‘Welcoming the stranger’ - Maryknoll Lay Missioners
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Somali children concentrate on their learning at a school in the Kobe refugee camp in Ethiopia (UNICEF Photo by Jiro Ose via Flickr)

When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them.
Treat the foreigner the same as a native. Love them as yourself, for you too
were once foreigners in Egypt. I am the Lord your God.
(Lev 19:33-34)

God’s call to care for refugees and displaced persons in the world could not be clearer (see the passage from Leviticus above). Yet when we look around the world and here in the U.S., we see that many seem to be closing our borders and our hearts to those who have fled their homes and countries — fleeing disasters, violence and persecution.

As we mark World Refugee Day today on June 20, I want to share the story of one missioner, Dee Dungy, who is heeding God’s call to welcome the stranger. I want you to know how your generosity is helping to carry out our mission, including our commitment to nonviolence, through action and advocacy around the world.

Perhaps you know Dee or have read about her work. She did mission work in Puerto Rico and Jamaica before becoming a Maryknoll lay missioner in Cambodia. Currently Dee is working with Jesuit Refugee Service throughout East Africa, seeking sustainable outcomes to peace-building through reconciliation and restoration.

Dee Dungy in the office of the Jesuit Refugee Service – East Africa in Nairobi, Kenya (Photo by Jerry Fleury)

What Dee has witnessed and the stories she has heard first-hand from women who are refugees have become etched in her heart and move her to action. She writes:

They tell harrowing stories about their escapes at night, as they fled tribal or political unrest and the rapidly deteriorating security in their country. I cringe when many say they only had time to grab their children and leave their emotions. Others found out about the impending raid from their sons, who were child soldier recruits ….

Yet Dee finds hope in her work, and her faith. Writing of the art and music therapy classes provided by Jesuit Refugee Service, she reports, “The classes provide an upbeat to their downbeat challenges. They foster pathways for the youth and young adults to cope with their traumas and experiences with meaningful resolve to strengthen their resilience.”

She thanks God for her call and her blessings. “Dear God, thank you that I will never have to journey through life alone. I know that you will see me and will always be with me.”

God has blessed us in many ways, including with the ability to share the resources we have. Please help Maryknoll Lay Missioners care for refugees and others through our service by making a gift for World Refugee Day. Any amount you could give is deeply appreciated by me, and by all of us who honor the lives of refugees, especially on this day.

Dee provides critical advocacy for refugees, especially for the rights of women and the safety of children. She works to address the systemic causes of conflict and poverty that deny their human dignity and well-being.

The work that Dee and other lay missioners are doing for migrants, refugees and asylum seekers — services you are supporting through your gifts — is very close to my heart. I am based in El Paso, Texas, not far from the border, where thousands are coming — refugees not only from Latin America but from all over the world, seeking nothing more than safety and a better life for themselves and their children free from fear and destitution. At the border here, four Maryknoll lay missioners also offer accompaniment, advocacy and service to migrants and refugees.

All over the world, refugees are not the “other” but “us.” For they, and we, are God’s children. Jesus told us, “Whatever you did for one of the least of these, you did to me” (Mt 25:40).

Sometimes it may seem as if the causes of their desperation, conflicts and economic-political circumstances are beyond our control. We are tempted to turn to indifference when the solutions seem overwhelming. But there is much that we can do together.

Like Dee, we can offer witness. We can offer our prayers and open our hearts. With your help, Maryknoll lay missioners can provide help by addressing poverty, and advocating for the poor and vulnerable in all the places our missioners are serving, so that families and children may know that they are loved and they are not alone.

As Dee says of her work, “There is joy in knowing that we have created safe places for women and girls to let their hair down, sleep in peace, and know that food is not a down payment for abuse.”

Please consider a joyful gift of any amount today. And please keep our lay missioners in your prayers, just as you are in mine.

In hope and shared purpose,

Elvira Ramirez
Executive Director 


Elvira Ramirez
Elvira Ramirez is Maryknoll Lay Missioners’ executive director.