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Lutheran refugee agency is ‘cautiously hopeful’ following blocked immigration order

The Rev. Elizabeth A. Eaton, presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, talks with Dalal, a 6-year-old refugee from Syria, about her artwork at RefugeeOne on March 21, 2017, in Chicago. RNS photo by Emily McFarlan Miller

CHICAGO (RNS) It was her desire to hear the stories of real people — “not just faceless refugees or immigrants” — that brought the Rev. Elizabeth A. Eaton to a refugee resettlement agency that provides a range of services to refugees in the Chicago area.

The Rev. Elizabeth A. Eaton, presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, listens to the stories of several refugee families served by RefugeeOne on March 21, 2017, in Chicago. RNS photo by Emily McFarlan Miller

“Especially now, when there’s this fear that’s been stirred up and anti-refugee sentiment, it’s really critical to say, ‘No, these people are our grandparents, our aunts and uncles,” said the presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the nation’s largest Lutheran denomination.

Her visit last week (March 21) to RefugeeOne, a resettlement agency supported by Lutheran Immigrant and Refugee Service, comes at a time when the status of the U.S. refugee resettlement program is uncertain.

On March 15, a federal judge in Hawaii blocked an executive order by President Trump that would have more than halved the number of refugees accepted by the United States from the current ceiling of 110,000.

Now, Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service is “cautiously hopeful” resettlement will return to the numbers that had been planned for 2017, said Kay Bellor, vice president for programs.


RELATED: Christians in the pew and pulpit diverge over Trump policies on refugees


World Relief, an evangelical aid association, is another of the nine agencies authorized by the U.S. government to resettle refugees, often through regional partners. It took the judge’s decision earlier this month to mean resettlement now will continue at the pace former President Obama had set, according to Jenny Yang, vice president of advocacy and policy.

World Relief is asking the State Department to speed up the processing of refugees to meet that goal.

Still, aid organizations have been tightening their belts: World Relief announced last month it is laying off more than 140 staff members and closing five local offices. LIRS also has reduced staff at its headquarters and field offices, according to Bellor.

And RefugeeOne has cut 10 percent of its staff, according to RefugeeOne Executive Director Melinah Kano.

The hardest part, Kano said, is “just the whiplash of every day changing.”

The Rev. Elizabeth A. Eaton, right, presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, visits an English classroom with RefugeeOne Executive Director Melinah Kano, center, on March 21, 2017, at RefugeeOne in Chicago. RNS photo by Emily McFarlan Miller

During the recent visit to the refugee agency, Eaton was led into a classroom of 15 students learning English. They had come from Syria and Uganda and Myanmar, and had spent as long as 26 years in refugee camps. Some had been in the U.S. just 20 days.

Mohmoud, a refugee from Syria, speaks with an interpreter as his 6-year-old daughter Dalal colors on March 21, 2017, at RefugeeOne in Chicago. RNS photo by Emily McFarlan Miller

One man named Mohmoud had left Syria with his wife and two daughters because, he said through an interpreter, there was “persecution going on, killing everywhere.” After three years in Jordan, where they struggled to make ends meet and get medical care for one of their daughters who was ill, the family was admitted to the United States as refugees last June.

He remembers RefugeeOne staff picking up his family at the airport when they arrived in Chicago and taking him to the apartment the organization had furnished for them. He now is learning English, working as a food handler at a local market and helping care for his newborn daughter.

“After that, I felt like it’s my home. There are people helping me, they are smiling to me, they are welcoming me,” he said. “I felt that this is the real life, not the one where there was killing and leaving homes with destruction everywhere.”


RELATED: Churches connect Christmas story to refugee crisis


Mohmoud’s story reminded Eaton of the story of her own grandparents coming to the U.S. from Transylvania, she said.

For Christians, the bishop said, the call to welcome and care for refugees like Mohmoud and his family is clear.

“The Holy Family were refugees. They fled for their lives from infanticide, and they weren’t documented when they were in Egypt. When we welcome the least people, it’s like we’re welcoming Christ,” she said.

About the author

Emily McFarlan Miller

Emily McFarlan Miller is a national reporter for RNS based in Chicago. She covers evangelical and mainline Protestant Christianity.

23 Comments

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  • Galatians 6:10English Standard Version (ESV)

    10 So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.

  • Our constitution is blind to religion so your scriptures don’t apply – which is why the religion of a refugee didn’t matter until our bigoted president took office. And it looks like he might have a problem getting his immigration order to pass judicial muster.

