United Methodist Church congregations across Kansas and Nebraska stand ready to assist refugees from Syria once they are allowed to enter the United States.
That was the message shared Friday morning at First United Methodist Church in Topeka, Kansas, by Bishop Scott J. Jones, episcopal leader of the Great Plains Conference, which includes 1,032 congregations across the two Midwestern states. Jones, in an address to members of the media and his cabinet of 17 district superintendents, said he was pleased to announce that at least 35 United Methodist congregations in the conference have agreed to sponsor at least one Syrian refugee family each when their immigration to the United States becomes possible.
“We have sponsored refugee families in the past, and we are prepared to offer our hospitality for this group as well,” Jones said. “These are churches in Kansas and Nebraska who will help these people settle and find new lives in America.”
The bishop noted that scripture from Matthew 25:40 command Christians to care for people in need, noting that the people of Syria fleeing from the ravages of civil war and famine fit that criteria.
“The United Methodist Church has long played a role in welcoming immigrants to our country,” Jones said. “We believe that Christians are called to provide hospitality to strangers in line with Hebrews 13:2 – ‘Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.’”
The bishop acknowledged the threats to security noted by many lawmakers in the days following the terrorist attacks in Paris. Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback signed an executive order Nov. 16 saying no state agency or organization receiving state money can help relocate Syrian refugees in Kansas. Likewise, Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts sent a letter to resettlement agencies in Nebraska urging them to decline to participate in any efforts to bring Syrian refugees to his state.
“Nebraska is a welcoming place for families seeking a home to live, work, and raise a family," Ricketts told the Lincoln Journal-Star. “While I understand the danger and persecution many are facing in the Middle East, it is important that our state and our nation consider the safety and security of Nebraskans and Americans first in any refugee resettlement efforts.”
Bishop Jones called on elected leaders who affiliate with the Christian faith to re-think their opposition to helping Syrian refugees relocate to the United States while noting that the United States and other nations are under attack by a radical movement within the Muslim community.
“This is a cultural war, and the French are our allies,” Jones said. “But the vast majority of Muslims in the world area also our allies, and we need to stand by them against the jihadist movement called dayesh and Al-Qaeda. In that war, one of the strongest things we can do is to show that America is a country which welcomes refugees who flee the evil and terror of jihadists in their countries and where freedom of religion is respected.
Jones shared a letter that he has written to Secretary of State John Kerry. In the letter, the bishop said at least 35 of the churches of the Great Plains Conference are ready to act as soon as the means for immigration of Syrian immigrants is in place in the United States.
“As bishop of the United Methodist Church in Nebraska and Kansas,” Jones wrote to Kerry, “I am prepared to support these congregations and coordinate their efforts. I fully expect the number of such congregations to grow, and I will work with my ecumenical colleagues to find other churches to participate in this as well.”