“Hear my prayer, Lord, listen to my cry for help; do not be deaf to my weeping. I dwell with you as foreigner, a stranger, as all my ancestors were.” Psalm 39:12
David feared for his life and was on the run from Saul for years. So, when he cries out again and again in the Psalms, it's safe to say that David was a refugee seeking refuge in His Savior. Interestingly enough, the Savior of the world, Jesus, would too be a refugee one day. I am confident that this is good news to all of us, but especially the refugees among us. The Oxford Dictionary defines a refugee as a person who has been forced to leave their country in order to escape war, persecution, or natural disaster. While there are nuances between some who is a refugee, asylee, or immigrant, they all share the same basic needs for love, integration, and acceptance in their new communities.
Each year, June 20th is recognized as International Refugee Day. Designed by the United Nations, it's a day to honor refugees around the world. This year's theme is “Together we heal, learn and shine.” People who have been forced to flee their homes and go to a foreign land often struggle navigating the system. It isn't easy for them to find a doctor when they are sick. Far from home, they struggle to find schools for their children or even a place for them to run around and play. They are not aware of local culture, language, economic systems, or immigration procedures to mention a few.
Every internally displaced person in their own country, every stateless person and every asylum seeker are looking for basic needs in life: food, shelter and clothing. Having these they feel safe and loved. Compassion Blog provides the following statistics on child refugees, stateless children and child asylum seekers as follows: “There are 12 million child refugees and asylum seekers (2016), 16 million children are internally displaced because of violence and conflict (2016), 7 million children are internally displaced because of natural disasters (2016), refugee children are five times more likely to not attend school than other children (2018), and about one third of the stateless people in the world are children (2018).” The same scenario is happening now in the Great Lakes area of Africa.
In the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo and neighboring country of Rwanda, the Nyiragongo volcano erupted on May 22, 2021, killing 32 people (as of May 25, 2021) displacing millions of people living in Goma, the capital city of the Eastern Kivu province in DRC. The aftereffects of this eruption continue to unfold as earthquakes are destroying roads and houses, causing many families to flee the area for their safety to neighboring countries and cities. These are the countries of origin of the Abahiriwe Mission Group.
Stone Mountain Seventh-day Adventist Church is working within this context of helping refugees for healing, learning and shining. Clarkston, Georgia is our main focus. Why this location? First, all of the Abahiriwe Mission Group congregants reside in or around Clarkston. Second, Clarkston is a multicultural zone where most residents are refugees. Third, we want to bring the Gospel where people are by going beyond cultural barriers; implementing programs that resolve the needs of low income residents. Finally, we have in Clarkston a community of people who do not speak English who need guidance and support for their full integration. Programs such as English as Second Language (ESL), the food pantry, family counseling and education, immigration, job application, and health education aid in their transition.
The insight of Deuteronomy 10:18 is conclusive, "He (God) defends the cause of the fatherless, and the widow, and loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing." God invites you and I to be a part too. We are called to care for the refugees among us, preparing to celebrate with them on June 20, 2021. As this year's theme reminds us, “Together we heal, learn and shine.” Together, we can make a difference.