In the process of getting more involved in the online world of discussion about immigration, one of the the best parts has been getting to know kindred spirits like Tabitha McDuffee, who writes Faith and Forced Migration Blog.
Her blog is the first resource I recommend to people who want to learn more about refugees. Her heart for the displaced combined with her clear-thinking, well-written commentary make her a great one to follow if you want to stay informed about big issues related to displaced peoples and the Church’s response to them.
I’ll soon be reviewing her excellent ebook, Refugees in the Bible: Understanding Today’s Refugee Crisis, but today, I get the treat of interviewing her on the blog! Enjoy.
Jessica Udall: How did you first become involved in welcoming immigrants? What prompted you to do so?
Tabitha McDuffee: I first became involved in welcoming immigrants when I was in college at Moody Bible Institute in Chicago. I was an intercultural studies major and I was planning to go overseas as a missionary after graduating, so I began volunteering to help refugee and immigrants practice their English.
I spent many afternoons in one of the most diverse neighborhoods in the country, and I quickly realized that many American Christians had no idea that unreached people groups were living right in their cities and neighborhoods.
God was doing something incredible, and yet most churches were still pouring all of their efforts and financial resources into sending missionaries overseas, and not reaching out to their neighbors across the street.
At the end of my junior year of college, I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia, a chronic pain condition. My doctors told me I would never be able to live overseas long-term. My experience with refugees up to that point, combined with this diagnosis, changed the direction of my life. Since then, serving and loving refugees and educating the American Church about the biblical mandate to welcome the stranger have become my new passion.
JU: Can you talk a little bit about your blog, Faith & Forced Migration, and why you chose to start it?
TM: I started my blog in 2014 as my senior project, during my final year at Moody. I wanted to create a resource for Christians to learn more about refugees, both the legal and political aspects, as well as the biblical and theological basis for welcoming the stranger.
In the beginning I included some practical tips for volunteering with refugees, but over time I have decided to focus on curating resources to educate the Church about current events and what the Bible says about refugees. I have also created some original resources.
When I launched Faith & Forced Migration, I was familiar with the conflict in Syria, but I could not imagine how incidents like the drowning of Aylan Kurdi and the Paris attacks would shortly bring the refugee crisis out of the shadows and onto the front pages.
In 2014 welcoming refugees was not a controversial issue in politics or faith, but now it is. So, I am more committed than ever to dispelling myths about refugees, and helping Christians to understand how Scripture should inform our response to them.
JU: What are some of the greatest misconceptions people have about refugees? What are some misconceptions you may have had when you first began interacting with them?
TM: While the attention that has been given to refugees by the media has raised awareness about displacement, it has also reinforced many misconceptions about who refugees are, where they come from, and what their motivations are for fleeing their countries.
One of the biggest misconceptions or misunderstandings I’ve encountered is that people often don’t understand the differences between refugees, asylum seekers, economic migrants, and other categories of immigrants. Understanding the legal distinctions between these groups can alleviate a lot of the fear that people may have about refugee vetting and national security. I have also found it very important to explain why Europe has been affected so differently by the refugee crisis than the US has, due to proximity and geography.
I think the biggest misconception I had about refugees when I first began interacting with them, is that I assumed they all came from lives of poverty. While this assumption is understandable, given that refugees lose everything when they flee their homes and countries, I realize now that it was not logical. Tragedy and persecution do not only affect the poor, and many refugees were wealthy, influential, or worked in high skill professions in their home countries.
Learning this has made me an even greater advocate for welcoming refugees because many of them have so much to contribute to their new communities!
JU: What are some things that you’ve learned from your refugee friends?
TM: I have learned so many things from my refugee friends. I don’t know if I can list them all! Here are a few examples, though. I have learned about the importance of family and loyalty. I have learned what it means to hold material possessions lightly. I have learned how to cook delicious dishes from all over the world (yum!), and I have learned what true gratitude, for even the smallest of blessings, looks like.
JU: What would you say to someone who’s considering getting involved in welcoming refugees? How can they get started—what do you wish you knew when you were getting started, and what’s a good first step?
TM: I would tell someone how excited I am that they have decided to get involved! I would encourage them to get connected with an organization like World Relief that can help them figure out how their gifts and skills would best be used to serve refugees.
I would urge them not to welcome refugees alone, but to work alongside their family, church small group, or Bible study, because it is so important to have others to talk about your experiences with (and to pray for your refugee friends with!).
But the most important thing I could tell anyone hoping to get involved with welcoming refugees is to approach that involvement with the humble heart of a learner. Serving refugees is a wonderful opportunity for our faith in Jesus Christ to grow, but that growth will only happen if we enter into the experience with humility and a sincere desire to learn.
JU: Thank you, Tabitha! Readers, be sure to check out Tabitha’s blog, Faith and Forced Migration for smart, compassionate conversation on the Church’s response to refugees. And look out for a review of her ebook, Refugees in the Bible: Understanding Today’s Refugee Crisis coming soon!