Sharing a pilgrimage
As some regular readers of 7WD will know, I’m on Kenya right now on a pilgrimage with Episcopal Migration Ministries to visit a refugee camp and learn more about the work of resettling refugees. This is not your usual pilgrimage to holy places, but rather it is a pilgrimage to see holy work and to meet holy people. It has already been transformational, and we just finished our first full day in Kenya.
I had meant to write a pre-pilgrimage post on the importance of refugee ministry, especially as it is carried out in the Episcopal Church. Episcopal Migration Ministries resettles thousands of refugees every year, with most funding coming from the US government. You might well ask what makes EMM special; why is work done by a church; and why by our church? Simply put, this is Gospel work. Welcoming strangers, offering hospitality, caring for some of the most vulnerable people on the planet. Any of these is a Gospel value, but refugee resettlement is all of these, and more. Moreover, EMM works hard to engage local congregations in the work, so that the lives of people (like me) who are pretty comfortable can experience transformation and care of Jesus himself (remember Matthew 25?).
Last summer, on a trip to Ecuador that I will write about someday, I learned more about EMM from an Episcopal Church staff member, who opened my mind and my heart to the work that is happening every day. Then I got a chance to visit Kentucky Refugee Ministries, and I was blown away by the depth of commitment of the volunteers and staff and by the many stories of successful resettlement. Now that I know about it, I would say EMM is doing some of the most exciting ministry in the Episcopal Church, and it’s something all Episcopalians should be proud of.
And that brings me to this pilgrimage. You can read more in an ENS news story, but EMM received a grant to take eight Episcopalians on a pilgrimage to Kenya and Rwanda, and I am blessed to be one of the pilgrims. The point is to offer transformation to us, but also to encourage us to share our journey with the wider church. It is hoped that those who follow along will be opened to new ways of seeing EMM and the work of resettling refugees. And of course, it’s also desirable to raise the profile of EMM within the Episcopal Church. I hardly knew a thing, and I’m a pretty heavy duty church geek. Perhaps as I had a chance to learn more, so can others. An encounter with refugees can change our lives, our church, and our world.
We are visiting with various groups and officials who work with refugees, and we are (tomorrow) going over to Rwanda to visit a camp there. To protect refugees and those who work with them, we will be somewhat constrained in what we share, but we do hope to share as much as we (safely) can. Today we were greeted by the Bishop of Nairobi, who offered gracious hospitality and cordial remarks. He spoke candidly about the challenges of Islam within Kenya and the struggle for unity in the Anglican Communion. I was moved by his generous view of the Anglican Communion and of the relationship between the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Kenya. Hearing this bishop speak reminded me that our communion desperately needs more engagement, not more division. One simple conversation with this man has given me new hope for our church and our ability to partner to share the Good News and proclaim the kingdom of God.
In the afternoon we visited a Church World Service resettlement support center which does an extraordinary quantity of refugee work with an impressive commitment to care for those in great need. The cooperation among hundreds of staff and dozens of government agencies of many nations to resettle vulnerable people is both breathtaking, exciting, daunting, and inspiring. The good news is that thousands and thousands of refugees are resettled every year. The bad news is that many thousands more are not going to be resettled, and unsafe conditions continue to uproot people from their homes. There is plenty of work to do, but we should rejoice in what is happening every day to care for those in great need.
Please do follow along on this pilgrimage. You can track me on my usual social media spots, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and perhaps Flickr. All of us are using hashtag #ShareTheJourney, so look for that on the same channels. Watch ENS for articles (we have our own embedded reporter!) and stay tuned to social media for blogs from other pilgrims.