United Methodist Agencies Pull Together in Migrant Ministries
Tim Tanton, Ivy Couch and Elliot Wright.*
PHOTO: CINDY MACK
The United Methodist Church’s program and service agencies are exploring ways to increase collaboration in ministries with refugees and other migrants. Representatives of 10 agencies and partners met March 31 to share information and discuss ways to work together for greater impact on the lives of a record number of displaced people worldwide.
Some 66 million people are forcibly displaced today, about 22 million of them refugees, said Erol Kekic, a staff member of Church World Service (CWS), an ecumenical organization that is one of nine registered refugee resettlement operations in the United States. It works with United Methodist congregations in placing refugees.
The meeting was convened by Bishop Minerva Carcaño, episcopal leader of the San Francisco Area, who leads the denomination’s Immigration Task Force, and hosted by Thomas Kemper, top staff executive of United Methodist Global Ministries, at the agency’s headquarters in Atlanta. Global Ministries includes the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR).
Global Ministries is the church’s lead agency on global migration, and the United Methodist Board of Church and Society is the lead agency around U.S. immigration policy. In a seven-hour seminar the previous day, key staff and guests of Global Ministries explored both the challenges migrants face today and the blessings they can bring to the church. For a report on that seminar, including videos, see Challenges and Blessings of Migration Explored by Mission Staff.
Other agencies at the workshop on the 31st included Discipleship Ministries, the Commission on Religion and Race, the Board of Higher Education and Ministry, United Methodist Communications, United Methodist Women, the United Methodist Publishing House, and Wespath, the denomination’s pension and health benefits agency. Partner organizations Church World Service and National Justice for Our Neighbors (NJFON) also participated.
In her opening comments, Bishop Carcaño stressed that the task requires the efforts of all agencies and the entire church.
The first half of the day focused on information sharing. Bishop Carcaño and retired Bishop Elias Galvan then led a smaller group in planning a coordinated response to the immigration crisis in the United States.
Bishop Elias Galvan said that new U.S. policies, including projected travel bans, are causing suffering, and United Methodist pastors and church members are among those affected. “This is a critical moment, and we need to respond,” he said.
Bishop Carcaño said that in her area, parents are being arrested in immigration raids while their children are in school, and the children are unaware of what is happening to their parents.
With 1.2 million people in need of resettlement, global capacity exists for only 170,000 people – or 15 percent of the global need – in 25-plus countries, Kekic said. The top hosting countries for displaced people are Turkey, Pakistan, Lebanon, Iran, Ethiopia, and Jordan, he said. The average length of stay in a refugee camp today is more 21 years, he added.
PHOTO: CINDY MACK
The United States started the fiscal year in October expecting to resettle 110,000 people, but President Donald Trump’s first executive order in January reduced that number to 50,000, Kekic said. Church World Service has 5,139 individuals who have arrived or are booked for entry in fiscal 2017.
In reference to the proposed travel ban on certain refugees, Kekic gave an overview of the vetting process that already exists for refugees. He said that refugees are “by far” the most vetted people coming into the United States. Employment preparation is the most important stage in the resettlement process, he said. “Eighty-eight percent of all employable refugees that we help resettled are employed by the 180th day.”
Refugees with church sponsors are five times more likely to be successful in the integration process, so CWS tries to get church sponsors for all refugees coming in, he said. The organization, is struggling to find enough congregations to step forward, he said, and hopes for 200 new United Methodist congregational sponsors this year.
Representatives of the several agencies told about their work on immigration and refugee-related concerns. Highlights follow.
Jeania Ree Moore spoke of the role of the General Board of Church and Society in helping congregations participate in the “sanctuary movement” that provides shelter to migrants in danger of being detained and deported. The agency also plays a leading role in advocacy on behalf of migrants and refugees.
Harriett Olson, top staff executive of United Methodist Women (UMW), noted her agency’s long history of working with immigrants. The UMW currently produces resources in multiple languages addressing immigrant needs and concerns, and it sponsors mission studies that focus on education and personal transformation for participants. The UMW provides global migration resources and content at unitedmethodistwomen.org/immigration.
The UMW has signed an amicus brief in Maryland and Hawaii legal actions contesting the constitutionality of the White House’s executive orders limiting immigration into the US, Olson said. The briefs were signed on the basis of the religious distinctions that are reflected in the countries listed in President Trump’s travel ban.
The Rev. Amy Stapleton represented the Commission on Religion and Race. She described how directors of the agency traveled to the US-Mexico border, where they heard first-hand stories of people’s pain around immigration and migration. Subsequently, the commission renewed its commitment and pledge to continue its work in resourcing the church on intercultural competency. The board also released a statement affirming its commitment to dismantling systems of oppression.
The United Methodist Publishing House is developing a project with the Commission on Religion and Race that would resource children facing the threat of the deportation of one or both of their parents, said the Rev. Brian Milford, president and publisher. The Publishing House’s ministrymatters.com site also includes resources for clergy and lay leaders.
“Fear of the Other, No Fear in Love”
The Publishing House has published a book by retired Bishop William Willimon, “Fear of the Other, No Fear in Love.” The book, published issued after the US presidential election and already in its second printing, is being used in church groups and is already in its second printing. A study guide and video are being planned to accompany it, Milford said. The book is available at cokesbury.com.
Immigration will be among the topics discussed at the May 27-31 conference of the International Association of Methodist-related Schools, Colleges and Universities in Puebla, Mexico. The Rev. Kim Cape, top staff executive of the United Methodist Board of Higher Education and Ministry, gave an overview of the event, which will focus on the theme of “Tearing Down Walls: A Pathway to Peace, Healing, and Humanity.”
United Methodist Communications is providing resources and news coverage in multiple languages as part of a broader advertising campaign this year. It will include messages of welcome and reflections from children on what it means to be Christian. as part of a broader advertising campaign this year. Staff shared an overview of resources and content on immigration that can be found at umc.org/immigration and Hispanic.umc.org.
Wespath participates in the Interfaith Center for Corporate Responsibility, which recently sent a letter to an advisory group formed by President Trump of current and former CEOs, urging them to oppose the travel ban, said Dale Jones, Wespath staff executive. The letter asked the group to consider the impact on human rights and global issues around immigration and refugee issues, as well as the business impact effects on companies from people not being able to travel freely, he said.
The Rev. Cynthia Wilson, staff executive with Discipleship Ministries, emphasized the importance of liturgy and prayer in teaching people, advancing intercultural competency, and developing resources for responding to the immigration crisis.
Justice for Our Neighbors
National Justice for Our Neighbors was created by UMCOR and spun off into a separate organization, with UMCOR remaining its major source of funding. It works with low-income clients who cannot afford private immigration attorneys, said Rob Rutland-Brown, executive director. It helps people apply for asylum, get green cards, and apply for status under the federal DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) policy. It also helps victims of violent crimes to live independently of their abusers, he said, and it assists unaccompanied minor children fleeing gang violence in Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala, he said.
In 2016, Justice for Our Neighbors served 35 percent more clients than in the previous year, hitting the 10,000 mark in terms of cases undertaken, Rutland-Brown said. The organization opened a site near the US-Mexico border last month in Imperial Valley, California.
*Tim Tanton of United Methodist Communications and Ivy Couch and Elliott Wright of Global Ministries contributed to this report.