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Interfaith, civic organizations unite to sponsor conversation on welcoming refugees

This dispatch was added by one of our Nonprofit Neighbors. It does not represent the editorial voice of The Rapidian or Community Media Center.

Welcoming Refugees: Do Unto Other - A Conversation on Community Engagement will take place at Cathedral Square on March 8.
A Congolese family that settled in Grand Rapids through Lutheran Social Services of Michigan.

A Congolese family that settled in Grand Rapids through Lutheran Social Services of Michigan. /Courtesy of Lutheran Social Services of Michigan.

Underwriting support from:
Refugees at a UNHCR camp

Refugees at a UNHCR camp /Courtesy of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees

In November 2015, following the Paris terrorist attacks, Michigan was the first state whose governor proposed to “pause” allowing Syrian refugees into the United States. This concern around security was a response to the recent ISIS terrorist attacks permeating Western borders in France. To fuel this fear, because of a Syrian passport that was left near the Paris bombings, it was assumed that somehow a Syrian refugee was associated with the terrorist attack, although this was later disproved since the passport was stolen or fake. Further, what was often left out of the media coverage was that these refugees are fleeing the same violence from ISIS that is also affecting so many towns in Syria. Despite these facts that counter reasons to be fearful of refugees, xenophobia and Islamophobia continue to manifest through our public rhetoric and political grandstanding.

While the anti-refugee drama and debate continued on state-wide and national stages, we went about our work in Grand Rapids. In fact, as soon as the day after Governor Rick Snyder’s statements, since his positioning had no actual impact on policy or funding, Syrian refugees were settled into our community thanks to local agencies.

Our local leaders have also promoted a more positive conversation around refugees. Previous mayor George Heartwell stated, about the fear and hate-driven anti-refugee sentiments:

“Neither must we turn this event into a witch-hunt that would sweep innocent people up in its nets. If we use this terror to turn xenophobic, to repel freedom-seeking people at our borders, or to look unkindly at those whose faith is other than our own, then the terrorists will have succeeded and the end of the American soul cannot be far away.

I, for one, refuse to be afraid. I refuse to hate. I refuse to respond to violence with suspicion of my neighbor. Today I call on you, the citizens of this great city, to do the same."

It is this call that local interfaith community and refugee agencies are answering to as we plan for an upcoming community conversation on engaging with local refugee services.

On Tuesday, March 8 from 7-9 p.m., Welcoming Refugees: Do Unto Others, will bring together everyone from churches and mosques to businesses and schools, to learn from, engage with and support our local refugee and immigrant communities. The event is sponsored by over 50 religious organizations and civic institutions, which have signed on to strengthen our message of hospitality over hatred. Inspired by the golden rule found in all traditions, “do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” we hope to motivate congregations and communities to put this value into action by welcoming our new neighbors. Finally, situated on the evening of Michigan’s primary election, we aim to show elected officials that our community will continue to come together to support refugees.

In addition to inspiring shared values toward a common good, we want to continue to shift the narrative around refugees.

To help us articulate this more inclusive narrative, our program will feature representatives from the local city, from the Michigan Office for New Americans, the local refugee agencies Bethany Christian Services and Lutheran Social Services, as well as refugees who have come to call Grand Rapids their new home. One story we’ll hear that night is from Mustafa, an Iraqi refugee that worked alongside the US army in the Gulf War, who recently resettled here in Grand Rapids. Additionally, we’ll hear the story of Flory, Elodie, Abigael and Benedicte, a family that fled from violence in Congo only to be separated due to more conflict in Uganda, and have happily been reunited after four years apart in Grand Rapids just a few months ago.  

Stories like these two are found in the experiences of nearly all refugees in our own community, refugees that come from all around the world to escape violence and find security and safety in our country. Regarding the Syrian refugees that have become a “political issue,” those that we often conflate with ISIS are suffering from such violence even more than us, and many of whom were driven out of their homes from the same terrorism that created anti-refugee sentiment here in the United States. Whether or not to welcome refugees isn’t a political debate, it’s a moral concern- and a humanitarian imperative. If we truly “do unto others” like many of our traditions tell us to, then we will welcome refugees as our new neighbors, colleagues, community leaders and friends.

To join us on the evening of March 8, please register here. Join us and the dozens of co-sponsoring organizations to be a part of shifting the narrative around refugees, and to ensure that Grand Rapids continues to welcome our new neighbors.

More information is on the Kaufman Interfaith Institute site and the Welcoming Others Facebook event page.

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