An Ecumenical Gathering During the U.N. Summit on Refugees and Migrants

An Ecumenical Gathering During the U.N. Summit on Refugees and Migrants
Judith McRae

In preparation for the United Nations Summit on Refugees and Migrants, an ecumenical gathering was held on September 18 at the Church Center for the United Nations. United Methodist Women, Global Ministries and the General Board of Church and Society of The United Methodist Church, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Council of Churches, Act Alliance and the Episcopal Church joined together to organize the event.

The gathering provided an opportunity for the representatives of the various denominations to come together to discuss common concerns and thoughts around migration from a religious perspective. The Declaration for Refugees and Migrants that was to be passed on September 19 was also a basis for their work going forward.

Because there were so many issues to consider, those gathered broke up into small groups and then came together to present their conclusions. Judith McRae, the president of United Methodist Women New York Annual Conference was in the group that considered the prophetic role of the church on this issue. The group agreed that the Bible itself has many stories of migration, refugees and strangers, starting with Adam and Eve and moving on to Cain. The goal of churches should be to transform fear and anger, to draw on the best traditions of the church, and also to use a different vocabulary: to recognize the migrants as sojourners and search for the means to help “these strangers.” The example of the firefighters of 9/11 is a powerful model. The firemen ran into crumbling, burning buildings to help total strangers.

Among other comments made in the discussion was the reality of how challenging the influx of refugees is to the entire world at this point in time. The church has a major responsibility in winning the hearts and minds of the people in the pews and must also at the same time be cognizant of those who are harmed by the current policies. It was further agreed that there is an urgent need to create tools to change repressive police practices and to maintain a human rights perspective.

Children Fleeing Violence

Judith McRae discussed her thoughts on these topics. Her interest in the United Nations summit on issues pertaining to migrants and refugees came from witnessing the influx of undocumented children coming across the border. She said: “I used to wonder why parents would allow their children to enter into America in such an inhumane manner. But after speaking with a woman from Honduras during the CSW [Commission on the Status of Women] in 2015 I learned that parents send their children away to get them out of harm’s way. . I was informed that in Honduras many children do not make it to adulthood — many die a violent death. Aside from what I learned about Honduras, I have also seen images of people fleeing their countries by boat in unsafe conditions. This reminded me of the slave ships coming across the Atlantic. The difference is that today’s fleeing is voluntary as opposed to the involuntary fleeing of the past. “
During her time in office as vice-president of the United Methodist Women New York Conference, McRae organized a workshop at the New York Annual Conference entitled “United Methodist Women and Immigrant Rights,” hosted by Sung-Ok Lee, assistant general secretary of Christian Social Action, United Methodist Women National Office. The workshop engaged members of the conference in exercises using the U.S. immigration timeline. From this, participants gained an understanding of how immigration policies impact immigrants in the U.S.
McRae said: “I am also concerned with the safety of individuals who migrate to other parts of the world. Sometimes they are met with welcoming arms by individuals who then take advantage of them and exploit them in various ways.”
As a result of her participation in the U.N. summit, she wants to know what is currently being done to address the issues pertaining to migrants and refugees. What are the head of states planning to do by attending the summit? How is the problem going to be solved? Will there be an agreement without compromising the dignity of the refugee and migrant women? Migrant contributions to this society should be welcomed, because migrants are some of the most hardworking individuals in our country. Therefore, in her ongoing work with United Methodist Women, she will continue to educate herself and others on issues related to migrants and refugees.

Posted or updated: 9/29/2016 11:00:00 PM
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