Caring for refugees through hospitality and advocacy

June 20, 2018

Jason Lee got a wakeup call on 9/11.

He was serving as a missionary in Kenya in 2001. Ten percent of the population he served were Muslim Somali refugees.

When the news of the terror act on U.S. soil reached the village, there were indigenous Kenyans who offered to protect him from Muslims, whom they feared would attack him because he was American.

“I didn’t have a loved one in the trade center, and I didn’t know anyone killed in any of the plane crashes,” he said. “But I got kind of a wakeup call, being in a land with such uncertainty.”

Several months later—stateside—Lee’s wife, a registered nurse who speaks Arabic, befriended some African Muslim women. Through her newly formed friendships, she learned there were 200-300 Somali refugees in their Kentucky community.

The Lees soon began going into their homes, ministering to them as they had fellowship.

“God was tugging on our hearts, which he had already developed for these people groups,” said Lee.

Today, Lee leads The Acts 17 Initiative, a local initiative launched out of Clarkston International Bible Church (CIBC) in Northeast Atlanta that exists to serve refugees.

“We launched The Acts 17 Initiative to equip the local church, and to serve the local church by helping them engage in refugee ministry,” he said.

The Clarkston area has welcomed refugees since 1975, when the Indochina Migration and Refugee Act was passed under President Gerald Ford. Since that time, there’s been in influx of refugees from Vietnam and Laos move into the Northeast Atlanta area.

Other prominent people groups who have fled to this area include Burmese, Syrian, and most recently (since 2014), an estimated 700-1,000 Rohingyas—a group of Muslim minorities from Buddhist-dominated Myanmar.

“[Clarkston] is where the MARTA (the Greater Atlanta area’s public transit system) ended,” said Lee. “It also the site of the state’s only ESL school—now known as Georgia State University.”

The Clarkston church campus is providentially “the epicenter center of the community,” as Lee describes, with around 15,000 people living insider a two square mile area.

As missions pastor at CIBC, Lee helps coordinate seven ethnic churches on campus and 13 nonprofit mercy ministries.

Because Northeast Atlanta has one of the highest national concentrations of refugees, the church hosts 300-400 people from congregations on short-term mission trips from around the U.S. who come to serve with The Acts 17 Initiative.

But it’s not just people from other states coming in to help. The Acts 17 Initiative also mobilizes people other local churches to serve refugees.

“It’s now more important than ever for churches to come alongside refugees,” Lee explained, as he referenced the reduction of resettlement offices around the U.S.  

“It’s a huge opportunity for the church. Many [resettlement agencies] may not be evangelical, but if you call and offer to help, they will take you. There’s a volunteer shortage.”

During the recent Ramadan season, Lee lead discovery Bible studies in some Muslims’ homes in the community. And this summer, The Acts 17 Initiative is a partner in hosting an eight-week day camp on the CIBC property.

“A lot of these kids won’t have anywhere to go or anything to do,” said Lee, “and our camp is very gospel intentional.”

The 170 kids who attend each week vary in religious tradition—from Muslim to Buddhist to Christian.

And sometimes, serving the refugee community in Clarkston requires some plumbing work. “Someone left the sink on in their bathroom,” said Lee. “So I grabbed some tools and bucket and showed up.”

Whether it’s Bible study, kids camp or plumbing projects, the ultimate goal of The Acts 17 Initiative is ministry to the vulnerable and disciple making.

And there’s also been a focus on advocacy.

“We feel strongly that to do justice and love our neighbor are calls to advocacy,” said Lee. “And part of our job at The Acts 17 Initiative is to educate and equip churches to be advocates.”

Lee would say a person doesn’t have to be a legal professional or a diplomat to be an advocate for refugees.

“All refugees are required to learn English, and get employed,” he said. “And people in the local churches can rally around them and help them learn the language.”

Other times, it means helping them understand the jargon on medical bills—like Lee’s medically-trained wife is known to do on occasion.

And often—and most simply—advocacy can take the form of hospitality.

Lee told the story of a Syrian family who moved to the area in the fall of 2017.

“They’re devout Muslims, but they’re very open to come to the church campus for activities. And they’ll tell you that followers of Christ were the first to welcome and help them,” he said.

“Jesus told us to love our neighbor. And we’re going to do that, because the God who’s in control of where they go and where they lay their head is bringing the nations here for us to love.”

Joy Allmond

Joy Allmond is the managing editor of Facts & Trends, and has also written for Crosswalk.com, LifeWay, WORLD magazine, and the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. She lives in Nashville with her husband, Greg. Read More by this Author

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24