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AN EPIPHANY FOR OUR COUNTRY

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There are dates that become part of the memory and psyche of America: July 4, 1776; December 7, 1941; June 6, 1944; September 11, 2001.

And now, January 6, 2021. The holy day of Epiphany, in the Christian calendar, which marks the manifestation of Jesus’ divinity to gentiles. 

On this holy date, our nation’s capitol was attacked by a violent mob, which manifested the division, polarization and disregard for the sacredness of human life that has become more rampant in our country in recent years. 

As a faith-based organization, WVIRM denounces the rhetoric and behavior of persons who would disrupt or overthrow by violence our democratic form of government. We denounce actions by white-supremacists, anti-Semites and anti-Muslim extremists who want to promote their religion of hatred.

We ask persons of faith – and, indeed, all persons in this country – to join us in manifesting the ethical values we proclaim to hold: the protection of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. 

Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.

DARKNESS and LIGHT

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The Winter Solstice is upon us, December 21, 2020, the shortest day of the year. The day of the most darkness. From ancient times, the Winter Solstice has been marked by rituals focused on waking the sun from its long nap. Fire and light are symbols of this season. 

Many of the world’s religions and cultures recognize this time of year with their own celebrations of light: Jews, Hanukkah; Christians, Christmas; African-Americans, Kwanzaa. Buddhists, Sikhs and Jains celebrated Diwali a month prior to the Winter Solstice. 

Where do migrants find light during this time?

Responding to the needs of the 79.5 million displaced persons in the world requires superhuman effort. The heart of West Virginia Interfaith Refugee Ministry is its interfaith, ecumenical basis. Taking care of the universe and its occupants is a responsibility the Creator has given to all the earth’s people, regardless of faith affiliation. We have all been commanded to love God and love neighbor. (Leviticus 19:18; Mark 12:30-31). 

Loving our neighbors is an outward act. We show our love for God and neighbor by concrete actions. These outward acts of love inspire others to follow our examples, not for our self-aggrandizement, but for the glory of God.

Jesus said, “You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.” 

Matthew 5:14-16

Where do migrants find light? 

Through you and me. Through our donations of time and money. Through our words proclaiming that all people are valuable and deserve basic human rights, such as safety, shelter, nourishment, education, meaning and purpose. 

In this season of darkness, shine a light on Love by donating to one of the many organizations working to better the lives of migrants everywhere. A list of religious and other organizations is posted in our Resources section. 

Reasons for Joy

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Yes, even in a pandemic, one of the craziest years in the past century, we at West Virginia Interfaith Refugee Ministry have reasons for joy.

The two families we serve are thriving. All four adults are employed full time. The six children are involved in school and church activities.

We received a COVID 19 grant from The Greater Kanawha Valley Foundation, which was greatly needed when family members were laid off due to the pandemic.

WVIRM celebrated its first Welcoming Week in which we highlighted immigrant-owned businesses. An ecumenical panel discussion featuring both clergy and lay persons exposed the harms done by racist and xenophobic actions and rhetoric.

Anticipated changes in federal immigration policies should enable WVIRM to do the most we can for those who have the least.

And we are joyful at the continued offerings of time and money from our many supporters. Thank you, and may you be blessed during this holy season.

To read a copy of our annual appeal and report, click the Download button below.

Certainty in Uncertain Times

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In 2020, it seems like the only thing certain is that things are uncertain. Surely the word “unprecedented” will be the most-used word of the year.

In these unprecedented times of uncertainty, we at West Virginia Interfaith Refugee Ministry are thankful for the certainty that our donors support us in our mission: “striving to improve the lives of refugees.” Charitable gifts throughout this year have provided sustenance for our mission, allowing us to offer a peaceful safe haven for families literally running for their lives.

Although the pandemic has restricted how we provide services, it has given us time to discover creative ways to fulfill our mission and plan for the future. Given upcoming changes at the federal level, we are optimistic that 2021 will provide many opportunities to shine a spotlight on the worldwide refugee crisis and offer services to those who have been forced to flee their homes. 

#GivingTuesday, a national day of generosity, is just one week away on December 1.

As #GivingTuesday approaches, many have asked how they can help. 

  • You can click the Donate tab on our website (www.wvirm.com). There you will find a link to the Episcopal Diocese of West Virginia. Click the Donate button below “For a Specified Use.” Please be sure to note that your gift is for WVIRM. 
  • You can also mail a check to WVIRM at PO Box 5387, Charleston, WV 25361. 

