Interfaith Communities Hold Prayer Vigil with Refugees

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Tuesday, February 21, 2017, 1:14 pm
Chris Root

Photo: courtesy Interfaith Clergy Association of Greater Lansing

Several hundred people of different faiths gathered at the Islamic Center in East Lansing on Monday at 5:00 pm to pray together from multiple scriptures and in many languages. The event was sponsored by the Islamic Center, the University Lutheran Church (next door to the Islamic Center on Harrison Road), the All Faith Alliance for Refugees (AFAR), and the Flower Pot Neighborhood.

The event was organized in response to the Executive Orders issued by President Trump on January 25 and 27 that expanded priorities for deporting undocumented immigrants in the United States, banned refugees from seven Muslim majority countries from entering the U.S. and cut by half the number of refugees permitted to enter the United States in the current year.

Pastor Liz Miller of Edgewood United Church explained before the vigil that, while many Muslims in the community had been heartened by the public protests against these policies at airports and elsewhere, many refugees did not feel safe participating in such events. This prayer vigil was designed as an event where community members who are not refugees could come together and be in solidarity with refugees in the community.

Imam Sohail Chaudhry of the Islamic Center gave words of welcome and recited from the Koran in Arabic to the group who gathered in the Islamic Center’s parking lot. He was followed by Rabbi Amy Bigman of Congregation Shaarey Zedek, who read from passages found in the Torah in Hebrew and then in English, including the passage “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

The event was held on President’s Day, and the United Methodist Church Bishop for the Michigan Area, David Alan Bard, spoke at the event. Rev. John Schleicher of University Lutheran Church led the people in prayers for President Trump and officials in his administration, each ending with “so that we may live a quiet and peaceable life.”

Prayers were offered by women and men in six languages that are most common in the refugee communities in the greater Lansing area. Shirin Kambin from Iran, gave a prayer for refugees in Farsi, followed by Janine Sinno from Lebanon, who prayed for Muslims as well as peoples of all faiths. Moulud Al-Afraj prayed in Somali for the community. They were followed by Cung Bawi Hup, Pastor of Chin Baptist Church in Lansing who prayed in Burmese for our nation and its leaders. Rev. Eric Mulanda Nduwa from the Congo who is Associate Pastor at Mt. Hope United Methodist Church in Lansing, prayed in Swahili for the world community, and Bhanu Kanal, from the Bhutanese community, prayed in Nepali for all of creation.

Signs reading “Hate has no home here” in seven languages were held by some in the crowd, and 100 signs were offered for sale for people to place in their yards.

Dr. Bruce Cromwell of the Central Free Methodist Church, spoke about how people could help refugees, speaking from the Bible story of the Good Samaritan. “To be a neighbor,” he said, “you do not cross to the other side of the street. When you see something, you say something.”

Judi Harris, Director of St. Vincent’s Catholic Charities Refugee Services in Lansing, explained the effects of the Executive Order banning Muslims from seven countries and temporarily stopping all refugees. This Executive Order has been stayed by the courts, but it is already having considerable effect, and the Trump White House is expected to issue a new Executive Order as soon as tomorrow. She said that sixteen refugee families had been scheduled to arrive in the Lansing area in February, but their arrivals were cancelled when the Executive Order was issued. Since the stay of the Order, only half of these families have been heard from, and only about half of these have arrived. St. Vincent’s has been told not to expect any more refugees after March 3.

Harris also explained that the Executive Order is already leading to cuts in services available to refugees, and more can be expected. Her organization has already started to lay off personnel, and this is part of a national trend. The Baltimore-based World Relief refugee resettlement agency announced last week that it was closing offices in five cities outside of Michigan and laying off 140 staff.

Rev. Alice Townley of Okemos Presbyterian Church thanked people for coming, saying, “We know the direction we are going, taking one step at a time, toward love, in the way of love, and toward justice, in the way of justice.” She thanked refugees in our community, saying “You teach us faith and courage. You are our heroes.”

After the vigil, attendees were invited to eat cookies, meet new people, and talk together. A Somali man said in conversation that he had come to the United States as a refugee with two pairs of pants; now he had a wife, children, and a job. “No one can take away my love for the United States,” he said.


Note: This article was corrected regarding which prayers Rev. Schleicher led, and the spelling of Imam Sohail Chaudhry's name was also corrected.

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