From Feb. 21-22, Covenant hosted its first migration mini-conference—called Migration Ministry in Practice: The Church, Resettlement Agencies, and Faith-Based Organizations—bringing in speakers who are experts in church involvement with immigration and refugee resettlement programs. Pat Hatch, the director of Mission to North America’s refugee and migration ministry, started off the conference by introducing the topic of migration in a talk titled Migration 101.
The conference culminated in a four-person panel highlighting what migration ministries of the church look like in practice. The panel, moderated by conference organizer Anna Rannou, included Brain Bollinger, director of Friends of Refugees in Clarkston, GA; Kay Burklin, refugee liaison at Mission to the World; Kaitlyn Mullins, director of operations at For the Nations in Dallas, TX; and Hatch. While both Hatch and Bollinger were present, Mullins and Burklin Skyped in.
Early plans for the migration conference were in the works as early as last summer, when Hatch and Rannou first met. With election season in full swing, Rannou found that more students became interested in the topic of immigrants and refugees, but was bothered that “it wasn’t being addressed on a main stage.”
She describes the purpose of the conference to be “an opening of hearts and of minds, starting a conversation in a way that would hopefully produce some constructive and accurate dialogue about a topic that can be hard to talk about, and getting us all on somewhat of a common ground so that we can move forward in developing ideas and further conversations.”
Rannou hopes participants in the conference came away knowing that “there are ways to engage in conversation about these topics that don’t have to be divisive, don’t have to be driven by fear.” She says that instead, “We can focus on some of the common threads,” knowing that the Bible commands us to “treat the stranger with kindness, respect, and love” and that “these are real people’s lives being affected on a day to day basis, not only by the actions of the administration but also by the actions of us on as individuals.”
She also hopes participants gained a better understanding of how the 120 days moratorium on the resettlement program and the lower 50,000 limit on annual refugee entries affects the entire infrastructure of the resettlement program, since federal funding provided the agencies is directly correlated to how many refugees they resettle. This has already shuttered many agencies, created unemployment, and left newly arrive refugees without support.
The conference finished with a chapel talk by Hatch entitled, “What if Immigrants are the Answer to Our Prayers,” discussing how immigration and refugee entry provides the church with an important opportunity to show Christ’s love to people from all over the globe.
A group of students capitalized on the energy surrounding the migration conference by initiating a letter writing campaign to students’ representatives in Congress expressing frustration at executive actions limiting the entry of refugees and cracking down on undocumented immigration.
The letters described how the students felt that recent executive orders issued by President Donald Trump did not represent their Christian obligation to love the alien and welcome the foreigner. Starting just after Hatch’s chapel talk on Wednesday and lasting until Friday evening, the campaign collected over 300 letters from an estimated 120 students to send to representatives and senators.
Elizabeth Simpson, one of the organizers and a senior community development major, describes how the campaign was an attempt to provide an alternative evangelical perspective to Representatives and Senators, who generally receive more evangelical support for the executive actions than pushback. Simpson still sees much work to be done, saying, “There is a need to keep the conversation going on campus. There is a need to keep mobilizing people and educating people.”
She is determined to do so, adding that “even though doing this was very much a public display of support for something that is usually seen as controversial, it was so necessary because people who are against immigrants are wrong. I’m not going to be a voice in this denomination which took no action when this was happening, in the same way that so many people in the Presbyterian Church did not voice opposition to the ugliness that is slavery.”