Syrian refugees

Image via RNS/World Relief/Amanda Wingers

World Relief, a Christian humanitarian group, resettled twice as many refugees to the U.S. in September as it had in August, an increase that foretells a more robust resettlement pace for the nation in general.

The evangelical nonprofit — one of the nine groups entrusted by the federal government to resettle refugees — found homes for approximately 1,400 people in September. That’s about 14 percent of the total refugees it resettled in the past year.

Pope Francis sits with some Syrian refugees at the Vatican on Aug. 11, 2016. Photo courtesy of Osservatore Romano/Handout via Reuters

Pope Francis had lunch with 21 Syrian refugees at his private residence at the Vatican on Thursday, sending a powerful message to those in the West fervently opposed to welcoming those forced to flee the war-torn nation.

The Vatican’s chief media spokesman, Greg Burke, said the pope’s lunch guests included the Syrian families who returned to Italy with him from the Greek island of Lesbos aboard the papal plane after his official visit there in April.

Image via Brian McDonnell / Heart to Heart International / RNS

The call went out for 600 volunteers to make care packages for Syrian refugees. Nearly 1,000 Muslims, Sikhs, Jews, Buddhists, Christians, and Hindus answered it.

They formed assembly lines June 26 at the historic 69th Regiment Armory in lower Manhattan and stuffed toothpaste, nail clippers, soap, hand towels, condoms, washable menstrual pads, and other personal hygiene products into plastic bags to send to camps in Turkey for refugees of Syria’s civil war.

Anna Lekas Miller 03-01-2016
James Haines-Young

James Haines-Young

AFRAH ZOUHEIR FLEXES HER HAND as she purposefully stirs a pot of lemon juice, the fruity aroma filling the air as it rises to a boil.

“It needs to be hot in order to mix well with the sugars before it cools down and thickens,” she explains. “Then we bottle it and let it settle into a syrup.”

Zouheir has all of the looks of a professional chef. Her shoulder-length dark brown hair is tied back in a hairnet and her hands are coated in plastic gloves. She wears an apron over her sweatshirt, fanning the air, making sure that the lemon syrup drink she is making smells as it is supposed to; she appears undaunted about managing multiple pots simultaneously simmering over an open fire.

However, this is her first time working in a kitchen—at least professionally. In Mosul, Iraq, where she is from, she was a kindergarten teacher. But when the Islamic State invaded her home city in late 2013 and began targeting religious minorities, including Christians like Zouheir’s family, she grabbed her belongings and fled to Lebanon with her husband and four children. After a short stint in Beirut, the capital city, where rent is expensive and prejudice against refugees, among other factors, makes work hard to come by, she and her husband moved to Falougha, a mountain village where the air is fresh and, most important, the rent is cheap.

Image via REUTERS/Alessandro Bianchi/RNS

Pope Francis has called on European leaders not to turn their back on refugees and migrants despite the cultural and security challenges associated with the arrival of 1 million people this past year. Francis has made concern for migrants a centerpiece of his papacy, and on Jan. 11 in his annual address to diplomats accredited to the Holy See he again urged governments to “overcome the inevitable fears associated with this massive and formidable phenomenon.”

Sean Hawkey 01-06-2016

All photos by Sean Hawkey/WCC

The Jungle is an informal camp for refugees in Calais, France. It currently houses nearly 7,000 people who live under tarpaulins and in tents. They are fleeing war-torn areas, economic collapse, and climate change in countries like Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine, Sudan, and Ethiopia. There is no drainage in the camp, so when it rains it is a mudbath, there are a few toilets and standpipes.

The journey to The Jungle camp has been dangerous and exhausting for most of them, and new arrivals have often worn out their shoes walking across Europe, some have lost so much weight they need a new size of clothing when they arrive. People arrive traumatized and afraid.


As Donald Trump continues to dominate media that try to balance a fascination for celebrities with a duty to check facts claimed by public figures of all stripes, some critics of the GOP presidential frontrunner may recall 18th century novelist Oliver Goldsmith’s line, “The loud voice that spoke the empty mind.” But a more apt thought may come from the classic 1983 movie “A Christmas Story” (airing on Turner cable networks dozens of times this week).

