Refugees—Fresh Starts Require New Friends

16 04 2017

(an interview with Nick Armstrong of Glocal Community Partners)

For the past 3 years Nick and Laura Armstrong have been working with refugees in Boise, ID. Over 50% of the refugees coming to Boise are Muslim, and not everyone in the community is ready to welcome them. So Nick and Laura built relationships with 45 local churches to train and mobilize Christian families to start a friendship with a refugee family. I asked Nick to share about the refugees’ rocky path to starting a new life in America.

JB: How does a refugee end up in Boise, ID?

NA: It’s actually quite difficult to come to America as a refugee. About 1% of the over 21 million refugees in the world get resettled to a “third country” such as the US (for example, a Syrian flees to Jordan and gets refugee status there and then applies for a third country resettlement) and about half of those actually get approved to come to the US. Those refugees who get approved to come to the US go through a vetting process that is, by far, the most stringent of any entrant classification (e.g. tourist, student, business visa), and it takes a minimum of 18 months to go through the US vetting process which includes the involvement of the National Counter-terrorist Center, the FBI, the State Department, Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Defense) with an average time of 3 years to pass through a stringent vetting process before they can come to the US. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), in cooperation with “3rd country” resettlement governments determine where a refugee will go, which means they could end up in Finland as easily as in Boise, ID. The family ties a refugee has in a “3rd country” can influence that decision, but there are no guarantees.

JB: Who takes care of them once they arrive in Boise?

NA: The Organization for Refugee Resettlement (ORR) in Washington D.C. coordinates with resettlement agencies such as World Relief, to determine the allocation of refugees to the various resettlement cities and agencies throughout the US. In the case of Idaho, once the refugees arrive, they receive an 8-month Transitional Refugee Assistance (TRA) from the resettlement agency which receives federal government funding. There is additional financial support from state and local governments. This helps them to rent a home, look for a job, get kids signed up in school, get medical coverage, join English language classes, etc.

Our role in this process is to help the newcomers to find local friends. They’ve lost their friends and community, and we want them to find new friends and a new sense of community in Boise. These new friends can also offer much needed social capital to people who need as many positive connection points to the community as they can get.

JB: What are some of the challenges resettled refugees face?

NA: These refugees have spent their most recent years in camps, etc., with a service-oriented mindset. They fled their homes with nothing, so everything had to be provided for them. They arrive in a similar place of need and similar mindset. They need integration and independence skills, especially language, and this takes time and a lot of help.

Many refugees come with various degrees of mental stress and traumas from the past, some come with PTSD. Most come with feelings of isolation and grieving tremendous loss. They need healing for their hearts. Some are finding healing and a new sense of community. But a few, like one woman we know whose PTSD is so overwhelming she continues to hide in her home after 2 years, need more help than the 8-month government program. They need a loving community who will reach out and walk with them through this tough transition.

JB: How have the citizens of Boise responded to the refugees?

NA: Well, I think that overall Boise has been a very open city with a mayor who has led the way in reaching out to refugees, recognizing the many benefits they can bring to the community. Having said that, there are still instances of hate crimes and bullying. The recent political climate has stirred up fear of refugees being potential terrorists, although the data doesn’t support such fear. Since 1975 over 3 million refugees have entered the US, and not one single terrorist attack on US soil has been perpetrated by a refugee! Our refugee crime rates are lower than the general populace. So that’s one of the challenges for us, to educate people and especially the churches that we work with to cast aside their fears and offer true friendship.

In our program, we require each Christian family to commit to weekly visits for 3 months with a refugee family, after that their level of involvement is up to them. I’m happy to share that 44 of the 45 Christian families in the friendship program have continued long past the original deadline and are delighted by the two-way friendships they’ve developed with the refugee families.

JB: Nick, I want to thank you for the wonderful work you’re doing! I love showcasing people on my blog who really live out “love your neighbor as yourself.” God bless you and your work!





How Would Jesus Respond to the Travel Ban

2 02 2017

refugees-denied  Since President Trump issued the temporary travel ban against citizens from seven predominantly Muslim nations, there has been no end of controversy. Some foreign leaders have criticized it; others have supported it. Likewise, within America, many Christian leaders have joined in protests and petitions, while others have argued its merits.

What concerns me is the spirit behind these protests—are people truly concerned about the fate of refugees from Sudan or Yemen, or are they using this as an excuse to express their rejection of President Trump? Because if they’re truly stirred up by the needs of Muslim refugees, I’d like to know whether they’ve been doing anything constructive to help refugees before Trump came into office.

Through it all, I’ve asked myself over and over again, “How would Jesus respond?” Since I claim to follow Jesus, I want my response to align with his heart.

