The Rev. Canon Mark Stevenson, director of Episcopal Migration Ministries, served as the keynote speaker during the Bishop’s Luncheon on Friday, February 23. He said, “This is an interesting time to be a director of a national resettlement ministry.” Stevenson continued with sharing facts and statistics about refugees, some personal stories, and the heart of why he is involved in such a ministry.
With an image of Mary cradling baby Jesus while riding on a donkey with Joseph at her side, referencing Matthew 2:13-16, when the holy family fled to escape King Herod’s order to murder all newborn males, Stevenson said, “We, as Christians, have a rich heritage in ministry among refugees.”
The Episcopal Church has been involved in refugee resettlement ministry since 1938, and in 1988, Episcopal Migration Ministries (EMM) was formed. Today, there are nine agencies who resettle refugees in the United States; the Episcopal Church is one. Six of the nine are faith based.
Through the work of the nine agencies, just under 85,000 refugees were resettled in 2016 and just under 54,000 in 2017.
As a partner, the U.S. government grants EMM wide access to resettlement work. Stevenson has direct contact with the Department of State, the Department of Health and Human Services, and the White House. In April 2017, he spoke at the United Nations. He later received a response that stated his content and presence invited the spirit of God into the room and into the matter.
Stevenson said a “refugee” is “an individual who has been forced to flee their country in order to escape persecution, war, or violence and has received a designation by the UNHCR (the UN Refugee Agency). There are 22.5 legally declared and documented refugees world wide, and over half of that number are children.
“If you count those forcefully displaced in their own countries, the number grows to 65.6 million people, or one in every 114,” said Stevenson. “Every minute, 20+ are displaced, or 28,000 per day.”
“We are in this work because it is moral, Godly, Jesus Movement work, and because refugees are the most vulnerable people on the planet,” he said.
When a refugee flees, he as three options: repatriation – to go back to his home (though not forcefully); integration or first asylum in the receiving country (through all manners of obstacles); or resettlement to a third country. Less than one percent resettle in a third country.
If a refugee resettles to the United States, he or she goes through the most complicated screening process with five federal agencies. “Refugees are in dire need of the help we can give them and there is no harder way to enter the U.S. than through the Refugee Admittance Program,” said Stevenson.
“Refugees are not a threat. They are people – women, men, fathers, mother, and children – who want to live out their lives peacefully.”
In the fiscal year (Sept. 30-Oct. 1) of 2016, 5,762 persons were resettled through EMM and 4,090 were in the fiscal year of 2017. The affiliate network of the other eight American agencies are “so vital, as they help refugees to understand and access their new home with assistance in housing, English as a Second Language, community involvement, and others,” he said.
Across our nation and across the Episcopal Church, Stevenson is seeing a thirst for knowledge about refugees. About the truth of refugee resettlement. He is finding groups of people who want to welcome refugees and help them become Americans.
“Keep spreading the message about these hard-working individuals,” he said. In 2016, 84 percent of refugees enrolled in a matching grant program in the U.S. attained self sufficiency in 180 days.
“This ministry has lit a fire,” Stevenson said, as he introduced two flagship programs of EMM about to launch that will enable more involvement – Partners in Welcome and Journey to Hope.
The Episcopal Church does not entirely fund EMM. The majority of the funds needed for the ministry’s work and staff salaries comes from federal contracts. Prayerful support of EMM is needed and welcome, and you can learn more at episcopalmigrationministries.org/give.
“Every single dollar granted by the government is used as it’s intended or it is sent back. To continue our work, we need the financial assistance of others,” said Stevenson.
“How we do what we do is made important by why we do it. It is a calling from God – the moral, right, best thing to do.”