“I am so very pleased to know that the State Department’s Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration has approved the application for refugee resettlement in Charleston, West Virginia, submitted by Episcopal Migration Ministries on behalf of the Episcopal Diocese of West Virginia and West Virginia Interfaith Refugee Ministry (WVIRM). West Virginia Interfaith Refugee Ministry is a local coalition – a grass-roots, interfaith and cross-cultural association of some truly terrific people – which has worked hard over the recent months to tell the story of the welcoming hearts of their community. Thanks to the compassion and commitment of this group, the refugee resettlement program (which will begin its life as a program of the Episcopal Diocese of West Virginia) will also be known as West Virginia Interfaith Refugee Ministry. Episcopal Migration Ministries is excited to add this affiliate to our network of thirty other sites across the country, as hundreds of community groups, churches, families and individuals work tirelessly to provide a place of safety for those who have had to flee their homes because of war, persecution, or other violence.
“It is particularly heart-warming to me that this important step in the process of welcoming refugees comes as it does on the cusp of the commemoration and celebration of the birth of Jesus; for, as scripture tells us, it was not long afterwards that he himself became a refugee. Just as I cannot even begin to imagine the fear in the hearts of Joseph and Mary as they fled for their lives, neither can I imagine the fear of modern refugees as they flee their own particular circumstances. But just as strangers in a far away land offered refuge to the Holy Family, so too will the people of West Virginia offer refuge to those in need today.
Episcopal Migration Ministries looks forward to the days ahead as we continue walking in partnership with WVIRM. There is still much work to be done, but this is a blessed day, indeed!”
The Rev’d Canon E. Mark Stevenson
Director, Episcopal Migration Ministries
21 December 2016
With each passing day, fully vetted refugees are waiting to reach these shores. West Virginia Interfaith Refugee Ministry is working on making that a reality. We are trying to help welcome them and help them establish safe lives in West Virginia. If you share this dream and live in West Virginia, add your name to our petition that we are presenting to Governor Earl Ray Tomblin.
Email us at email@example.com with your name, city or county of residence in WV, and occupation/employer (optional: add faith community)
Petition To: The Honorable Governor Earl Ray Tomblin
1900 Kanawha Blvd. E.
Charleston WV 25305 November 30, 2016
Dear Governor Tomblin:
- Refugee resettlement in West Virginia
- The efforts of the West Virginia Interfaith Refugee Ministry (“WVIRM”) in asking Episcopal Migration Ministries (“EMM”) to request permission from the US State Department to allow a new EMM Refugee Resettlement Office to open in Charleston, WV, in partnership with the WV Episcopal Diocese, with volunteer assistance and advice from WVIRM, to resettle approximately 100 refugees, or approximately 30 families (a majority of the refugees are expected to be children) in West Virginia per year.
- We believe welcoming thoroughly vetted lawful refugees, and offering them a chance for a new, safe life in WV is in keeping with the core values we hold dear as Americans and West Virginians.
- We believe that welcoming new families to West Virginia will strengthen our State and our economy
- We respectfully ask you to support this effort.
City or County of Residence in WV:____________________________
Throughout this country’s history, refugees have come to the United States and enriched our communities. Fleeing dangerous and war torn lands in search of safety and freedom, they have come and embraced the American dream: educating their children, opening small businesses, giving their lives in defense of our freedoms and contributing to the scientific and technological breakthroughs that have made America the leader of the Free World. Many of us are the product of immigrants who came to this country hoping for a better life and finding that the United States was indeed the “shining city on the hill.”
West Virginia Interfaith Refugee Ministry (WVIRM) was created with the goal of making Charleston just such a city, a safe haven for refugees from war torn Syria. Working with the Episcopal Migration Ministries, we have submitted the application to the U.S State Department to resettle approximately 100 refugees. The majority of them will be children. We have begun the work of creating the network necessary to help those coming to our Valley find transportation, housing and health care, learn the language and transition into life in America.
WVIRM consists of members from all faiths and walks of life who understand the humanitarian disaster that is taking place in Syria. With estimates of 500,000 killed, 1.5 million injured and 11 million displaced, the United States can extend a hand to rescue many of those seeking safety and a better life. We are all too aware of what happened during World War II when we closed our borders; millions perished.
