World Refugee Day is held each year on June 20 as a way to promote awareness and education around refugees. A newly updated toolkit can help churches mark the day and get involved.
The resource is a 27-page booklet filled with stories of refugee sponsorship, facts and statistics, suggestions for ways to commemorate the day, links to prayers and litanies, and advice for getting involved in advocacy or resettlement.
First created three years ago, the World Refugee Day Toolkit is a shared project of the Christian Reformed Centre for Public Dialogue, World Renew, and the Office of Social Justice. The goal has been to put something into churches’ hands to help congregations and individuals learn more about refugees, celebrate their contributions in our communities, and remember the difficulties of people still seeking refuge.
World Refugee Day was initiated by the United Nations General Assembly in 2000 and is recognized in countries around the world. Each spring, World Renew also marks Refugee Sunday on the weekend closest to April 4, designated as Refugee Rights Day in Canada.
The toolkit is a useful resource for churches wishing to mark Refugee Sunday in worship services or World Refugee Day education opportunities, to kick off a campaign to raise funds or start a sponsorship journey, or to create awareness anytime during the year.
Dena Nicolai, a chaplain and refugee support mobilizer with Christian Reformed churches in British Columbia, noted that it can be easy to forget the more than 60 million forcibly displaced people in the world when the crises that create refugees — such as war in Syria, and turmoil in Venezuela or Iran — are no longer at the top of the news cycle.
However, said Nicolai, “World Refugee Day helps remind us of these millions of people, all of whom have names and faces and stories, and all of whom are made in the image of God.”
“The World Refugee Day toolkit brings the stories of refugees — and the history of the CRC’s involvement in welcoming and journeying with them — back into our vision and memory,” added Nicolai.
World Renew, the relief and development arm of the Christian Reformed Church in North America (CRCNA), has been involved in sponsoring refugees in Canada for 40 years. Since 1979 about 7,000 refugees have been welcomed and resettled by World Renew and their sponsoring partners, ministries, and churches. Churches in every classis across Canada have acted as sponsors over the years.
Rebecca Walker, Refugee Coordinator for World Renew, noted that the CRC was one of the first organizations to sign an agreement with the government of Canada’s refugee sponsorship program. “We’ve been involved, really, since its inception,” Walker said.
In 1979 the focus was on refugees fleeing violence in Vietnam. Since then, refugees’ countries of origin have changed as global political situations have shifted, but the program has continued to welcome and walk with people who find themselves displaced.
While World Renew’s work with refugees is different in Canada and in the United States, the toolkit is binational, with resources for churches in both countries. Churches and individuals can donate to World Renew’s efforts, connect with local settlement agencies, get to know refugees and their stories, and learn from them.
“And if you don’t have opportunity to do that,” Nicolai noted, “you can still keep all of this in prayer.”
“Jesus was a refugee,” added Melissa Stek, a justice mobilization specialist with the Office of Social Justice. “He calls us to extend hospitality to the oppressed and welcome to the foreigner.”