Archive for March, 2015

WHY BRING REFUGEES TO SPARTANBURG ?

            Two years ago, some evangelicals here began to hear about refugees. We learned the need, the process, and the biblical mandate. God loves all people, since we are created in His image, but has special compassion for groups not as able to make it on their own, such as widows & orphans when only adult males had jobs or property. The Bible has much to say about God’s heart for the stranger from elsewhere; contact me for a written summary.

The first New Testament refugees were Mary & Joseph, who took Jesus to Egypt for a few years when the king tried to kill him. Millions are refugees today because hostile regimes, terrorists, or warring tribes wiped out their village or took over their country. Those who escape with their lives, children, & the clothes on their backs walk to refugee camps across the border. After years in these tent cities, the lucky ones get to relocate to countries around the world which receive refugees. The U.S. government will accept up to 70k refugees a year, who all come here as “legal.”

I disagree politically with much about the United Nations, but it operates the world’s refugee camps, the source pool for refugees. The U.S. delivery system is 9 agencies authorized to resettle them. Some are faith-based, such as Lutheran Services, which has been the only SC agency. They have long resettled new refugees through their Columbia headquarters, with now a satellite office in Greenville for relatives of refugees already there.

Our state and the U.S. State Department have approved Spartanburg as a resettlement site for sixty refugees this year through World Relief, that is part of the National Association of Evangelicals.

Its other sites are primarily in big cities, but Spartanburg has the highest international population percent of any county in SC, and the most foreign business investment per capita of any county in the U.S. Our Chamber of Commerce has a giant sculpture of the globe, flanked by flags of a dozen counties. This says, “The world has come here, and the world is welcome here!” Across the street at Barnet Park, our city conducts the International Festival. Our city has residents from over 70 countries. USC-Upstate has had students or faculty from over 80 countries. Things like this are why Spartanburg can be entrusted with refugees.

Who are the refugees, from where, and what effect will they have here? Half the refugees worldwide are Christian. The majority of Christian refugees who are resettled come to the U.S. Acts 17:24-27 says that God, who made every nation of men from Adam, has determined in advance the times and places where they live, and He migrates peoples so that they may find Him. Refugees may come here from places we cannot send missionaries.

When World Relief met with over fifty people here last August, refugees were coming from Democratic Republic of Congo, Iraq, and Nepali speakers from Bhutan. The millions of Syrian refugees fleeing ISIS have begun to be resettled, while we may get a few, the U.S. State Department has estimated only 1-2,000 Syrian refugees will be resettled in 2015[1]. The local Spartanburg office of World Relief or the “Good Neighbor Team” can decline a matchup assigned them if they are in any way uncomfortable with it. The Georgia church I pastored in the 1980’s resettled Cambodian refugees. It was a great experience, and they are still active in the church and run businesses in that community. They seemed so different from us when they came, but as we got to know them, we realized that they have much more in common with us.

Spartanburg’s last refugees actively resettled were the Ukrainians who came here in the early 2000’s. Lutheran Services brought some them here directly from the Ukraine as religious refugees: Pentecostals & evangelicals persecuted by the Orthodox church. Most gravitated here from other states, after hearing good things their people said about Spartanburg. They rented at first, but most are now homeowners. Their work ethic makes them great employees, and some now own businesses. Our county now has a dozen Ukrainian churches!

Refugees will arrive later this year. World Relief has hired and is training the local Director, has interviewed for additional staff roles. Over 100 persons from twenty churches have committed to be on “good neighbor teams” to help resettle a refugee family. They would find housing the family could afford, stock it with used furniture & household goods, pick up the family at the airport and take them there, showing them how things work in American homes. They will take them to health screenings, to get social security numbers, get the children vaccinations and in school, help the adults learn English if necessary, and get training and find jobs.

The U.S. has always been a nation of immigrants, including all of us not descended from Native American tribes. My ancestors came on their own initiative, in more favorable circumstances. Refugees were content in their home countries, until forced out. I cannot imagine having to flee my home on the spur of the moment without even a suitcase, live for years in a refugee camp, and start over from scratch in a strange place. The grace of God has spared me from the horrors refugees have experienced. I am willing to share with them the love of God in the city I love.

by Dr. Jim Goodroe, March 29 (edited for web by Jason Lee 3/31)

[1] http://www.newsweek.com/us-congress-questions-plan-admit-syrian-refugees-303121