All of us are concerned about national security and each refugee coming to America under The U.S. Refugee Admissions Program is subjected to the most intense vetting program imaginable, taking up to two years and using multiple U.S. government databases including the data from the National Counterterrorism Center, the FBI, the Department of Defense, and the Department of Homeland Security. In fact, refugees undergo more rigorous vetting than anyone else allowed into the US. Refugees from Syria are subjected to even greater scrutiny with additional layers of review. According to US Ambassador to the UN Samantha Powers, “while no system is foolproof, our record to date speaks to the system’s efficacy. Of the approximately 800,000 refugees who have been admitted to the U.S. since September 11 of 2001, not one has carried out an act of domestic terrorism”.
A growing pool of research suggests that helping refugees benefits the cities that welcome them. Much of the initial investment is from new federal dollars that are a different line item, and are in addition to any funds already helping people here in our State.
WVIRM is fully committed to this endeavor, not just because it is safe and would benefit our community, but because it is the right thing to do. We are commanded by all of our faith traditions to welcome the stranger in our midst: “The stranger that sojourneth with you shall be unto you as the home-born among you, and thou shalt love him as thyself; for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt.” (Leviticus 19:34).
In our hearts and from the stories told again and again from immigrant families who came to these shores, we know this Country’s great strength has been those who came looking for the land of safety, opportunity, and a chance to start again. Refugees, as much as anyone, have become our spiritual leaders and our loyal community members. They contribute to the artistic vibrancy of our cities, the scholarly, legal and medical advancements of our society.
But most of all, they are human beings, desperately reaching out for help. We hope you will join us in this most enduring American imperative, an act of love that is a testament to our Country’s strength and greatness.
Ibtesam Barazi (Vice President of Islamic Association of WV)
Rabbi Victor Urecki
The Rev. Marquita L. Hutchens
Dr. Greg Clarke
Rabbi James Cohn
John N. Ellem
Mary Fitzgerald (Senior Warden, St. John’s Episcopal Church)
Bishop William Boyd Grove (retired)
Bishop Mark Van Koevering
Helen Van Koevering
Rev. Sky Kershner
Bruce Perrone, attorney
Margaret Chapman Pomponio
Dr. Angie Settle
Stephen N. Smith
Jean and Elliot Urecki
To add your name, write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Join us for an evening of information and personal stories on refugee resettlement in Charleston. All are welcome.
Thursday, May 26, 7:00pm
The Islamic Center, One Valley Drive, South Charleston, WV
Lynn Clarke reflects on interfaith efforts to counter anti-refugee sentiment in coal country.
I live in economically depressed coal country in Charleston, West Virginia, USA. Diversity and jobs are scarce, and fear of the ‘other’ can be stoked easily among us, even though we are ordinarily friendly, with a long tradition of hospitality and help of neighbours.
But there have always been seeds of tolerance and hope here. The clergy in Charleston of all faiths regularly meet together in a group called the “Charleston Area Religious Leaders Association”. In March of 2015, clergy and laypersons from the three Abrahamic faiths gathered for a town hall style meeting to address the problem of hate crimes.
In September 2015, when another parishioner and I approached the Rector, the Reverend Marquita Hutchens, at our church, St. John’s Episcopal Church in Charleston, WV, to ask how we could help refugees, each of us had contacts in other faith communities to build upon. Through those contacts, we spread the news that we were planning to hold an interfaith webinar and panel discussion on the refugee situation on October 26, 2015. Approximately 150 community members of all faiths attended the webinar and our panelists, including clergy from a local Syrian Orthodox Church, the local Islamic Association and Catholic Charities (the resettlement agency in our community), gave impassioned and informative talks on the refugee situation. From that meeting, we have gathered over 100 names and email addresses of volunteers who want to help our community welcome refugees.
Since then members of the WV Interfaith Refugee Ministry have met with political leaders, including two United States Senators and representatives from the offices of West Virginia’s delegates to the United States House of Representatives and its Governor, to discuss the refugee situation. We asked our political leaders to let our state continue to resettle refugees here in our communities in 2016.
Now we are planning ongoing interfaith events to educate community members and to introduce them to members of faiths other than their own. Our belief is that only personal contact can overcome bigotry and fear of the ‘other’.
Coal country has a long tradition of surviving hard times through sharing of resources, with neighbours helping neighbours. My hope is that we can build upon that tradition of hospitality to overcome fear, and welcome those who are fleeing violence and terror to the safety and peace of our beautiful West Virginia hills.
This article is written by Lynn Clarke who is an attorney in Charleston WV, USA. Lynn is an Advisor of West Virginia Interfaith Refugee Ministry (WVIRM). She holds a University of Cambridge MSt in The Study of Jewish-Christian Relations which was taught by the Woolf Institute, and a law degree from Harvard Law School.
See the original article from The Woolf Institute here.