I have been blessed with a sabbatical from teaching at Malone University this semester to work in refugee resettlement with World Relief in Akron, Ohio. I have always had a heart for international people and have worked abroad as an international social worker, but my passion for working with those who come to our country as refugees here in the U.S. increased when I heard people express concern and fear towards welcoming refugees into our country. I believe it is important to acknowledge people’s genuine fear, but at the same time, it is vital to fulfill our calling as Christians to love our foreign neighbor and share the truth about how refugees are actually benefiting our communities, rather than hurting them.
As social workers and Christians, we have an ethical responsibility to serve and empower the most vulnerable in our community and world. Scripture also points us to the importance of serving the foreigner amongst us. Leviticus 19:33 says to love the foreigner who resides among you as yourself. Malachi 3:5 warns us to not deprive the oppressed – including foreigners – of justice. The passage on the sheep and the goats in Mathew 25:25-36 reminds us that that when we are inviting the stranger in, we are serving Christ. It also contains a stern warning that if we do not show love to the foreigner, the poor, and the prisoner, then we are not invited into God’s kingdom. As a Christian, I believe that the numerous scriptural commands about loving foreigners should be enough to compel us to love and welcome refugees. However, due to the fears that exist for some about refugees at the current time, it is also important to know some facts about refugee resettlement.
People who have refugee status typically would prefer not to leave their country of origin, but have been forced to flee their country due to persecution, war, and/or violence. The U.S. has an extremely rigorous vetting process that refugees are required to undergo before they enter the country – a two year process for most refugees  . Refugees are eligible for 8 months of government refugee assistance, which is $420/month for a family of two in Ohio. They must pay rent with this money, along with other everyday expenses . People who immigrate as refugees also have to begin paying back the cost for their plane tickets six months after their arrival in the US . Refugee resettlement agencies help working age refugees find employment, typically within the first 30 – 60 days. Economic impact studies have shown that refugees contribute much more to the US economy than they are given. People who came to the U.S. as refugees contribute to our economy through paying taxes, social security, purchasing homes, etc. They are more likely to start businesses than native born Americans, and in such cases, often create new jobs for others.
Isaiah 58: 10-12 promises that if we “do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk, and if [we] spend [our]selves on behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,” not only we will be renewed, but our cities will be renewed as well. Research has shown that when we welcome refugees into communities that have been devastated by economic downturn, community renewal often comes to pass. One example is reported in an economic impact study of refugees in Cleveland, Ohio. In 2013, $4.8 million was invested in refugee resettlement, but refugees contributed $48 million back into the economy that same year  and continue to return back to into the economy more and more the longer they are here. These facts inform us that by welcoming refugees, we are actually benefiting our communities as well.
As followers of Christ, we should serve refugees because it is part of our calling as Christians. As social workers, we have an opportunity to share the truth about the societal benefits refugees bring to our communities, and to use our gifts to empower them to be all that God intended them to be.
World Relief’s mission is “Empowering the local Church to serve the most vulnerable.” As part of my sabbatical working with World Relief Akron, I am doing research to help them develop an empowering anti-oppressive model of refugee resettlement. One way that World Relief Akron has already been working toward this model was by hiring Samuel Sinchuri as a case specialist. Samuel is a Nepali Bhutanese pastor who came to the U.S. as a refugee himself. He believes that there is great opportunity for American churches and immigrant/refugee churches to work together to empower refugees. Samuel reminds us that:
“God has many American people traveling to other countries, but God has brought different countries here… God has brought people here, so if the American churches and refugee churches work together we can reach them spiritually and we can help them physically also, equipping them and encouraging them… that is one of my prayers.”
I also pray that we would love our refugee neighbors as ourselves. By doing this, we fulfill Christ’s calling to serve individuals, our community, and the world.
For more information on World Relief’s refugee work, visit http://www.worldrelief.org/us-offices.
Elizabeth Patterson Roe, PhD, LISW-S, is an associate professor of social work at Malone University. She also teaches within the Global and International Studies Program. Her areas of research and service are international social work, study abroad, and urban and international community development. Prior to teaching at Malone University, Elizabeth served in Romania as the coordinator of social services for Veritas Sighisoara. Elizabeth has been a member of NACSW since 2000.