In an overcrowded room in downtown San Diego, with the scent of authentic Syrian food still lingering in the air, a group of people sat silently on the edge of their seats as one of the most politically polarizing topics in America today was addressed.
On Sunday, February 4, 2019, Hope for San Diego invited Matt Soerens, U.S. Director of Church Mobilization with World Relief, to speak on the global crisis of refugees and asylum seekers—specifically from a Christian perspective.
Matt Soerens began sharing the story of the Good Samaritan and the Golden Rule—how Jesus calls us to love our neighbor. “The neighbor we’re called to love is not defined narrowly—it could be just about anyone in need,” stated Soerens. In a media-influenced world, empathizing with the personal experiences of refugees and asylum seekers is difficult, Soerens explained.
As the topic of refugees and asylum seekers shifted to the migrant caravan, Soerens unpacked the unknown facts of caravan members. “Don’t forget that the church is in the caravan,” said Soerens, highlighting that many refugees are Christians fleeing religious persecution and the important call of Christians to help those in need.
Reflecting on the impact of Matt Soerens’ discussion on her personal life, freshman biology major Ellary Lentz commented, “Something that had never occurred to me is that a lot of people seeking refuge here are Christian—there’s no reason for us to turn them away. We travel so far for missions trips when we won’t even cross the street to help someone.”
As Soerens continued, he remarked on the difficulties of the narrowing refugee resettlement programs in America today. “They’re trying to do something that is lawful under our laws,” he explained. However, with immigrant numbers decreasing by the thousands every year, it is clear that resettlement is becoming more and more challenging.
Closing with the impact of empathy, Soerens asked the crowd to broaden their perspective of personal encounters with refugees and asylum speakers.
“Listen to the stories of immigrants themselves. It’s easy to be scared of people when you hear about huge numbers and statistics, but the vast majority of immigrants are a lot like most of us. They’re not perfect people, but they’re people who are trying to provide for their families.”
With the focus of the media on unnerving statistics and overwhelming numbers, it is easy to forget that the members of the caravan are people. Deborah Jimenez, freshman international studies major, shared her own thoughts after listening to Matt Soerens. “I feel like a lot of people don’t realize that there are real people behind the news and headlines. Even if we’re sheltered from it, that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist and there isn’t something we can do about it.”
In a interview with The Point, Soerens addressed the opportunities that await students who wish to become involved with the refugee crisis: “For one, any student can advocate, calling their elected officials to advocate for a more robust U.S. refugee resettlement program and to insist that our government respect our asylum laws for those arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border with a credible fear of persecution in their country of origin.”