Interview with Tabitha McDuffee from Faith and Forced Migration Blog

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!



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