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World Refugee Sunday is Needed Now More than Ever. Are we paying attention?

World Refugee Day is coming up on June 20. The first World Refugee Day was held on June 20, 2001 to mark the 50th anniversary of the 1951 United Nations Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, and serves as a reminder that after the atrocities of World War II, the majority of the world came together in an understanding that we have a moral and legal obligation to protect the lives of people seeking refuge. 

Last month, the UNHCR shared abominable news. Over 100 million people have been forced to flee their homes due to violence, conflict, persecution, natural and climate disasters, political and economic instability, and beyond.

100 million. 

This number increased by more than 15 million in one year. 

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, is quoted as saying, “This must serve as a wake-up call to resolve and prevent destructive conflicts, end persecution, and address the underlying causes that force innocent people to flee their homes.” 

World Refugee Day is needed now more than ever. Are we paying attention?

Over a decade ago a new movement arose in the Christian community to invite churches to hold a World Refugee Sunday, giving individual congregations the option of choosing the Sunday before or after World Refugee Day to raise awareness of the plight of refugees and displaced people worldwide, and to focus on responding in a faithful way. Now, in my role as a missionary and refugee ministries coordinator for RCA Global Mission, I invite individuals, congregations, and communities to do just that.

Every year I struggle with messaging. Do we celebrate World Refugee Sunday? Observe? Commemorate? Designate? All of these verbs fail to encompass the intricacies of identifying one Sunday to center the horrifying global phenomenon of forced displacement, and the people who–due to incomprehensible threats to their lives and liberties–are given the label refugee. 

Celebrate. Celebration has its place, even in the sphere of refugee care. We can–and should–celebrate the ways that refugees and former refugees bless us, our communities, our nations, and the world. We can celebrate when just and compassionate laws, policies and procedures are enacted that uphold the rights for people everywhere to ask for–and receive–protection, when safe passage is given to those who are seeking refuge, and when long term solutions that support not just the surviving, but the thriving of forcibly displaced people are identified and implemented. We can celebrate when people of faith boldly become the hands and feet of Jesus to people seeking refuge. 

Participation implies intentional action. To be a part of something that is bigger than just ourselves. 

Observe. Observe is a strong contender. In order to observe World Refugee Sunday, we must first see, hear, register, notice or perceive that there are refugees in our world today, and very dangerous factors that lead to forced displacement. Then, we must believe that as Christians, we are called to respond. If we don’t know that our world is suffering from the largest number of forcibly displaced people in recorded history, or, we don’t believe that we–as Christ followers–are called to respond, then there’s no reason to address these issues in our faith communities. If we do see that global forced displacement is a symptom of sin in our world that affects millions of people, and we believe that Christians are called to respond, then observing World Refugee Sunday is a good place to begin.

Commemorate. Commemorate implies a commitment to remember or honor the past, and to use those memories to inform the present. Remembering the past to inform our present is a vital part of the human experience, and an important tenet of the Christian faith. How many times does scripture remind us that we were once foreigners? Why does the Bible talk so much about migration and how we should treat the stranger, the foreigner, the sojourner, etc.? How might that relate to current events of forced displacement in our world, and how God wants us to treat those who are seeking refuge today? Perhaps World Refugee Sunday would be a good time to reflect on this.

Designate. To designate is to give something or someone a specific significance or purpose. By designating June 19 or June 26 as World Refugee Sunday, an individual or church is communicating that global forced displacement is worthy of our attention and resources, and so are the people affected by displacement. In conjunction with designating one Sunday in June as World Refugee Sunday, consider designating a special one-time offering or part of your missions budget to financially support a missionary, organization or agency involved in refugee care, or designating time in your busy schedule to advocate for a more robust refugee resettlement program for your country or local community. 

Participate. Maybe this is the most important word of all. Participation implies intentional action. To be a part of something that is bigger than just ourselves. 

World Refugee Sunday is needed now more than ever.  

Will you join us in celebrating/observing/commemorating/designating/participating in World Refugee Sunday? 

Need help planning your World Refugee Sunday events? Check out the CRC World Refugee Day toolkit and the RCA Global Mission World Refugee Sunday toolkit.

Photo by Aude-Andre Saturnio on Unsplash


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