Please put #GivingTuesday, December 1, on your calendar and consider participating in this national day of philanthropy. With your help, West Virginia Interfaith Refugee Ministry will continue to be a place of safety and hope for the least of these. 

NO IMMEDIATE MIRACLES

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People of a certain age remember President Gerald Ford’s economic recovery plan: Whip Inflation Now (WIN). Ford’s press secretary, Ron Nessen, turned the acronym upside down to indicate the public should not expect an immediate miracle.

In the same vein, despite President-elect Joe Biden’s statements that he will reverse President Trump’s restrictive immigration policies, we should not expect immediate miracles. While much of President Trump’s policies were implemented by Executive Orders, which can be reversed immediately, more subtle restrictions have been implemented by changes in rules and regulations to statutes related to immigration. 

For example, over the past year, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services has issued notices of public rulemaking related to, among other issues, increasing filing fees for some court petitions, shortening time limits and bases for claiming asylum, requiring persons who arrive at the border with Mexico and claim asylum to make that claim in a third country, and barring entry into this country because of the coronavirus pandemic. Many of these changes are being litigated in federal courts across the country. However, the litigation process is not swift, and rule changes that have been implemented, unless overturned by a court, must go through another period of notice and comment.

What does that mean to we who advocate on behalf of refugees and others seeking asylum?

Be ever vigilant. 

“Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.” (Proverbs 31:8-9, NIV). 

World Food Day, 10/16/2020

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 Each year on October 16, advocacy and faith-based organizations recognize World Food Day, established by the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in 1979. Themes for the day in the past have been:

  • 2016 – “Climate is changing. Food and agriculture must too.”
  • 2017 – Examining “the link between food security, rural development and migration.”
  • 2018 – Zero Hunger: Our Actions are our Future.
  • 2019 – “Healthy Diets for a Zero Hunger World.”

This year’s theme is “Grow, nourish, sustain. Together. Our actions are our future.” http://www.fao.org/world-food-day

 Here are some suggestions from the FAO for taking action to achieve the 2020 goal of “grow, nourish, sustain”:

  • Choose local. Buy as much as you can from local farmers, not “big box” stores. 
  • Choose seasonal. Buying produce in season results in less carbon emissions due to businesses’ trucking in food from overseas.
  • Choose healthy and diverse. “A healthy diet contributes to a healthy life. When we choose to eat diverse foods, we encourage a variety of foods to be produced. This is not only healthier for our bodies, but heathier for soils and our environment because a diverse diet favors biodiversity!” 
  • Grow your own. 

According to the World Hunger organization, there are 815 million hungry people in the world today.htps://www.worldhunger.org/world-hunger-and-poverty-facts-and-statistics/

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change links climate change with global hunger. https://unfccc.int/ 

Results of climate change, such as extreme weather events, land degradation and desertification, water scarcity and rising sea levels, undermine global efforts to eradicate hunger. Crop failure and famine, drought and natural disasters, caused by climate change, are among the leading causes of migration.

One way of tackling the global migration and refugee crisis is by working toward a more just food system. This is a biblical commandment:

“When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest. You shall not strip your vineyard bare, or gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and the alien: I am the Lord your God.”

Leviticus 19:9-10

WVIRM calls on people of faith and those who believe in moral accountability to work now and in the future for a just food system. 

Welcoming Week Schedule

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No matter your interests, we have something for you during Welcoming Week, September 12-20, 2020. From discussions on how to create a welcoming environment for all, to songs and stories from across the globe, to cooking demonstrations – if you want it, we probably have it.

Each day begins with a prayer or blessing from local faith leaders, both clergy and lay. Throughout the day, we will post videos on social media related to the theme of the day. Join us on our Facebook Page.

9/12/2020 #WVWelcomesYou

Opening Kickoff by Welcoming America. Kick off Welcoming Week with us by joining our free, livestream event featuring exciting music, dance performances, inspiring personal stories, and more! Livestream event at 3:00 p.m. Eastern Time.