  • Equality: “…when there’s this fear that’s been stirred up and anti-refugee sentiment, it’s really critical to say, ‘No, these people are our grandparents, our aunts and uncles’…”
    Respect: ” ‘There are people helping me, they are smiling to me, they are welcoming me,’ [a refugee from Syria] said.”
    Empathy: “For Christians, the bishop said, the call to welcome and care for refugees like Mohmoud and his family is clear.”
    Familiarity: “It was her desire to hear the stories of real people — “not just faceless refugees or immigrants” — that brought the Rev. Elizabeth A. Eaton to a refugee resettlement agency…”

    Maybe the religious left is finding its collective voice, and is finally ready to stand up to the religious right: http://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-trump-religion-idUSKBN16Y114

  • “The Holy Family were refugees. They fled for their lives from infanticide, and they weren’t documented when they were in Egypt.”
    That comment by Eaton is BS — totally twisted from what scripture said and used to sound like she knows what God wants for this country. There was not a general policy of infanticide in Isreal at the time – that action was targeted by Herod strictly at the Bethlehem area and was fulfilment of prophecy – a one time occurrence.
    Joseph, Mary and the toddler Jesus were sojourners in Egypt and there was no documentation required in those days other than registering to pay taxes and that may or may not have been required in Egypt. Were they unwelcome? No one knows BECAUSE THE BIBLE DOESN’T TELL US. Where did they Stay? We don’t know that either, but there was a large Jewish community in Egypt at the time so we can guess the three stayed there.
    I’m, personally, really getting tired of these pseudo Christians twisting scripture to put a guilt trip on other people. THAT IS NOT HOW GOD WORKS!

    Just sayin,
    TBC

  • “I’m, personally, really getting tired of these pseudo Christians twisting scripture to put a guilt trip on other people”

    1. Aren’t the Gospels all about Jesus putting guilt trips on people to act better towards each other. “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone” is a classic guilt trip to shame people into action.

    2. Justifying selfish, spineless or malicious behavior towards people is a far more common use of scripture by Christians.

  • Actually “Let he who is without sin….” was a judgment by Jesus which led to NO action by those wanting to stone the prostitute. Sinless Himself, Jesus could have claimed the right to stone the woman but, He chose a different path and forgave her sins and told her to “sin no more”. No guilt trips, only facts and action by Jesus. In the context of this article, illegals continue to break the law by the very fact that they are illegally in this country, not repentant of their lawbreaking (sin), and avoiding the legal authorities which could help them (yes, deporting them would, in the final reality, help them). Eaton doesn’t really distinguish between illegals coming across the Southern border and those flowing into this country otherwise — but this departs somewhat from the issue at hand.
    As to your second “point” above, the actions you describe are done all the time but, not by REAL Christians. These actions are done by those taking Scripture out of context and “applying” it to situations where it is not relevant. Scripture can only be used within its context, and, if not fully understood, it must be further interpreted by other, relevant passages of Scripture.
    Scripture interprets Scripture and it should be used that way.

    Just sayin,
    TBC

  • Jesus shamed the executioners into inaction. It wasn’t his call to end the stoning. He had no authority as a simple laborer. He simply applied guilt and shame with them into ceasing action.

    “In the context of this article, illegals continue to break the law by the very fact that they are illegally in this country”

    Refugees are legal aliens. Use a different canned argument here.

    Besides you point out the true draconian and overly harsh nature of how we treat illegal aliens. A criminal commits an overt act which the state has the burden of proving they did. A criminal is entitled to legal counsel. An illegal alien violates a law by simply existing and lacks the same due process rights. The fact that you equate immigration laws with criminal laws is a function of both ignorance of the systems and a desire not to learn about them. All so you can make some kind of grand pronouncements. To pretend to have a moral basis to an argument which lacks one.

    As for my second point, pretty much everyone calling themselves “Real Christians” engage in the behavior I described. Disassociation of yourself from fellows in the same faith who act badly in service if their faith is dishonest worthless avoidance of plain facts. People will interpret scripture in the way which suits their point. Those who claim only one version exists and it compels bad behavior towards others are just being spineless in their malice.

  • “…It wasn’t His call …”???? Seriously, you need to actually read the passage!
    It is people like you (lacking in knowledge about which they speak) that enable all these others to misrepresent the the Bible in all other facets of life.
    So sad ?

    BTW, if a “canned argument” fits why not use it.

    Just sayin,
    TBC

  • 1. It was a canned argument which didn’t even apply to the facts! You didn’t know refugees were legal aliens and you went into an ignorant nativist tirade I like to call “The Judge Dredd Argument” (The Law is the Law and it is not to be discussed or criticized!)I

    2. Jesus was a simple carpenter (Biblespeak for a menial laborer). He had no official authority to call off an execution. He was not a nobleperson or part of the separate priest class. Use a little common sense and try reading the Bible for the entire story. Not just the bits that support your view.

  • Your post fails to recognize that “repeat offenders,” that is, illegal aliens who have illegally entered the country more than once, have committed a crime, etc., are indeed “criminals.” Practically no one is interested in harming genuine refugees. It is the religious Left which intentionally commingles legal refugees and illegal aliens for their own nefarious purposes.

