World Refugee Day: From strangers to neighbors

International (MNN) — Today is World Refugee Day, a solemn reminder that around the world, millions of people roam the world seeking a helping hand, a warm smile, and a safe place to call home. Yet despite displacement being so common, many people don’t understand the traumatic trials refugees face on a daily basis.

(Photo courtesy of Bethany Christian Services)

This crisis is nothing new, but it is getting worse. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees discovered that there are more refugees now than have ever been recorded — 65 million. “This is a consistent problem that’s really worsened over the years, so we take this day to help people understand what problems we have in refugee resettlement,” said Christian Hawkins, a refugee advocacy specialist.

World Refugee Day gives organizations that work with refugees a chance to tell others about the trials facing refugees. “Beyond that, we also use it as a day to celebrate refugees who have been resettled here; men and women who have persevered, rebuilt their lives, and brought really interesting and unique cultures to local communities and to America that really strengthen our culture as a whole,” said Hawkins.

Bethany Christian Services and many other organizations are hard at work integrating refugees and their new neighbors into one stronger community, but it can be a challenge to find something that 65 million displaced refugees have in common with the rest of the world.

So it’s a good thing 265 million people play soccer.

“Locally, people love soccer, and we know abroad this is also a very popular sport, so in a way soccer is something that can really unite people of very different backgrounds,” said Hawkins.

That’s the reasoning behind the Refugee World Cup, a tournament put on by Bethany Christian Services in Grand Rapids, Michigan. “We have refugee teams, we have local teams, we have teams where refugee and local players are playing together, and they’re all competing in this one-day soccer tournament.”

(Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

The event features several tents that feature each of the countries represented by refugees in the tournament. The tents have family activities, ethnic food, and more so that players and their families can “experience a little piece of the many diverse cultures that have been brought to their doorstep.”

Players and volunteers are refugees, locals, and strangers. By the end of the day, they just might be neighbors.

“We do have a biblical imperative to care for those who are less fortunate than us,” said Hawkins, and World Refugee Day provides an opportunity to do just that. “We hope that the services we provide to assist people in building new lives here in America can serve as an example, and we pray that we can live our faith in a way that will inspire others.”

Find out more about how you can help here.