Quite a few people have been working against the anti-refugee bill, S997 in South Carolina along with churches, ministries, refugee resettlement organizations, and other groups for the past few months. I blogged about the bill, the religious liberty implications of it, and the work against it here and here as a summary. The Washington Post (here and here) and many other news outlets in South Carolina and nationally have covered this bill and the opposition to it. Yesterday, groups that we have worked with in South Carolina converged on the State House to give testimony against the bill and its implications, which would make it very hard for refugees to be accepted into the state and be ministered to there by the churches and others who seek to work with them. After giving testimony myself against the bill, the potential religious liberty violations inherent in the bill, the effects of the state registry that would be created, and the overall discouragement from engaging with refugees that this bill would create, we heard from another 21 people who gave testimony. State newspapers covered the hearing here and here.
Toward the end of the testimony, a group of college kids who became aware of the bill less than a month ago stepped up to speak. All of the testimony against the bill was powerful, especially the words of former refugees who had assisted our military in places like Afghanistan and Iraq. But, the words of the college group from Anderson College calling themselves #FearIsNotOurPolicy really struck home. Ashley Bultman, a 20 year old sophomore who began working with Burmese refugee children when she was in 8th grade, made a closing statement for the group that drove home exactly why we are speaking on behalf of refugees:
I am not a politician. I have wept many times over this bill. I have spent many sleepless nights making phonecalls, reading articles, preparing for meetings. I am not here to be elected, to gain any power, or to promote our hashtag. I am here because believe that in 15 or 20 years, my children will read their history books, and they will see photos of dead children washed up on shores. They will see images of families pushed back by police barricades and hear of refugees being shot as they run helplessly across the Turkey border. They will read about this global crisis, and I know they will look me in the eyes and say “mom, what did you do about this?” And now I know what I will tell my children. I will tell them unashamedly that I fought with all I could. I will tell them that when I was 20, I stepped wearily into the Columbia State House to proclaim unshakeable truths that fill my lungs with breath. I will tell them I spoke with tears in my eyes about how the gospel compelled me to confront an SC Senator uninvited, to be humiliated to tears in front of a Representative, and skip one of my last days of sophomore year to wait tentatively on a group of politicians. I have done all I can in this moment to speak truth into what I believe is history making legislation. When I tell my kids the story of this day, I will tell them that ultimately you are the ones who spoke into the course of history. You are the ones who either chose to shut the doors, or welcome in the broken. I recognize that this meeting may not be the end, only another beginning. And if that’s true, I will continue to proclaim that Fear is Not Our Policy. Thank you.
Her testimony affected me deeply and as she was talking, I could see the faces of the refugees and I was overwhelmed by the global situation. I thought about the Burmese children that I met the month before who were brought here out of refugee camps in Thailand starting in 2009 after their families were sent there from Myanmar to escape ethnic cleansing. They are now together in a church and minister across the United States. As it turns out, these are the very children that Ashley worked with and became friends with when she was in 8th grade who inspired her so deeply. I thought about the same images that Ashley spoke to, of children washing up on the shore of Europe and of bombed out cities in Europe and of people making the trek from sub-Saharan Africa and of unaccompanied children coming from Central America and I thought about their lives and how they were loved by God and how we could step in to tell a better story. As Ashley spoke from her heart to the House subcommittee it struck me that she was speaking God’s heart for people made in His image who were victims of incredible violence, war, and persecution. And, I was honored to be there hearing Ashley and others speak for those who could not speak for themselves. I was thankful to be in their company.
How we care for the poor, the widow, the orphan, and the sojourner is directly proportional to how we have received God’s grace and salvation in our own lives. If our hearts are not moved to care for those in need, we have to consider how well we understand what God has done for us in Christ. Ashley and twenty other people in South Carolina representing churches, ministries, refugees, and other groups spoke from their heart and from God’s love to the global crisis that has created 60 million refugees across the planet who are in dire need, are subjects of violence and persecution and in some cases, even genocide. How can we help them? The answers are complicated. For most, it involves stopping the conflicts and creating protections in their home countries through countries and NGOs working together to protect and care for refugees. For some (a small number), it involves relocation and a new life. Whatever answers are decided upon, my prayer is that Christians will step forward and minister to people in need – people that God loves.
I was humbled by Ashley’s testimony and reminded yesterday why I am engaged in this work of helping churches and Christians engage with immigrants and refugees and from there, working in advocacy across other realms of society on their behalf. In the midst of fear, violence, demonization of people, and turning our backs on those in need, I pray that we can #tellabetterstory, because as followers of Jesus, #FearIsNotOurPolicy.
As Ashley stood on her toes to reach up to the microphone to speak truth to power yesterday on behalf of those who have no voice, I was reminded of how this is something that God calls us all to, but it requires us to step up and step out and engage the challenges of our day. There is no playbook for this. Sometimes we have to reach higher than we have ever done before as we follow Christ into this. May young people like Ashley and her friends lead the way.