Making the Connections: Global Crisis, Local Response

Joya Colon-Berezin | September 7, 2013

A displaced mother and child in the DRC. Photo: Fred Otieno/Lutheran World Relief

A displaced mother and child in the DRC. Photo: Fred Otieno/Lutheran World Relief

Although it may seem simplistic, it can be tremendously challenging to make the connection between the global and the local. I received a reminder of this when I got a call from Fr. Anthony Sabbagh, Pastor of St. George Orthodox Church in Allentown, Pa. He is deeply concerned about the needs of the growing Syrian refugee population in his congregation. Increasingly Syrians are arriving in need of housing, food, work and legal services. With all the attention on the conflict abroad, including a potential war with Syria, it is easy to overlook that the effects of the Syrian crisis are already being felt on U.S. soil.

Luckily, it is a connection that local communities of faith are making already.

Speaking with Fr. Sabbagh, was a reminder of the power of the local church. Not only are local communities of faith on the frontline – often the first to recognize a community’s needs —  their autonomous and grassroots nature allows them to respond quickly.

One of the most striking features of humanitarian relief work is the historically significant role communities of faith have played in shaping the governmental, and non-governmental, responses to forced migration. Today local participation in refugee resettlement – partnering with families as they are adjusting to a new life and seeking to become self-sufficient – is a local response that has global implications.

Syria is of deep concern – but so are other countries in turmoil. The ongoing conflict in the northern region of the Democratic Republic of Congo has been referred to as “the deadliest conflict since World War II.” Since the outbreak of fighting over a decade ago, in 1998, more than 5 million people have died; the vast majority from non-violent causes such as malaria and malnutrition. Children account for roughly 47 percent of the deaths in the DRC.

Over the next five years it is predicted that some 50,000 Congolese refugees will be resettled in the U.S. – among them 10,000 are Survivors of the Mudende Massacre – the slaughter of at least one thousand Congolese refugees at the Mudende refugee camp in northwest Rwanda. These newcomers will arrive as survivors of severe trauma and gender-based violence. These families, many of them single women with children, will be resettled in cities across the country through CWS and our local affiliates. Will the local church make the connection? I pray that we do. Will the local church flex its muscle and respond? I pray that we will.

Joya Colon-Berezin, Ecumenical Relations Coordinator, Immigration and Refugee Program, CWS