As long as there are refugees, Christians have a responsibility.
World Refugee Day—Why?
Sabbath, June 18, 2016
By Benjamin D. Schoun
Every minute eight people leave everything behind to escape war, persecution or terror,” according to the United Nations World Refugee Day Web site.1 The past few years have seen about 15 new trouble hot spots where many people have been killed, many other lives have been threatened, and their ability to maintain a safe, peaceful living situation with adequate food and shelter has been removed. Some of these locations include South Sudan, Central African Republic, northeastern Nigeria, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Somalia, Ukraine, Iraq, and most recently the country of Syria.
“As of February 2016, the U.N. has identified 13.5 million Syrians requiring humanitarian assistance, of which 6.6 million are internally displaced within Syria, and over 4.8 million are refugees outside of Syria.”2 Although Turkey is hosting the largest number of Syrian refugees, more than 1 million have crossed into Europe in 2015 alone.3 U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon says, “Refugees are people like anyone else, like you and me. They led ordinary lives before becoming displaced, and their biggest dream is to be able to live normally again.”4
What Is Our Church Doing to Help?
The Seventh-day Adventist Church, along with governments and other humanitarian agencies, has chosen to offer services to assist these refugees as they make their way on roads, rail tracks, paths, and seas to a place where they can live in safety. In the extraordinarily large humanitarian movement in Europe two divisions of the General Conference are directly involved: the Trans-European Division and the Inter-European Division. The Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA) is heavily involved, as well as ASI (Adventist-Laymen’s Services and Industries) Europe. In January, leaders from these church organizations attended a summit in Zagreb, Croatia, under the direction of ADRA, to coordinate efforts and do strategic planning regarding the most effective ways of being involved.
One idea that emerged from this summit was that the Adventist Church should plan a World Refugee Day similar to what the United Nations has on its calendar. Recognition of this day in Adventist churches has the following purposes:
1) to inform the world church of the crisis in Europe and other places, and report what Adventist Church organizations are doing to help;
2) to encourage prayer for the refugees and those actively working to help them;
3) to share some stories and reports regarding the true nature of this humanitarian crisis;
4) to help church members think through the ways they might relate to refugees based on our Christian and Seventh-day Adventist beliefs and values;
5) to convey current needs that Adventist members might wish to help meet, including donations for the work now being done;
6) to reflect on the words of Ban Ki-moon: “On this World Refugee Day, let us recall our common humanity, celebrate tolerance and diversity and open our hearts to refugees everywhere.”5
A Special World Refugee Day
The U.N. World Refugee Day is June 20. The Adventist Church World Refugee Day will be on Sabbath, June 18. There will be bulletin announcements, inserts, videos, and posters posted on the General Conference Web site, which anyone may download and use in their churches.6
I am grateful that Adventist World has dedicated this June issue to the world refugee situation. As you read, ask yourself: How can I be a neighbor to people like this in crisis? Jesus was clear that responding to such needs is one of the clearest evidences of true Christianity in the hearts and lives of His followers (Luke 10:30-37; Matt. 25:31-46).
Benjamin D. Schoun is a former vice president of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists. He chairs the General Conference European Displaced Persons Coordinating Committee.
6 The Web address to access Adventist Church World Refugee Day resources is https://www.adventist.org/en/information/special-days. Look under June 18.