Remember Ralphie noticing the neighborhood bully?


It’s one of the most intriguing sub-plots of the 2016 election: Why are evangelicals, who historically have supported immigration reform and a path to citizenship for deeply felt religious and moral reasons, gravitating towards the two candidates who are most hostile to policy changes that would accommodate and integrate undocumented immigrants into American life?

the Web Editors 12-29-2015

Editor’s Note: A lot has happened this year, and there has been much to cover — much to lament, much to praise, and much to record into history. It has been our privilege and honor to write, edit, and read along with you. In no particular order, here are our 15 favorite stories of 2015.


Timothy Morgan 12-18-2015
World Vision’s U.S. President Rich Stearns, center, visits with Syrian refugees in Irbid, Jordan. Photo by Jon Warren, courtesy of World Vision

Rejecting fearmongering about the resettlement of Syrian refugees in the U.S., about 100 evangelical leaders are calling on Christians and their churches “to support ministries showing the love of Jesus to the most vulnerable, those in desperate need, and the hurting.”

“Our statement is to change a narrative of fear and instead focus on faith and compassion,” said Ed Stetzer, executive director of LifeWay Research in Nashville, Tenn. “Our desire is not to resettle everybody in another country. When a house is burning down, we need to put out the fire and rescue people fleeing the fire.”

Image via REUTERS / Lucas Jackson / RNS

Without mentioning Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump by name, Detroit Archbishop Allen Vigneron has blasted proposals like Trump’s that would specifically bar Muslims from the U.S., saying the idea “fractures the very foundation of morality on which we stand.”

Vigneron’s denunciation, in a letter he sent on Dec. 10 to his priests, is significant because Catholic leaders have been strong defenders of religious freedom in recent years but have been largely quiet in the wake of Trump’s controversial pitch earlier this week to bar all Muslims from the U.S.

“While the Catholic Church refrains from weighing in for or against individual candidates for a particular political office, the Church does and should speak to the morality of this important and far-reaching issue of religious liberty,” Vigneron wrote in the letter, which he also sent to imams in his state.

Moral Mondays March in Raleigh, N.C. on Feb. 8, 2014

Moral Mondays March in Raleigh, N.C. on Feb. 8, 2014. EPG_EuroPhotoGraphics /

Since the Republican presidential front-runner announced after San Bernardino that he would close America’s borders to Muslims, a debate has ensued about what “radicalization” means and how far we as a nation are willing to go to protect ourselves from it. So-called liberals (and even some in the Republican party’s mainstream) have said, “Not all Muslims have been radicalized.” To this Donald Trump retorts, “Until we know which ones have been, let’s keep them all out.” The unquestioned consensus in America’s public square is that we can only be safe by figuring out who the un-American terrorists are and getting rid of them.

But where we're from in North Carolina, we should not be so naïve. We have a disproportionate share of homegrown terrorists.

Lisa Sharon Harper 12-11-2015

Not since the World War II have United States politicians exercised such an extreme level of xenophobia, nationalism, and unapologetic bent toward fascism. Trump is calling Americans to break faith with our own constitution, which guarantees the protection of all faith traditions within our borders. This is not only un-American: It is ungodly. All humanity, regardless of religious affiliation, is made in the image of God. As such every human being is worthy of respect, dignity, and equal protection of the law. To scapegoat Muslim people is to scapegoat the image of God on earth.

There is a real threat, but it does not come from Islam. It comes from a relatively small band of misguided extremists who are leveraging our fear in order to destroy us — from within.

Syrian refugee family in Croatia, Sept. 17.

Syrian refugee family in Croatia, Sept. 17. Photoman29 /

If Donald Trump had been Pharaoh of Egypt, the Holy Family never would have escaped from Herod’s persecution. Jews would have been prohibited from entering the country. Christmas features the story of a family from the Middle East leaving a homeland in fear and seeking refuge is a foreign land, just as millions do today.

If you visit Egypt and its ancient Coptic Church, you’ll see images of the Holy Family everywhere: Joseph, Mary — always on a donkey — and the infant Jesus. They are moving, wandering. You’ll find pictures of them passing by the pyramids. Egyptian Christians treasure this story for theirs is the land that offered welcome and hospitality to the Son of God when he was a refugee.