9/13/2020 #LoveYourNeighbor

Who is my neighbor? How are you informed by your religious, moral or ethical beliefs? Join the discussion using these hashtags: #WelcomingAmerica #CreatingHomeTogether #LoveYourNeighbor

9/14/2020 #Family

Share a picture of your family using the hashtags #WelcomingAmerica  #CreatingHomeTogether. #Family

9/15/2020 #HomeIs

Interactive experience at Taylor Books (noon), moving to Capital Market at 1:00. Fill in the blank “Home is ______” with words or pictures. Post on our traveling art board. Can’t get downtown? Comment on our Facebook page, using the hashtags:  #WelcomingAmerica  #CreatingHomeTogether  #HomeIs

9/16/2020 #Cuisine

Follow cooking videos by West Virginia’s immigrants and their descendants. Share your own recipes or experiences. How does food, eating together, define your family, your culture? Share on social media.  #WelcomingAmerica  #CreatingHomeTogether  #Cuisine

9/17/2020 #CreatingHomeTogether

West Virginia Council of Churches Interfaith Prayer Service at noon, Mary Price Ratrie Greenspace
Panel Discussion, Facebook Live, 7:00 p.m. Panelists: Rt. Rev. W. Michie Klusmeyer, Bishop, Diocese of West Virginia; Rabbi Joe Blair, Temple Israel, Charleston, WV; Ibtesam Sue Barazi, Vice-President, Islamic Association of West Virginia; Rev. Michael Farmer, Risen City Church, Charleston, WV; Paola Garcia, DACA recipient. Pose your questions to the panelists.

9/18/2020 #Vote

Refugees, asylum seekers, and some immigrants do not have the right to vote. Vote for those who can’t. #WelcomingAmerica  #CreatingHomeTogether  #Vote

9/19/2020 #Awareness

How much do you know about immigration issues? Educate yourself on our website or Facebook page.  #WelcomingAmerica  #CreatingHomeTogether  #Awareness

9/20/2020 #StoryandSong

Listen to bilingual children’s books, posted on our social media pages. St. Marks United Methodist Church Quartet and Steel Drums featured throughout the day. #WelcomingAmerica  #CreatingHomeTogether  #StoryAndSong

West Virginia Interfaith Refugee Ministry thanks these partners for their support:

  • Welcoming America
  • ACLU WV
  • Episcopal Migration Ministries
  • Episcopal Diocese of West Virginia
  • Islamic Association of West Virginia
  • Justice and Advocacy Committee, WV Conference, The United Methodist Church
  • Elizabeth Memorial United Methodist Church, Charleston, WV
  • St. Marks United Methodist Church, Charleston, WV
  • West Virginia Council of Churches

Mayor’s Proclamation

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Charleston, West Virginia Mayor Amy Shuler Goodwin proclaimed September 12 – 20, 2020 as “Welcoming Week.”

Mayor Goodwin wrote:

Our community must strive to create a culture of inclusiveness, which includes addressing disparities, understanding history and countering hate. It is time to come together and build communities where every resident can thrive and contribute.

WVIRM applauds the support of Charleston’s Mayor and City Council in their commitment to “fostering a welcoming environment for all …”

WELCOME HOME

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“Welcome Home.” Two of the most beautiful words ever. “Welcome home” means

  • You are accepted here.
  • You belong.
  • You are safe.
  • You are wanted.
  • We, your family, have your back.
  • No matter what you’ve done, where you’ve been, what you look like, who you love, you are welcome here.

            This. Is. Your. Home.  

Yet, many people who live here in the United States do not feel that it is their home.

For 400 years, African-Americans have been treated as less than human, valuable only for the use Anglo-Americans can make of them. It was true in the time of slave markets and is still true today when the lives of African-Americans seem to be dispensable.

Despite the promise implied by the Statue of Liberty, the U.S. has denied welcome and a home to persons seeking a safe haven. 

According to the Brookings Institution, the net increase of immigrants in the U.S. population in 2018 declined more than 70% from the year before. The decline for refugees is similar. This reduction is attributed largely to President Trump’s restrictive approach to immigration, including a blanket ban on accepting persons from these seven Muslim-majority countries: Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Syria, Sudan and Yemen.

In West Virginia, however, we say to those seeking refuge, “You are welcome here.”

A focused effort to welcome refugees began in 2015 when a group of Christian, Jewish and Muslim clergy and lay persons in Charleston, West Virginia, met to discuss a response to the Syrian refugee crisis. The Syrian civil war has resulted in 12 million displaced persons, half of whom are children, making it one of the largest humanitarian crises of our time. Who can forget the image of three-year-old Alan Kurdi who drowned when the rubber boat his family used to flee the civil war capsized?

