Thank you all so very much for the work you do and for the invitation to be with you tonight. I am very honored and considerably surprised to be given this award.
When I mentioned this honor to one of my colleagues, he said “’international citizen, eh?” “’Citizen’ that’s surely part of your ‘brand’ but I don’t know about ‘international’”. Well, ‘international ‘may not be part of my brand but it certainly is part of my soul. An eastern European from a long time ago, John Amos Comenius, a religious lead in the 1600’s, helped form my world view, he said way back then, “We are all citizens of one world. We are all of one blood. To hate a man because he was born in another country, because he speaks a different language, or because he takes a different view is great folly. Desist I implore you, for we are all equally human.” I offer my thanks to Comenius for that word which has formed my life. Why is it taking us so long to embrace that truth?
On this matter of international brand – the Minnesota Council of Churches thinks of its work as primarily inside the state of Minnesota, I suppose that gives us a more local kind of brand. But when more than a third of our work is focused on refugees, I think we get to claim that we’re international, too. International in helping refugees start anew and in helping Minnesota be a good international citizen.
I’m delighted to be here with the head of our refugee services division, Ben Walen and his wife Sara. Also with me are my husband, Mark Greenawalt; my daughter, Anne Cammack; my Board President, Bishop Fred Washington; and family friends, Reatha Clark King and Calvin Littlejohn, all of them international citizens. Without your support I would be hopeless.
As I said, while the Minnesota Council of Churches thinks of its work as primarily inside the state of Minnesota, we get to embrace the international banner as well.
I’d like to take this moment to thank MCC for the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of the refugees who come here and in the lives of those who work so hard to directly welcome them, and in the life of the whole Minnesota community whose life is made better by the welcome of these neighbors.
For over 30 years, MCC has worked to resettle refugees from all over the world in Minnesota, a tangible expression of the commitment of our member churches to provide welcome to newcomers in need. We have done this work consistently and, I would say, humbly, often under the radar, all the while setting families up in new homes, enrolling children in school, connecting families to needed services, helping individuals find jobs, and helping refugees transition away from insecurity and fear to the safety, comfort and self-sufficiency in Minnesota.
But our work is not easy. The voices of intolerance and fear are on the rise. Over the past year, the flight of so many people from their war-torn countries especially Syria, has generated broad awareness of refugees and their plight. Unfortunately, and especially, since the Paris bombings in November 2015, the mass migrations of people have also heightened fears and suspicion of unknown people in our communities. Today’s highly charged political climate has worked to amplify these fears. Some loud voices are calling for an end to public support of refugee resettlement nationally and here in Minnesota. Others are spreading messages of suspicion and intolerance within their communities.
As an arm of the faith community we find ourselves not simply doing the day in day out work but needing to challenge this culture narrative of fear of the other.
As a voice of the faith community we find the need to press the question, “Who is our neighbor?” and answering as Jesus did when he showed it was the Samaritan, the outcast, the foreigner, the ones with whom we have great differences, the ones we have called ‘the other’, the ones we have called “those guys”.
But there is good news In the face of these voices of fear, the communities of faith that make up MCC have responded with overwhelming support of welcoming refugees to Minnesota. Churches have stepped forward to sponsor refugee families in high numbers, individuals have volunteered to befriend and mentor new arrivals, and countless people have donated household items, and the things that families need when they first arrive in the United States with all their belongings in a single suitcase.
Rather than succumb to fear and suspicion, our communities have stepped their work to provide refugees with opportunities for new lives in Minnesota, to the benefit of both the refugees and their new communities.
MCC continues the work of resettling refugees to Minnesota – no matter their religion, ethnicity, and country – and we are bolstered by the renewed engagement and support of our neighbors and communities. The voices of fear and intolerance are loud and belligerent, but it is clear as Ben has said, “that they do not command the hearts nor deter the compassion of the majority of those in our communities of faith, in our neighborhoods and cities, and in our state.”
The last time that I was in Washington DC. I was there to visit with a few of Minnesota’s congressional delegation members about federal appropriations for the office of the federal government that deals with international development organizations such as Church World Service.
I had been on the board of Church World Service; I knew that for every one dollar that the federal government puts into that office there are $6 dollars of private development money from faith communities.
I am glad to say that in my visits with Senator Franken’s staff and directly with Senator Klobuchar and Representative Ellison was positive. There was a unanimous support for what we were asking. There is hope.
In the work that I did in the Committee on International Development as part of the work of President Obama’s first Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnership Advisory Council we took a look at some of the international development projects that were happening under the eye of the military. And found that in practically every measure that work was not as viable as long-lasting or as reliably integrated into the community culture as work that was done by NGO’s. But in that discussion I found hope for convergent strategies that grow from the ground, supported by every sector, for a world of equity and harmony. There will not be one without the other.
I want to end tonight by lifting up; in particular, my personal concerns about women’s development initiatives. Last week I had an opportunity to be in on a conference call through the Council on Foreign Relations with Rachel B. Vogelstein, CFR’s senior fellow and director of the Women and Foreign Policy program. She spoke about the critical role of gender equity in economic development. She named a number of things about women’s development that are proving to be important for general economic development around the world. I want to encourage our attention to those things: ending child marriages, ending genital mutilation, increasing woman’s ability to have legal standing from having state issued ID cards to voting, and increasing woman’s access to strong credit and financial literacy. There is progress but each of these areas continue to be challenges whether in woman’s development around the world or in refugee resettlement her at home.
I am heartened by progress. I am proud that we live in the state that has a high population of refugees. I’m proud to live in a state which has some of the best refugee services resettlement practices in the country. I rejoice in the elected officials who reject the doctrines of bullying, violence, domination; who rather, call us to be our best selves in our international citizenship. There is much to be grateful for.
And, our work is not done, we cannot rest, but in that work we will continue to find meaning and hope.