Kaeley McEvoy 12-01-2015

Image via /

Hate crimes in America dipped across the board in 2014, except in the category of anti-Muslim crimes, which rose about 14 percent over the prior year. Given the barbaric Islamic State attacks in Paris last week and elsewhere recently, that latter trend seems destined to accelerate.

The presence of hate crimes against Muslims is no new phenomenon. Prior to the 9/11 attacks, there typically recorded between 20-30 hate crime against Muslims per year and after 2001 that number rose to nearly 500.

This summer, we saw the murder of three Muslim students in Chapel Hill, N.C. On Nov. 15 in London, a man pushed a Muslim woman into an oncoming underground train. And on Thanksgiving Day, a man in a taxicab in Pittsburgh, Pa., shot his driver in the back for being Muslim.

These incidents do not need to be listed as statistics to validate reality but they do need to be heard.

Abby Olcese 11-30-2015

Still from Brooklyn. Image via Brooklyn Movie on Facebook.

There are many reasons to recommend Brooklyn — its relatable story for one, its glowing visuals and performances for another. But Brooklyn’s commendable qualities go far beyond this, including the amount of respect writer Nick Hornby and director John Crowley give the movie’s female protagonist. Brooklyn is a movie about hard choices, and for the most part, Eilis makes those choices on her own. At different points in the film, she’s caught between romantic relationships, and familial and personal obligations. But in none of these situations does it feel like her hand is forced. The movie lets us know early that Eilis can take care of herself, and she’s never forced to compromise on that point, though she easily could have been.

Although politics aren’t really on Brooklyn’s agenda, the film also carries an unintentional point on that score worth considering. At a time when the United States is anxious about welcoming refugees and immigrants, this film reminds us that our country is made up largely of immigrants — some who look like Eilis, but also many who don’t.

Joe Kay 11-25-2015
Zacarias Pereira da Mata /

Zacarias Pereira da Mata /

The clerk in Kentucky is still trying to avoid doing her job while arguing that religion means never having to sacrifice or compromise in any way. The war-on-Christmas crowd is still passing around that story about a red coffee cup lacking snowflakes. Those who believe in an eye-for-an-eye are cheering as bombs fall in the Middle East in response to another horrific terrorist attack. Many Christians are still ignoring the calls for justice coming from the streets of Chicago, Minneapolis, and cities all across the land.

Don’t you want to throw up your hands sometimes? Or maybe just throw up?

Jeremy Schultheiss 11-24-2015
Syrian refugees in Slovenia

Syrian refugees at the Slovenian border in September. Photoman29 /

God’s been telling the story of restoration since Genesis when we were created selem Elohim, in the image of God. We were created into perfect communion with God. From Genesis 3 until the end of the Old Testament, we see a narrative of a people in exile and God giving opportunities for reconciliation and restoration of relationship that humanity is incapable of accepting. Reconciliation is an exchange of something worthless (our condition of sin) for something immeasurably worthy (communion with God).

In the New Testament we see a biblical narrative through Jesus of now-but-not-yet restoration. In Jesus we see the coming of the Kingdom of God and get to be reconciled back to God. We even get a glimpse of an eternity where there is no more death or mourning or crying or pain.

If we truly believe we are the image of God, it changes how we approach the image of God in the world. Our call then is to actively partner with God in taking the world somewhere.

the Web Editors 11-20-2015

The GOP leadership really doesn’t want refugees to come to the United States. And Stephen Colbert has a few things to say about that.

Republican leaders in Congress approved a bill Nov. 19 requiring “our nation’s top security officials” to certify that each refugee poses no threat, despite the United States’ already stringent immigration guidelines. Under the guise of “security,” the bill practically functions to severely restrict the number of Syrian refugees able to enter the United States.

Jim Wallis 11-19-2015

From a religious perspective, the hardest thing about confronting evil is the painful human tendency to only see it in others, in our enemies, and not see any on our side because of the blurred vision caused by the specks in our own eyes, to paraphrase the gospels. In discussing ISIS, we should clearly use the language of sin — the enormous sin of the ideological hate of ISIS finding its victims all over the world.