I'm on the road, reporting a few stories for The Christian Chronicle. I spent Wednesday in Houston, a resettlement magnet that has been called the "City of Refugees," interviewing a few people close to the issue.
As court challenges and other news related to President Donald Trump's temporary ban on refugees keep making headlines, I'm interested in the religion angles that Godbeat pros and other journalists are finding.
Because of my travel this week, I haven't followed the latest developments as closely as I normally would, but I bookmarked one compelling feature before I left home. It's an insightful piece by Holly Meyer, religion writer for The Tennessean, on how refugees shaped one Nashville church:
Pastor Jerome Songolo, a refugee who fled the strife-torn Democratic Republic of the Congo, kneeled with his eyes closed and his hands half raised as he received a blessing Sunday as the new spiritual leader of an East Nashville congregation.
Many of its members have followed a similar path to the United States. Those seated in the rows of folding chairs at Nashville First Church of the Nazarene cheered as Songolo and Petronie Karaj, the new associate pastor, were installed as ministers of the church's African congregation.
The solemn, but joyful moment illustrated just how deeply rooted refugees are in the city's faith community, not just here in Nashville but across the nation.
The Rev. Kevin Ulmet, senior pastor of the church, recounted the African congregation's nearly two-year history during his Sunday sermon. Songolo stood beside him translating his words from English to Swahili. While Ulmet praised their past work, he emphasized their future.
Here's what I particularly like about The Tennessean's story: It feels real.
It's not just predictable talking heads spouting the "same old same old" arguments over and over again. You know, the ones that readers paying attention already have memorized.
Instead, Meyer talks to real people at the Nashville church and isn't afraid to quote their responses, nuanced as they are:
She even allows -- dare I say it? -- actual faith in God to enter the conversation:
On Sunday, neither Songolo, whose wife is still trying to come to the United States, nor Karaj, who sought asylum in America, expressed concern about the order. Church member Louise Bambo translated Karaj's comments in an interview with The Tennessean.
"For me, I think, I put it in God's hands," Karaj said. "I know that God will give him wisdom to think about everybody and to lead this country."
"We hope and pray," said Ulmet, chiming in to the conversation.
Ulmet finds himself in the middle, able to recognize important points on both sides of the debate. He understands Trump's concern about the refugee vetting process and the need to review it. But he called the abrupt implementation of the executive order terribly executed. He thinks fear is a dangerous motivator for policy, but as a pastor he has talked many people about what scares them.
"It’s like anything else. A lot of people talk about things. There’s not many doing much about it," Ulmet said. "We’re not real interested in getting into a verbal, speech making, grandstanding kind of effort. We’re far more interested in ministering to real people every single week."
Keep reading, and Meyer peppers the salty story with a few paragraphs of relevant context on how other Nashville faith groups work with refugees.
It's just a nice story overall. I'll resist the urge to copy and paste more chunks of it and simply urge you to read it. If you see other refugee stories that we should highlight, by all means, please share the links.
As for me, I need to get back on the highway, so I better run. See you online, real soon.