There are a lot of misconceptions out there about refugees and resettlement. One of the main ones North Carolina pastor Bill Biggers has heard is: “Shouldn’t we be caring for our own, instead?”
Biggers, who serves as senior pastor of Hope Valley Baptist Church in Durham, North Carolina, worked with his congregation over the last year to convert a building on the church’s property into short-term housing for refugees.
In a recent video produced by The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Biggers discussed the process of opening the shelter ― called Hope House ― and how he navigated concerns from his community.
The project met with some backlash from congregants, but when they finally voted on it, Biggers said, 84 percent of churchgoers were in favor of the project.
Some initially expressed concerns, Biggers said, “about whether these folks will be dangerous or whether refugees are coming to ‘take over,’ to create Sharia law, to take over our way of life and defeat us from the inside out.”
These misconceptions exist in the broader American public, as well. Last summer, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich brought misguided fears over Sharia law back into the mainstream when he told Fox News’ Sean: “Western civilization is in a war. Sharia is incompatible with Western civilization.”
Many Americans tend to be similarly wary of refugees, particularly those coming from the Middle East. An October 2016 survey by Pew Research Center found that a majority of U.S. adults ― 54 percent ― think the country should deal with its own problems before helping refugees.
We are called to care for ‘both-and.’ It’s not an ‘either-or’ but a ‘both-and.’”
There are also widespread misconceptions about just how long and painstaking the resettlement process is. And in regard to refugees already in the U.S., Americans greatly overestimate how many of them have been arrested in connection to terrorist activity.
Biggers listened to his congregants’ concerns and led the church through a months-long process of discussion and prayer over whether or not to open the shelter. “I preached several times about what I see as the Biblical call to welcome the stranger and to be a neighbor to people no matter their backgrounds,” the pastor said in the video.
Hope House opened its doors in March and is currently occupied by a refugee family, according to Indy Week.
And for those who say the country should prioritize helping Americans before helping refugees, Biggers’ response is: “We are called to care for ‘both-and.’ It’s not an ‘either-or’ but a ‘both-and.’”
Check out UNHCR’s video above.