Our efforts to welcome refugees are modest, but they do make a difference.

A group of United Church people gather with the Bakour family from Syria as they are welcomed to Canada.
Folks from Metropolitan United Church, Toronto, welcome the Bakour family in December 2015
Credit: The United Church of Canada

Today, June 20, is World Refugee Day, and there are events scheduled in many different locations in Canada.

I wonder if those who began World Refugee Day could have imagined the state of our world today. They must have been people of foresight who did have some sense of what lay ahead for our world, and wanted to shape a better future.

Europe is in turmoil as people migrate (or try to migrate) from places of violence and danger to countries seen as peaceful. The words in the news stories are difficult enough, but I can’t get out of my head a photograph of a group of asylum seekers on a ship off the Libyan coast, sitting on the deck next to body bags containing the remains of fellow travellers. Most of the men are sitting with their heads down on their knees, looking completely without hope.

On this side of the ocean, photographs in this week’s newspapers have depicted shockingly, the circumstances in which desperate migrants fleeing violence or abject poverty find themselves. It is almost unbelievable to see pictures from the United States of tiny children crying as they are being separated from their parents who are about to be jailed. Another heartbreaking image showed young children walking in a neat line between rows of the white military looking tents that are their temporary homes while their parents are incarcerated or deported. It is almost unbearable to listen to the online clip of the crying voices of children in a U.S. Customs and Border Patrol Facility, calling for their mommies and papas.

We are still plumbing the depths of the damage done to Indigenous children (and their descendants) by Residential Schools in Canada. Do those responsible for the current American policy of separating families have any idea of the long term effects that will follow?

We remember that Jesus said, “Suffer little children to come unto me.”          

In these times, I am grateful for all that people in The United Church of Canada, and in Canadian communities, are doing to welcome refugees and share what we have. Our efforts are modest compared to the size of the need, and yet they are real, and they do make a difference.

In the face of a world situation that can seem too big and too complicated to solve, the website for Refugee Week in the UK invites people to choose one of 20 simple acts. It’s a good reminder that even if none of us can solve all the world’s problems, we can still act; and our actions that make some small part of the world a little bit better, really do contribute to creating a better world.

Thanks be to God.

—Nora Sanders is General Secretary of The United Church of Canada. This message was originally sent to subscribers to the General Secretary's email message, "Note from Nora." Subscribe here.

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