  • “Carpenters” are skilled craftsmen, not “menial laborers.” Before criticizing others, rethink what you post.

  • You are correct in your assessment. The bishop proffers a “false equivalence,” a logical fallacy preferred by the religious Left. Jesus, Mary and Joseph were not “illegal aliens” or even “refugees” in the contemporary sense of those terms. They were completely within their legal rights to leave Israel and to stay in Egypt. They “fled” Herod, because Herod’s power ended at the Egyptian border. Still further, they returned to Israel once they could do so safely. Religious Liberals like Bishop (sic) Eaton want refugees/illegal aliens to remain permanently in the US.

  • Our Constitution is “blind to religion”? Really? Have you heard of the First Amendment thereof? All of our founding documents recognize, at the very least, that there is a divine being, a “Creator,” who is above all. And as far as Pres. Trump is concerned, he is certainly within his legal right–although most would disagree with the enforcement of that right–of discriminating on the basis of religion. And yet, plain as day, his two executive orders on immigration DO NOT discriminate on the basis of religion. Not. one. bit.

  • That is a modern use of the term. Especially one where people don’t commonly do such work. But in terms of 1st Century Judea, the term was far more general.
    http://gospelgeeks.net/10-misconceptions-about-jesus-4-jesus-was-a-carpenter/

    But more importantly and relevant to the discussion is that Jesus was a low born individual who would have no authority to countermand civil or religious authorities ordering an execution.

    Maybe apply a little common sense and research to the subject instead of snark.

  • A “Creator” as conceived in the pre-evolution/big bang world of the 18th Century was not synonymous with religious views. It is a “Rorschach” term where people impute their own meaning to it and has little direct context.

    The first Amendment codifies an enforced neutrality (“blindness” in Jim Johnson’s parlance) to religion. The Establishment Clause prohibits entanglement between the government and religion and the Free Exercise Clause permits religious expression of all faiths. A government beholden to a given faith is not one which can protect free exercise of religion. Separation of church and state protects both.

    “And as far as Pres. Trump is concerned, he is certainly within his legal right”

    If he coughed up a reason for his actions which do not include animus against Muslims. A bar that was insanely easy for him to meet if there are relatively competent people on his staff (not a sure thing here). According to a court in Virginia, he may have just barely done that to get the latest travel restriction through.

    “his two executive orders on immigration DO NOT discriminate on the basis of religion”

    The first one clearly did. It was a half-baked, illegally implemented harmful radioactive dookie of an EO which attacked rights of people already vetted by our immigration system. Once Trump started to listen to his own staff, he changed it enough to both pass muster and disappoint those people seeking a Muslim ban. The reason for halting the second EO is far shakier than the first one.

  • Your post fails to distinguish between criminal law and immigration law. An illegal alien is not in of itself a criminal. But a criminal is a criminal.

    “Practically no one is interested in harming genuine refugees.”

    Quite untrue. There are plenty of people who are making wildly defamatory claims about refugees as an excuse to keep them from our shores. Turning them back to face real harm if they return to their countries. In fact Eric Trump made a big deal with a crappy analogy involving candies to support actively harming refugees. What I find is the biggest critics of the refugee vetting process are the ones who know the least about it in the first place. Its a fairly common trait. Especially on the subject of immigration. Vehement willful ignorance rather than choosing to find out about the subject.

    Illegal aliens are not being discussed here. It was an unnecessary diversion from the topic borne of ignorance of the immigration system by another poster.

    “for their own nefarious purposes.”

    Nefarious purposes of saving lives! Keeping families together! Creating generations of people grateful to be American!

  • READ THE PASSAGE!
    If you actually were to read the passage you would discover who brought the woman to Jesus for judgment. Jesus did judge the woman, forgave her sins and sent her away to “sin no more”. He also judged the scribes and pharisese which He had the authority to do BECAUSE they approached Him as an authority.
    You gave some good advice in your last statement above; too bad you don’t follow it!

    Just sayin,
    TBC

  • The crowd was demanding why he opposed the stoning. They weren’t asking Jesus to judge the woman. They were demanding to know why he would not want her stoned. Jesus was not someone in an official authority. Certainly not someone initially respected by the execution crew. He shamed the crowd into stopping the execution.
    John 8:3-9 make that clear.

  • I don’t know what Bible you are reading but, it certainly ISN’T any version I’ve ever read. The Bible that Christians use does NOT say anything close to what you quote above.
    You, sir, are a lunatic or you’re possessed. In either case you need to get some help. Sheeesh!

    Just sayin,
    TBC

  • You don’t strike me as the kind of Christian who welcomes discussion on the subject unless it agrees with your pov. Oh well. It was fairly off topic.

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