Evangelicals unite in push to help refugees

A woman refugee carries an infant and water bottle as she walks near the town of Gevgelija, on the border with Greece. The Macedonian refugees hope to board a train heading to the Serbian border.
UNICEF/Georgiev Photo
CHICAGO (BP) -- Three Southern Baptists are among an interdenominational, ad-hoc group of evangelicals who have drafted and signed a joint declaration on caring for refugees in the midst of a humanitarian crisis affecting nearly 60 million displaced persons worldwide.

A group of more than 100 denominational and ministry leaders and representatives discussed the statement Dec. 17 at the Great Commandment, Great Commission Summit (GC2) at the Billy Graham Center for Evangelism (BGCE) at Wheaton College in Chicago.

Southern Baptists Ed Stetzer, executive director of LifeWay Research and a BGCE senior fellow; Frank S. Page, president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Executive Committee, and Micah Fries, vice president of LifeWay Research, are among a 12-member guiding coalition who drafted the statement, though their participation is not intended to signal the support of the entire SBC.

"Moments like these are when Christians cannot remain silent and still," the statement reads. "In light of this crisis, we commit ourselves and our churches to actively care for and minister to global refugees with mercy and compassion, both here and abroad, based on God's compelling concern for all people in need and especially refugees."

The "Christian Declaration on Caring for Refugees: An Evangelical Response" affirms six key beliefs:

"-- Refugees possess the image of God and, as such, are infinitely valuable to God and to us.

"-- We are commanded to love our neighbor, and it is our privilege to love refugees.

"-- As Christians, we must care sacrificially for the refugee, the foreigner, and the stranger.

"-- We will motivate and prepare our churches and movements to care for refugees.

"-- We will not be motivated by fear but by love for God and others.

"-- Christians are called to grace-filled and humble speech about this issue."

The statement is offered as a Christian humanitarian rather than political response to the refugee crisis, and leaves security and immigration issues to the government, statement drafters said.

"We're not taking a political stand. Actually the statement specifically says that it's the role of government to provide security and protect the nation. Other people will debate those issues," Stetzer said during a Dec. 17 teleconference announcing the statement. "Some of the [public] rhetoric in general has often been demeaning and dehumanizing, and we think that refugees need to be spoken of in ways that are appropriate for people created in the image of God."

Refugee status is probably not the way potential terrorists would undertake to enter the country, Stetzer said. Page agreed, acknowledging legitimate fear among the public.

"We recognize that security is a serious issue, and we know that many of our people do have fears, and we do not believe that they're acting irrationally," Page said during the teleconference. "But when they're confronted by the true facts … they'll recognize that the refugees about whom we're speaking are people who desperately need ministry and are not persons that we need to fear."

Other drafting coalition members, also acting independently of the groups they represent, are World Vision President Rich Stearns and Director of Church Mobilization Amanda Bowman; World Relief President and CEO Stephan Bauman and Vice President of Advocacy and Policy Jenny Yang; Wesleyan Church General Superintendent Jo Anne Lyon; Assemblies of God Assistant General Superintendent Alton Garrison; Humanitarian Disaster Institute Director Jamie Aten; Sue Elworth, vice president of development, marketing and communications of the Willow Creek Association; and BGCE Interim Executive Director Paul Ericksen.

The statement is intended to mobilize churches in meaningful ways to address the needs of refugees, organizers said.

"It's been exceptionally gratifying to see a group come together this large, this quickly, with enthusiasm to reach out and help those who will be both coming into this country and also those who need help there in the Middle East," World Vision Senior Vice President Kent Hill said. "What World Vision would most like to see out of this is that the churches would be mobilized to help in very concrete ways so that people in the Middle East in particular would be able to have their needs met during this very difficult time. … It was the fact that their needs were not being met, in terms of food rations being cut by the United Nations and others, that forced many of them to even flee into Europe."

Yang expressed a desire to create a deeper discipleship among Christians in building relationships with refugees and a desire to develop educational resources for pastors and church leaders.

"There [are] many refugees overseas that are being served by churches in really difficult situations," she said, "and hearing their stories, as well as even building relationships with refugees that are living in their own neighborhoods here in the United States, is really important to shape that discipleship."

Wheaton College will host a Jan. 20 follow-up, live-streamed summit, still being organized, to help equip and mobilize churches to be involved in the refugee crisis in the U.S. and globally.

Lyon expressed a desire to correct misperceptions being promulgated in the public square about refugees.

"The air is filled with this confusion," Lyon said. Christians need guidance in determining their proper place "in responding to all of the disruption that is there. … And so in that way, congregations will begin to understand what is their place … and then pathways" to take.

Resettlement ministry and global engagement have been signature engagements of evangelicals for decades, Stetzer said.

"This is an issue we have been connected with, not in a few weeks [the timeframe of the statement's drafting], but over years," Stetzer said, "that are concerns that this ministry needs to continue."

Among key statements in the declaration is a call for "Christians to embrace refugees through their denomination, congregation or other nonprofits, by providing for immediate and long-term needs, such as housing, food, clothing, employment, English language classes, and schooling for children."

"We distinguish that the refugees fleeing this violence are not our enemies; they are victims," the statement reads. "We call for Christians to support ministries showing the love of Jesus to the most vulnerable, those in desperate need, and the hurting.

"This is what Jesus did; He came to the hurting and brought peace to those in despair. Critical moments like these are opportunities for us to be like Jesus, showing and sharing His love to the hurting and the vulnerable in the midst of this global crisis. Thus we declare that we care, we are responding because our allegiance is to Jesus, and we seek to be more like Him, emulating His compassionate care for the most vulnerable."

The full statement is online at www.gc2summit.com/statement, and may be signed by supporters at www.gc2summit.com/signatures.

Diana Chandler is Baptist Press' general assignment writer/editor. BP reports on missions, ministry and witness advanced through the Cooperative Program and on news related to Southern Baptists' concerns nationally and globally.
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