Jesus was often counter-cultural, never politically correct. But he reserved his few harsh rebukes for hypocritical religious leaders, not for political leaders. His breaking of cultural norms was always done in order to show love to hurting individuals. He healed the sick on the Sabbath; he didn’t condemn the woman caught in adultery; he asked for water from a despised Samaritan; he healed the servant of a Roman oppressor; he partied with tax collectors and sinners.

Jesus never joined other Jews who were protesting the government or planning violent attacks against it. The closest he got to a protest was driving the money changers out of God’s temple—again, dealing with his own religion gone wrong.

Does that mean I don’t support protests of government policies? I affirm the right to free speech that Americans hold dear, and I believe that peaceful protests can be an effective way to bring attention to issues of justice. I have joined in peaceful protests before, and will do so again. But I’ve done so not to represent Jesus’ heart of love necessarily, but more to support a community and an ideal that I believe in.

Now back to the original question, how would Jesus respond to the travel ban? In my heart, I am convinced that Jesus would respond by loving people, and no government restrictions or cultural controversies would stop his love.

So how about those of us who follow Jesus? How many of us would take the time to march in protest, or circulate a petition, or gripe on Facebook, in defense of these Muslim nations seemingly treated unjustly, but have never taken the time to get to know the Muslims who live in our own neighborhoods, or whose kids go to school with our kids? Which shows more love—marching alongside angry protestors, or walking alongside the Muslim children in our neighborhood to make sure they get from the bus stop to their homes safely? Shouting slogans against a government policy, or whispering words of comfort to a Muslim student unable to return home to her family during Ramadan? Perhaps some of us are doing both, and I commend you. But if we have time to invest in just one type of response, what would Jesus do?

What about those refugees we refuse to allow into our borders? There are many reputable agencies helping Syrian refugees that need our donations. One of my friends even volunteered at a refugee camp in Jordan for a short time. The travel ban neither eliminates our options to serve refugees, nor our responsibility.

The greatest need of the Muslim refugees is not entry to America. They need food and shelter. They need a chance to work and provide for their families. They need people to come alongside them and help them get back on their feet. They need our prayers, our donations and our love.

As the eyes of the world look toward America’s government and criticize its leadership in this global refugee crisis, what an opportunity for the Christians of America to model a different spirit, laying down our lives to love others. By doing this we will represent our nation well, but more importantly, represent the heart of our Savior well.





1001 Ways to Die in America

19 10 2016

cemetary   I’ve been criticized for not treating the threat of a Muslim terrorist sneaking into the US posing as a refugee as real. Let me be clear—that is a real threat. The events in Chattanooga and San Bernadino last year (19 killed) and Orlando this year (49 killed) remind us that there are Muslims motivated by hate who are willing to kill Americans.

At the same time, I’d like to bring some perspective to the actual danger this poses to you, because the fear of Muslim refugees that is saturating our media has been blown all out of proportion. Yes, there is a danger you may be killed by a Muslim refugee this year. There is also a danger you might have a tree fall on your head. And guess which one is more likely? The falling tree by a long shot.

Let’s take a look at some actual statistics to determine how likely a Muslim refugee terrorist might be to cause your death. Is it really worth your anxiety, or would your worries be better invested somewhere else?

Here’s what I discovered. Statistically speaking, you’re more likely to be struck by lightning or die from a peanut allergy than to die in a Muslim terrorist attack. In fact, you’re 10 times more likely to die by falling out of your own bed. You’re about 80 times more likely to die by walking across the street. You’re nearly 100 times more likely to die by texting while driving. And you’re 700 times more likely to die by choosing to kill yourself.

That doesn’t even account for the truly great killers among us, such as poor eating habits, the consumption of tobacco, alcohol or drugs, or being the victim of a medical error (your doctor or nurse is 4000 times more likely to kill you!).

There are so many ways to die in America it’s crazy. But dying at the hand of a Muslim terrorist is about as likely as discovering you had a long-lost identical twin. Last year’s statistics show that more Americans were shot and killed by toddlers with guns than by Islamic terrorists!

And check this out—in all of 2015, do you know how many deaths in America were caused by Muslim refugees or illegal aliens? Zero. As in none. It never happened. (American citizens and permanent residents were responsible for Chattanooga, San Bernadino and Orlando.)

So if America needs to close our borders or banish somebody or something, how about we start with tobacco, alcohol, fast food and incompetent medical professionals? Then we can move on to cell phones, peanuts, beds, trees and lightning. Next we’ll get rid of toddlers. Then we can deal with those nasty, dangerous Muslim refugees.

