Global Migration Sunday shines light on a crisis

Edison D. Toe fled violence in Liberia at age 10 and spent much of his life in refugee camps. He’s now a Global Mission Fellow with the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries. (Photo by Cynthia Mack)

Edison D. Toe fled violence in Liberia at age 10 and spent much of his life in refugee camps. He’s now a Global Mission Fellow with the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries. (Photo by Cynthia Mack)

At 10 years old, Edison D. Toe was selling kerosene on the streets in Liberia to provide extra money for his family.

One night, he saw a group fleeing heavy fighting between rebel and government forces in the area. Fearful for his own life, Toe made the difficult decision to join the crowd, leaving his mother and nine siblings behind.

“I was small, but I can still remember how I left my country and became a refugee,” he said of that night nearly 20 years ago. “I was on the streets for two years. I cried many days for food, clothes and shelter. Because of the war, I never enjoyed my childhood.”

Unfortunately, Toe’s situation is not unique. Today, more than 65 million people worldwide have been forcibly displaced from their homes due to conflict, persecution or natural disasters. Over 21 million of those are refugees, more than half of whom are under the age of 18, according to the United Nations Refugee Agency.

Global Migration Sunday will be held Dec. 3, the first Sunday of Advent. The offering will go to the denomination’s Global Migration Advance (#3022144), a fund set up in 2014 for donors to designate gifts specifically to support work that alleviates the suffering of migrants. To date, more than $1.4 million has been donated to the fund, assisting more than 46,000 migrants.

Thomas Kemper, top executive of the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries, said the mission of Global Migration Sunday is threefold: Learn, pray and respond. When United Methodist churches around the world come together to raise awareness, pray and support migration ministries through their gifts, he said, they are providing a moment of unity for the whole church.

Churches can adopt a full liturgy and other worship resources prepared by the church for Global Migration Sunday — available in different languages — but simply vowing to pray the same prayer on that day will be a unifying experience, Kemper said.

San Francisco Area Bishop Minerva Carcaño said welcoming the migrant is the responsibility of people of faith. She leads the denomination’s Immigration Task Force, which advocated for Global Migration Sunday.

“The United Methodist Church has long had a strong stand for welcoming the migrant,” she said. “Jesus teaches us to welcome the migrant and tells us that when we welcome that stranger that comes into our land, God’s land, that we welcome him.”

Toe’s story is evidence of how important that welcome can be. He eventually made his way to a refugee camp in Côte d’Ivoire, where he was taken in by foster parents. While he was forced to flee again when war broke out there, he was able to make it safely to a refugee camp in Ghana with the help of his new family.

Toe has come a long way from his days on the streets. He received a scholarship from United Methodist Women that allowed him to pursue higher education. Today, he is a Global Mission Fellow with Global Ministries.

More than a decade after fleeing his home, Toe was reunited with his mother and siblings in Liberia. He plans to return to his home country to work with a nonprofit he started to assist children, at-risk youth and teenage mothers.

The United Methodist Church is committed to working ecumenically on the issue, Kemper said. At least 10 percent of resources raised on Global Migration Sunday will support the refugee resettlement work of partner organization Church World Service.

The Global Migration Sunday offering also will provide advocacy and education materials and grants to help conferences and congregations become better equipped to minister to migrants locally and globally.

Carcaño said it’s important for United Methodists to continue to raise awareness about the global migration crisis because it affects the future of the church. When The United Methodist Church turns its back on migrants, she said, it loses the opportunity to grow as a church, spiritually and numerically, as many migrants seek out communities of faith.