Monday, April 4, 2022

Jack Amick: Food and Migration Mission

Today’s post is by Rev. Jack Amick. Rev. Amick is Director of Global Migration at UMCOR, the United Methodist Committee on Relief. It is part of a series of reflections by multiple authors on the connections between food and mission.

When I think of the theological significance of food, I think of the words of Isaiah 55, in which God says, through the prophet Isaiah, “All of you who are thirsty, come to the water! Whoever has no money, come, buy food and eat! Without money, at no cost, buy wine and milk!”  

Ironically, this declaration of God’s abundant provision for all people comes to us at a time when we have learned that a bread line in Ukraine was recently bombed, in a place that used to be known as a breadbasket, not only for the region but, through the World Food Program, as a source of food for places like Afghanistan. In Ukraine, people are starting to starve; In Afghanistan, people have been starving for some time already.  

Conflict, famine, and refugee movements are interrelated. When human beings inflict these scourges on one another, there is no other way to describe it but pure evil.

During my years at UMCOR when I have directed global migration programing, I have observed some of the world’s largest refugee movements since World War II: Syria, Venezuela, Afghanistan, Ukraine, and many others. Every time people flee in fear, it breaks my heart.

But I want you to know that every time my heart is broken, it is also healed, by the generosity of the United Methodist Church, who every time the world falls apart, reaches out through UMCOR to do our part in patching things up. UMCOR can’t do it all, but we can make a difference. And, yes, sometimes it feels like building bridges by throwing stones in the ocean, but we, on behalf of, and in partnership with, the United Methodist Church, build those bridges every time.

Many of UMCOR’s programs with migrants involve humanitarian assistance interventions, including the provision of food. Sometimes that is packed meals that people can take with them on the next leg of their journey. Sometimes it is food that reminds them of home. Sometimes it is food they cook themselves.

The basic concepts of providing food for migrants and refugees are simple: Food should look and taste like the food with which people are familiar. There should be enough of it such that the recipient doesn’t have to look again for food in a few days. It should be nutritionally balanced. And, in the best scenario, people should be able to purchase the food and cook it themselves, because both of those actions are generally closer to “normal” than someone giving food or cooking for you. Buying locally also spurs on the local economy. The worst approach to food in mission with migrants and refugees is to import meal packets that are foreign in how they look, taste, and are cooked.

There are several positive examples of food-related best practices from United Methodist migrant and refugee mission work. In some of the church-run shelters along the border, for instance, the guests (asylum seekers) are welcome to gather together in the kitchen and cook so that they can not only have food with the taste and spices with which they are familiar, but they can also feel empowered by cooking for their family.   

Another interesting project was part of UMCOR’s Mustard Seed Migration Grant program. French UMC in Detroit is a church pastored by missionaries from the DRC and consisting of recently arrived French-speaking refugees. The grant UMCOR gave them allowed French UMC to be able to afford to prepare some meals with familiar food for recently arrived refugees that were living in a group housing facility. Welcoming the stranger meant cooking familiar food for them.  

Just recently, we have had some inspiring conversations with United Methodist leaders in Hungary, Poland, Romania, and Slovakia, where the church is opening its doors to people on the move. Through their courage, creativity, and compassion, the church is providing food to Ukrainian refugees, along with shelter, clothing, transportation, and other assistance. One superintendent described this as “work they had never done before, but which they had no choice but to do.” Another described how they were finding ways to take special care of the children. Still another told of how they were working closely to assist African students fleeing Ukraine.

UMCOR has supported each of these entities with emergency grants and is already exploring with local leaders how we can best provide future support. What gives me hope is that the generosity of those on the ground is matched by the generosity of donors, halfway around the world. UMCOR, in partnership with various UMC entities around the globe, is connecting in compassion to eliminate suffering even while our hearts break.

Whether work with migrants and refugees is routine or something “we have never done before but have no choice to do,” sharing food that is culturally appropriate, plentiful, healthy, and when possible, prepared by migrants themselves helps heal the hearts of all involved.

No comments:

Post a Comment