A modest proposal for refugee relief

September 18, 2020
by Claire de Brun
SOS Committee, Virginia Mennonite Relief Sale

We know that refugees are people who are fleeing for safety, especially to a different country, but we may not know that more people than ever before have been displaced because of war or conflict, hatred, prejudice, greed, poverty, or natural disasters, to name a few reasons. The UN Refugee Agency, estimates that 25.9 million people (more than half of whom are children) are displaced from their homes and countries (2019). This is the most compelling issue of our day.

Refugees spend an average of ten years living in a refugee camp or center. Life in a camp can mean suffering from fear, hunger, thirst, extreme heat or cold, poor or no sanitation, sickness, lack of medical care, no schooling, uncertainty, despair, loss of family, loss of country, loss of innocence, purpose, and faith.
Imagine that in an agonizing minute, everything you know and have is left behind as you flee from your home. You take what you can carry and you walk many miles for many days fearing attack or death, going to a place far away where nobody knows you, your story, or even your language. You are broken, alone, disconnected, disoriented, and traumatized. And you are one of tens of millions across the globe who are experiencing these unimaginable events.

Why does this refugee crisis often feel invisible? It’s not because it is not real, but because it feels far away. When refugees are in our midst, or we are confronted with their reality, it makes us uncomfortable to see such human suffering. We can feel overwhelmed and paralyzed with an inability to respond. Even if we do not see the suffering of these people in front of us personally, Mennonite Central Committee can give us the eyes to see, the hearts to feel, and the hands to respond with donations for relief through multiple global relief efforts. 

One of the ways that we can help is by contributing to the SOS (Share Our Surplus) campaign. The purpose of SOS is to raise awareness of the worldwide refugee crisis and to raise money for MCC’s refugee relief work in the name of Christ. This ad-hoc committee of the Virginia Mennonite Relief Sale Committee was conceived by Harvey Yoder, a pastor, counselor, and activist in Harrisonburg, Va. 

This is the 100th anniversary of MCC, an extraordinary organization. There are not many denominations who have access to this kind of organization and infrastructure, with programs and people across the globe who are dedicated to serving needs with a message of peace, hope, and help. MCC has been doing this for 100 years with an incredible confluence of biblical teaching and response to God’s call for justice, peace, healing, and reconciliation.

Abraham was given the great and serious responsibility to lead God’s people to be a blessing to all the nations, that is, to all people. In the New Testament, Jesus reinforces that call and commissions his disciples and followers to love our neighbors as ourselves. It is within this new covenant relationship that we operate and have our being and purpose, acting as people of God who care for and about others. We can do this globally through the work of MCC. 

MCC relies on donations from people like you and me to support and enable the work to continue. This means we need to give financially to fulfill the mission. COVID-19 has negatively impacted one of the biggest fund raising measures for MCC, the Relief Sales that happen in many states and in Canada. We may not love talking about money, but at this critical time in the world, money is what is needed to send workers and aid to help refugees confront the enormous and painful obstacles before them. We are called, commissioned, and invited to be difference makers in a world of turmoil, injustice, and suffering. Who will be the hands and feet of Jesus, if not us? 

Refugees may be suffering in record numbers due to many reasons such conflict and injustice. The root causes are legion and seemingly inexorable and the problem is getting worse, not better. But there is a way that is better and will help. It is  life-giving, uplifting, peaceful, and healing. MCC has a ready plan to respond to this crisis. Donating funds to MCC through SOS brings relief to refugees in many forms. It may provide basic needs such as food, clothing, and shelter. It also builds relationships across generations and people groups, concerned with the whole person. It is not simply transactional; it is relational. It’s about saving lives and relieving human suffering. The impact and capacity is dynamic, kinetic, and energizing. SOS, which sends all of the money it raises to MCC, also designates all of it specifically to refugee relief efforts.

SOS recently hosted a sponsored “Hundreds for Hundreds” walk to raise money for MCC and to honor their centennial anniversary. Our next fundraising campaign will encourage people to  organize into groups of individual people and/organizations, and contribute one thousand dollars. It is the SOS One Thousand Challenge Campaign.

How will it work?  For example, if 10 people each give a hundred dollars that would equal a thousand dollars. Or,  20 people could give fifty dollars per person and so on. It is also fine to just donate what you can on your own. Anything is something when some have nothing. Envision the possibilities at this time when MCC has suffered a great loss of contribution revenue.

Let’s honor our calling to lead by serving, heal by loving, and bless by sacrificing for people who have lost their country, home, family, identity, hope, and way. The cries from refugees are deafening; let’s show them that we hear and we care. Let’s also respond, becoming the hands and feet of Christ in this collective effort.