“Bombs every day, every day,” was Wasan’s answer when I asked why she, her husband, and their two little boys had to leave everything behind and flee their country.
I met Wasan, a Christian refugee from Iraq, four years ago this month. She and her family lived in Mosul until the bombs became too much and her husband got death threats from ISIS. In neighboring Jordan, they eked out a daily living and applied to be resettled to any third country where they could safely, legally rebuild their lives. After a long and rigorous vetting process, eventually these refugees were placed in the United States, in a small apartment just a few miles from my house. Today, their boys are tall and lanky, and they’re living in relative peace, praying for their loved ones still enduring persecution back home.
I’ve been befriending refugees in Arizona for more than 16 years, helping them integrate into American society and reaping the rewards of rich cross-cultural relationships. Today, I lead Phoenix Refugee Connections, a 12-year-old network of Christians across Phoenix walking in love with our refugee neighbors. We include about 800 people from 150 Valley churches, volunteering through a variety of local organizations and advocating for policies that honor our nation’s tradition of being a refuge for the oppressed — “a beacon of hope,” in the words of Ronald Reagan.
Prior to the Trump administration, when the U.S. led the world in resettling refugees, still less than 1% of the world’s refugees got the chance to resettle to a third country like the United States. Now, that fraction is even smaller. President Trump boasts that he has “done so much for religion,” but the numbers reveal he has done far less for persecuted Christians than any recent administration.
Recently, two Christian ministries — Open Doors USA and World Relief — released a shocking new report. “Closed Doors: Persecuted Christians and the U.S. Refugee Resettlement and Asylum Processes” details how drastically the U.S. has stepped back from offering refuge to those fleeing persecution on account of their faith. For example, in 2015, more than 18,000 Christian refugees were resettled to the United States from the 50 countries where Christians face the most persecution. Midway through 2020, fewer than 950 Christian refugees had arrived from these countries, on track for a decline of roughly 90%. The report also outlines harm done to other persecuted religious minorities. Our commitment to religious freedom must be for all, not just those who share our faith.
The decline is particularly stark for Christians from Iran, Iraq and Burma, all countries where Christians face especially harsh persecution. I have beloved refugee friends from all these nations — several of whom worship beside me at church on Sunday morning. As survivors of persecution, these people bring a faith that has been tested by fire, and our post-Christian American society needs them.
How can we boldly say we stand for religious liberty, but then cower and close our doors when it comes time to act on our values? “Dear children, let us not love with words or speech, but with actions and in truth” (1 John 3:18). Let us act on faith, not fear, and hold our leaders accountable to “not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in [our] power to act” (Proverbs 3:27).
Mary Kaech is executive director of Phoenix Refugee Connections and a member at Christ Church Anglican.