A group of indomitable painters from Transfiguration recently ventured into the heart of Phoenix and transformed a dirty, dated classroom at Refugee Focus into a space that is welcoming and conducive to learning. Thanks to Pat Gutsch, Craig and Heidi Kinney, Eileen Halladay, Jan and Bob Saik, and Lee, Cheryl and Dea Podhajsky who constituted our paint crew. A special thanks to Pat who took on the task of turning a hideous mural into a magnetic blackboard. The classroom that was painted is used for teaching basic English and literacy skills to refugees from many countries. Conflicts, war, attempted genocide and other acts against humanity are the source of refugees. Worldwide there are over 16 million refugees and less than 1% will ever be resettled. Of that 16 million about 80% are women and children.
The Episcopal Church has served immigrants new to the U.S. since the late 1800s, when the Church opened port chaplaincies to minister to sojourners on both coasts. In the 1930’s, local parishes collected donations to provide steamship passage for those fleeing Nazi Europe. Out of this effort, the Presiding Bishop’s Fund for World Relief was born, the forerunner organization to Episcopal Relief & Development and Episcopal Migration Ministries. Through the mid- and late 20th century, this agency partnered with other faith organizations to resettle those oppressed by the Iron Curtain and the genocides of Southeast Asia. In the 1980’s Episcopal Migration Ministries was formally established and established partnership with a network of affiliate agencies, including Lutheran Social Services which is the sponsoring agency for Refugee Focus. Today Episcopal Migration Ministries is one of only nine national agencies through which all refugees enter the United States.
The Episcopal Church’s commitment to this ministry is rooted in the book of Mathew and also in the Baptismal Covenant which includes these words, “Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?”
In the book of Mathew it is written:
35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’