On Saturday, I went to my old church for a funeral. At the door, I was greeted by refugees. In the foyer, I was again greeted by refugees and directed to the chapel where the service would be held. At the door to the chapel, a refugee welcomed me and handed me a service leaflet. All of this was a demonstration of love for a women that one of these refugees described as a refuge – not her home or her gestures, but her. She was a refuge.
There were multiple generations of refugee families in the pews, men and women, boys and girls who had fled violence in in their home country because their ethnic group was persecuted. After living in a refugee camp in a second country, they were granted admission to the United States a decade ago and given a fresh start. They work hard, their children are students, they share their art with the community, they are active members of their church. They are us.
About a dozen of the refugees formed a choir and sang a hymn to honor the woman they loved and revered as Grandmother. The woman who helped them settle in a new country, who connected them to schools and community resources. Members of her family wore traditional clothing, gifts made for them by the refugees. Refugees made the food for the reception. They were a refuge for us in our shared grief.
The day before the funeral, Texas Governor Greg Abbott declared that our state would not accept any refugees in 2020. None. From anywhere. No women, men, or children fleeing persecution will be welcomed here. No people seeking a fresh start will get it here. We will not receive their commitment to education, freedom, hard work, and community. We will not benefit from their company and passions and friendships, their songs and food and gifts.
There is a lot to mourn in the governor’s decision. Our community is smaller – not only because we’ll welcome fewer people, but because we are being less loving, less just. Even opposing this policy, I feel smaller for living with the practical and spiritual consequences of closing our doors and our hearts.
Lord have mercy.