struggle to understand these experiences fully, these individuals hold stories of deep pain and suffering.
We are blessed to now call many refugees our friends and neighbors. However, we recognize that there are some individuals whose names and journeys we will never know. Even so, we know that each of these individuals remain a unique image-bearer of God, in whose likeness we are all made.
As news has circulated about “migrant caravans” coming to the U.S. southern border, or “illegal border crossings” into Canada, there has been a lot of confusion about:
whether those arriving are doing so “legally,” and
the difference between asylum-seekers (also known as refugee claimants in Canada) and refugees.
To faithfully and lovingly respond to our refugee and asylum-seeking neighbors at this time, we must be truth-tellers.
It is legal to seek asylum. Under both U.S. and Canadian law, people who enter the country—whether at a port of entry or elsewhere—have a legal right to request asylum if they fear persecution in their home country. They do not need to have papers (be “documented”) to exercise this right.
The grounds for receiving asylum and refugee status are the same: a well-founded fear of persecution on the basis of race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group.
A refugee has already gone through the rigorous process of vetting and background checks prior to arriving to the U.S. or Canada—their claim has already been decided. An asylum-seeker shows up to the U.S. border and then goes through the process—their claim has yet to be decided. In Canada, asylum-seekers are called refugee claimants, but the distinction is the same.
We encourage you to seek out ways to celebrate and remember refugees this World Refugee Day, and during the whole month of June. We have included a few ideas for you and your church community to consider. Maybe one of these ideas will spark your own ideas too!
Host a Welcome Dinner:
The Bible calls us to practice a deep form of hospitality: philoxenia, or love for the stranger. You can practice this value by hosting a meal for recently arrived newcomers and refugees. This meal could take place at your church, at another church you partner with, or at a local community center. The act of inviting recently arrived immigrants, refugees, and asylum seekers to join you around a common table demonstrates a desire to create a welcoming space, build relationships, and learn from one another. Read Trixie’s reflections on her church’s welcome dinner on Do Justice.
Join with Your Neighbors on World Refugee Day:
Contact local newcomer-serving organizations to learn about World Refugee Day. Invite friends, family, and members of your church to volunteer at or attend the event with you. This is a great way to meet new people and stand in solidarity with others who desire to be part of a community that both welcomes and befriends the stranger.
Hold a Prayer Service or Vigil:
The statistics listed earlier do not fully capture the pain, heartbreak, and suffering faced by people around the world who are forced to leave their homes. As we celebrate the ways in which we are able to offer welcome, we mourn the millions of lives around the world that are torn apart by persecution, violence, and fear. We encourage you and your church to consider hosting a prayer service to remember the plight of refugees, to pray for protection and comfort, and to ask for a transformation of hearts to be open to welcome. In the Worship section of this resource, you will find a variety of themes and ideas to build from as you plan your service.
Partner with Local Settlement Service Agencies:
Reach out to local settlement service agencies as a way to further support refugees already in the United States or Canada. Through this partnership, your congregations will gain a heightened awareness of the current policy challenges and settlement needs of refugees in your area. Read a reflection on this form of partnership on Do Justice.
We don’t have to dig deep in Scripture to find God’s call to welcome the stranger—from warnings that the way that we treat foreigners reveals the state of our relationship with God (Mal. 3:5), to the call to practice hospitality (Rom. 12:13), to God’s oft-repeated refrain to the Israelites: “Love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt” (Deut. 10:19). Jesus even said that when we welcome the stranger, we welcome him (Matt. 25:40)! Jesus himself was a refugee who escaped with his family from the violence of King Herod to the unfamiliar landscape of Egypt (Matt. 2:13). Because we seek the heart of God, we too have a heart for refugees and recognize our call to walk with them in advocacy, justice, and welcome.
World Refugee Day is a fitting opportunity to highlight these biblical themes in your worship service or family devotions. Our call to do justice flows out of our relationship with God!
This creative and easy-to-use skit helps a congregation to imagine different stages of refugees’ journeys and invites them into deeper empathy and reflection.
Although there is a specific day in April designated “Refugee Sunday” in Canada, the material intended for this day can be used during any worship service throughout the year. On Refugee Sunday, we reflect on the work of churches across Canada in welcoming refugees and supporting them throughout their settlement process. The prayers and financial support offered during this service will further the CRC’s involvement in refugee ministry.
In following Christ’s call to welcome the stranger, we must begin by acknowledging the significant role of the government in welcoming refugees in both Canada and the U.S. For example, government policies dictate the number of refugees granted entry into each country. Christian citizens have the ability to participate in the legislative process by advocating for laws that reflect justice and hospitality. Such participation flows from philoxenia (love of the stranger), a love to which we are called. Therefore, as Christians, we have a unique opportunity to welcome the stranger and defend the cause of the vulnerable.
It is the job of each elected official to listen to constituents—that’s you! We have the opportunity to regularly communicate with our members of Congress and Parliament to demonstrate that Christians across North America remain committed to the work of hospitality within our communities.
These days, laws and policies affecting refugees are changing frequently. If you’d like to practice biblical advocacy and stay in the loop on current advocacy opportunities, sign up for regular calls to action through our action centre.
Whether you live in Canada or the United States, you and your church can play an active role in welcoming refugees and walking alongside them as they settle in your community.
For members of the CRC in Canada, the Private Sponsorship of Refugees Program (PSRP) presents an incredible opportunity to play a meaningful role in the welcome and integration of refugees. The program, unique to Canada and administered by Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada (IRCC), allows individuals and churches to apply to sponsor refugees. Refugees can be referred to churches by people within Canada who have a connection to a refugee family in asylum overseas or by IRCC. As a Sponsorship Agreement Holder organization with a signed agreement with IRCC to resettle refugees, World Renew can approve churches and groups who wish to sponsor refugees under its agreement. After refugees arrive in Canada, sponsors provide personal settlement support in areas such as transportation, housing, banking, and health care. Since its establishment in 1979, the program has given Canadians the opportunity to formally support more than 327,000 refugees. If your church is interested in learning more about refugee sponsorship in Canada through World Renew, please call 1-888-975-3769 or visit worldrenew.ca/refugee-sponsorship
The CRC in the U.S. is part of a system of efficient and effective public-private partnerships between the U.S. Department of State, non-profit agencies, and churches in communities all across the country.
The State Department brings refugees to the U.S. through government-approved refugee resettlement agencies that have local affiliate agencies which directly assist refugees from the moment they arrive in their new cities. Refugee families get connected with CRC churches through the local agencies to help them adjust and integrate into their new communities.
In West Michigan, Bethany Christian Services is one of these local agencies that recruits churches, assigns refugee families, and supervises their relationship. In other regions of the U.S., Bethany serves as the liaison between a willing refugee-sponsor church and the local refugee resettlement agency.
If your church is interested in learning more about how to sponsor refugees in the U.S., visit Bethany Christian Services (www.bethany.org) or call (800) 238-4269 for more information.
There are several ministries in the Christian Reformed Church that work closely together to welcome, advocate with, and support refugees. Please remember them in your personal and congregational giving!
If you’d like to support these ministries, you can give on their designated giving Sunday or donate through their websites.