For more insight on your deadliest enemies, check out 2016’s latest statistics at: http://www.romans322.com/daily-death-rate-statistics.php

Some of you may think I’m wrong. You’re welcome to argue your point! Go ahead and comment below.

My hope is that you live a long and fear-free life. The world needs your love.





From North Carolina with (Fearless) Love

24 07 2016

welcoming refugees   I just got back to our work in Indonesia after an encouraging month’s tour in the USA, promoting my book A WAY OUT OF HELL and meeting people with a similar passion for peace.

The most exciting stop on my tour was in North Carolina, where I reconnected with my dear friend and Peace Catalyst International colleague, Thomas Davis, an extraordinary bridge-builder and peacemaker both in his hometown and in several nations around the world. (You can read Thomas’s amazing stories at his blog: http://www.incomparabletreasure.com/. You can see his Muslim Christian Dinner Club, read his post on “Jesus–Messiah, Feminist, Friend of Outsiders, Savior of the World” and so much more.)

Thomas invited about 20 Christian friends to a dinner to hear me share about our peacemaking work in Indonesia, but I went home astounded at what Thomas’s friends are doing in their own communities!

  • Some are helping international students, including Muslims, to adapt to their new surroundings in America and find local friends who will care for them
  • Others are involved with some Iranian Muslims reading the Qur’an and the Bible together
  • Still others have joined Thomas’s Dinner Club, where several families from the church and from the mosque regularly eat together, rotating to different members’ houses, with no agenda except to enjoy one another’s friendship
  • Out of this Dinner Club came the idea of joining together to help refugees fleeing the Middle East. Can you imagine a Syrian family arriving in America, and at the airport a local Muslim family and a Christian family are waiting side-by-side to welcome them to America and help them start a brand new life? Isn’t that outrageously beautiful?

My last post asked some tough questions of my fellow Americans; my trip to North Carolina reassured me that there are still those Christians in America who have rejected fear and have chosen to reach out in love. “Love your enemy” was always meant to change us, for if we no longer see an enemy, but the object of our affections, we begin to see the whole world as “friends and future friends.”

If you feel emboldened to start something small in your hometown that builds bridges between Christians and Muslims, please let me know! Perhaps Thomas or myself or others would be able to help you take that first step.





The Right Response to Paris

22 11 2015
photo from usatoday.com

                        photo from usatoday.com

It’s been an interesting couple weeks, with Islam dominating the news. The horrific attacks in Paris stirred up a tremendous amount of sympathy, fear, and not always constructive reactions around the world. France’s president promised a “ruthless” response, and subsequent raids across France and bombings in the Middle East were evidence of his sincerity.

Meanwhile, many cities and nations questioned the wisdom of welcoming Muslim refugees inside their borders, turning them away to go…where exactly??

An altogether different response arrived in my email inbox this week—an Islamophobic letter warning me that “We Now Have a Muslim Government,” citing erroneously that leaders such as John Brennan, head of the CIA, and presidential advisor Valerie Jarrett were Muslims. The letter also falsely claimed President Obama is a “closet Muslim” and sounded this gloomy assessment of our future:

Obama and his minions are systematically destroying our nation, supporting radical Muslim groups worldwide, opening our southern border, and turning a blind eye to the genocide being perpetrated on Christians all over Africa and the Middle East. The more damage Obama does, the more arrogant he’s become! Our nation and our government has been infiltrated by people who want to destroy us.

These wild accusations of a conspiracy theorist couldn’t be farther from the truth. If you receive any similar bogus emails, please tell the sender to check his facts and instead of spreading fear, try becoming part of the solution.

So…the world’s responses are ruthless revenge, heartless rejection, or delusional fear. Surely there is a better option for us?

Lately I’ve been working on editing my manuscript for the sequel to my first novel, SOMEONE HAS TO DIE, hopefully to be published in summer 2016. In my new book, I’ll address the issue of ISIS and what a more godly, effective, transformational response could look like.

But while you wait for your summer reading, a group of leading Muslims around the world have got a jump on me by authoring an open letter to the self-appointed “Caliph” or leader of ISIS, Al Baghdadi. This 28-page letter presents beautifully how far from orthodox Islam ISIS has strayed. I especially recommend you check out the page explaining jihad and the page on the treatment of Christians (“People of the Book”) if you want to discover how the leading Muslims of our world truly feel about these issues. You can read the letter and who signed it here: http://www.lettertobaghdadi.com/

The tragic loss of life in Paris should produce a righteous anger in our hearts. However, neither ruthless revenge nor finger-pointing fear will solve the problem or bring healing to our world. I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: Islam is not our enemy. Hatred, prejudice, violence and fear are our enemies.

And since these are common enemies to all mankind, let us join together as humans to overcome those evils with good.