Despite our country’s shutting the door on persons fleeing for their lives, WVIRM has been able to help three families seeking refuge from torture and imprisonment in their home countries. Two of those families chose to make West Virginia their home. In resettling these families, WVIRM relied heavily on the support and expertise of EMM and local churches.

This September 2020, WVIRM, in conjunction with Welcoming America, is hosting nine days of virtual events raising awareness of the benefits of living in diverse and inclusive communities. When communities affirmatively bring together immigrants, refugees, and long-time residents, they build strong connections that lead to collective prosperity. In hosting these events, WVIRM stands with persons of faith who follow G-d’s command: “The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.” Leviticus 19:34. 

Our central event, September 17 at 7:00 p.m., is a panel discussion among faith leaders and immigrants centered on the theme #CreatingHomeTogether. You can access this Facebook Live event at www.facebook.com/WVIRM.

We, at West Virginia Interfaith Refugee Ministry, say to all persons, but especially to refugees and others seeking asylum in the United States, “Welcome Home.”

WILD, WONDERFUL WELCOMING WEST VIRGINIA

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September is “Immigrant Heritage Month” according to a proclamation signed by Gov. Justice in January 2020. September also marks the first “Welcoming Week” celebration in our state, sponsored by West Virginia Interfaith Refugee Ministry. Begun by Welcoming America in 2009, Welcoming Week brings together organizations and communities, immigrants, refugees, and long-time residents to build strong connections and affirm the importance of welcoming and inclusive places in achieving collective prosperity. In these times of increased division, our mutual progress depends on finding new ways to bring together people across lines of difference in order to develop greater understanding and mutual support. 

Bringing people together and “striving to improve the lives of refugees” is what West Virginia Interfaith Refugee Ministry (WVIRM) has been doing since its inception in 2015. Born as a response to the Syrian refugee crisis, WVIRM has expanded its efforts to include resettling persons seeking asylum from persecution by repressive regimes. In 2018 and 2019, WVIRM accepted three families for resettlement, two of whom call Charleston home and are contributing to the local economy.

In keeping with West Virginia’s history of “Welcome,” Gov. Justice responded to an Executive Order from President Trump by consenting to refugee resettlement in West Virginia, stating that “Refugees who have resettled here have become productive citizens and are welcomed into our West Virginia family.” Charleston Mayor Amy Shuler Goodwin issued a similar response. We at WVIRM applaud Gov. Justice’s and Mayor Goodwin’s pronouncements that immigrants, and refugees in particular, are welcome here. These times of deep divisions in society call out for voices of unity. 

Proclaiming that non-natives are welcome in West Virginia, however, is not enough. We must put feet to our faith, to paraphrase an African proverb often quoted by the late Rep. John Lewis. As people of faith, we are called to stand in solidarity with those who are on the margins of society. Welcoming the stranger and speaking out for those who cannot are tenets of the three Abrahamic faiths.

There are also economic reasons for West Virginians to welcome immigrants, refugees and others seeking asylum to our state. 

Immigrants make up only 1.6% of West Virginia’s population, yet account for 19% of our state’s population growth, according to a March 2020 report by the WV Center on Budget and Policy, “The States of West Virginia’s Immigrants.” This population growth helps to offset the exodus of native-born residents leaving the state, which has been ongoing since at least 1990. Immigrants constitute 2.2% of the workforce, 5.5% of business owners and 2.9% of the state’s economic output. As Lin Manuel Miranda wrote in Hamilton, “Immigrants! We get things done!” Welcoming non-natives is good for business.

Similarly, socio-economic studies have shown that communities prosper when they are diverse and inclusive. Inclusive communities attract population growth, contribute to quality of life and prepare us for interactions with an increasingly global society. When all people feel a sense of belonging in their community, they work to make their community better. All people, including immigrants, refugees and persons seeking asylum, are valued contributors who are vital to the success of our communities and our shared future.

From September 12 – 20, West Virginia Interfaith Refugee Ministry will shine a spotlight on the contributions made to our state by its non-native population. The centerpiece of our celebration is a panel discussion on Thursday, September 17, at 7:00 p.m. on our Facebook page, www.facebook.com/WVIRM. Faith leaders and others will discuss the importance of making West Virginia a welcoming place for all, and how you can participate in that effort. 

According to the UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR, there are 79.5 million persons forcibly displaced worldwide as a result of persecution, conflict or other violence. Twenty-six million are refugees and 4.2 million are asylum seekers. WVIRM believes that we may not be able to save the world, but we can save one life. You can help.