When I was growing up as a self-absorbed kid, somewhere around 1956 or 1957, I have a distinct memory of my parents opening our small home to a family that had moved to the US (in particular, the Denver area) from a strangely named country called Hungary. I knew little about it except that it was in Eastern Europe and that a dish my mother used to prepare for dinner was called Hungarian Goulash. I suppose for a kid of 6 or 7 that was probably quite a bit to know.
This family sat around our dinner table telling us stories of the bloody revolution that had been taking place as Hungarians sought to break free from the brutal, and even bloodier rule of Stalinist Russia. Thousands - maybe more like tens of thousands - they said had been killed and even more arrested.
This family had been granted assylum in the US and somehow had been sponsored by Corona Presbyterian Church, the church my family attended in Denver. I was mesmerized by their stories and wondered what it would be like to be a refugee; someone displaced by war and persecution and forced to flee to another country for safety. That was my first introduction to the problems faced by refugees and I remember that this family's parents were well-educated professionals who were forced to accept menial, low-paying jobs. They were barely able to survive.
Today, the problem of refugees is staggering in number and in need. According the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, in 2009 the number of refugees fleeing to other countries stood at 16 million. An additional 26 million were considered "internally displaced peoples," meaning that they had been forced to flee their homes and villages but were still needing assistance in their countries of origin.
In the last 20 years, our country has struggled to define what qualifies as refugee status granting temporary assylum in our country. Generally speaking, if a person has fled their country for reasons of economic, political religious persecution or from danger of war. Considering the fact that over 90% of the world's population lives on $2.00 or less USD per day, it is a pretty broad definition.
My ancestors were refugees. The fled England because of religious persecution and went to Leydon Holland. They were expelled from there as well and so they hopped on a little boat known as the Mayflower in 1620 and came to the new world to establish a new life, free from the tyranny of persecution. You might be familiar with that story.
In 1974, after the fall of Saigon and the takeover of all of Viet Nam by the communists, there were literally thousands of refugees pouring into the US being sponsored by families and churches. Seattle received a large number of those refugees who had fled because of the persecution and imprisonment that educated and religious Vietnamese people were experiencing.
When we lived in New Mexico during the 1980s the issue of immigrants fleeing the economic and war conditions of Central America had become a real problem along the southern borders of the country and many churches were offering sanctuary for those refugees. It became a real political hot button and continues to be so today as our Southern Borders continue to be a gateway for thousands of Latino immigrants - both from Mexico and points south. The new Arizona Law has shed the light of the nation's press and commentators on this issue and it also is a hot topic right now.
This Sunday, Cal Uomoto from World Relief will be speaking at Calvary regarding the refugees who populate the Puget Sound Region and the different kinds of ministries that are being offered to help these peole adjust to their new homes, surroundings and strange culture. Just in Seattle Presbytery alone we have worshiping fellowships made made up of Korean, Indonesian, Persian (Iraq and Iran) Latino, Ukrainian, Kenyan and Ethiopian refugees. Their needs are complex and real. World Relief is addressing those needs. For those who may read this prior to Saturday or Sunday, I hope you will take advantage of this opportunity to learn more about the refugee situation in this region. The World is at our door more than ever before
The Bible reminds us to welcome the strangers and the aliens living among us for once "we too were aliens."