Evangelical Christians hold summit on refugee crisis

By Jay Bouchard

While an unprecedented number of migrants seek refuge across the globe, evangelical leaders and activists are seeking to trigger a bold Christian response to the refugee crisis.

“Will we be remembered for taking care of those in one of the greatest crises to ever happen, or will we be remembered for living in fear?” asked Dr. Jamie Aten, co-founder and director of the Humanitarian Disaster Institute at Wheaton College outside Chicago.

Aten was one of more than a dozen humanitarian activists and Christian leaders who called those gathered to action Jan. 20 at the Great Commandment and Great Commission (GC2) Summit at Naperville’s Community Christian Church.

More than 500 people attended the summit and thousands more streamed the event online, according to Ed Stetzer, executive director of LifeWay Research and lead organizer of summit.

The GC2 summit comes at a time when a record number of people fleeing wars, conflict, and persecution are displaced from their home countries and seeking refuge, according to the United Nations Refugee Agency. The UN reported in 2015 that one in every 122 humans is now either a refugee, internally displaced, or seeking asylum.

Struck by the severity of the current migrant crisis, Stetzer said he began organizing the summit about two months ago. He invited Christian speakers from across the country who have experience serving and caring for refugees.

Joining Aten and Stetzer on stage were representatives from organizations such as World Relief and World Vision—two of the country’s largest Christian humanitarian relief organizations.

Stephen Bauman (left), president and CEO of World Relief, leads a panel about Christian responses to the refugee crisis on Wednesday at the GC2 summit in Naperville. (Jay Bouchard/MEDILL)
Stephen Bauman (left), president and CEO of World Relief, leads a panel about Christian responses to the refugee crisis on Wednesday at the GC2 summit in Naperville. (Jay Bouchard/MEDILL)

The primary matter of discussion at the summit addressed how Christians can best respond to the refugee crisis.

“We need to challenge our churches to see refugees not as a concept or as a cause or as a mass group of people,” Aten said. “We need to be able to see the humanity in those sitting across from us.”

Aten noted that in addition to intentional prayer, Christians need to get involved and donate their time and money. However, he cautioned those in attendance to do both wisely.

He encouraged people to learn from organizations who have a long history of doing humanitarian work and noted that in many cases good intentions can have ill effects if resources are not appropriately administered.

James Misner, vice president of church partnership for World Relief, echoed many of Aten’s recommendations and stressed that donations are not nearly enough.

“Our discipleship cannot be fully measured by the checks we write, but by the crosses we bear,” Misner said. “We can’t buy a solution to the global refugee crisis.”

He stressed particularly the importance of serving refugees in local communities.

“If we can’t walk across the street, what kind of half-baked version of Christianity are we exporting around the world?” Misner asked.

Stetzer admitted that the American Christian response to the refugee crisis has been slow, but is beginning to gain momentum.

“I’m hopeful,” he said. “I think Christians are going to step up. In a global humanitarian crisis, we as the followers of Jesus want to be known as serving those who are hurting.”

Photo at top: Ed Stetzer, executive director of LifeWay Research, speaks to a crowd of more than 500 in Naperville at the beginning of Wednesday’s GC2 summit. (Jay Bouchard/MEDILL)