(RNS) — Sarah Jackson remembers being pregnant with her second child in 2014 and hearing stories about “gangs of immigrants coming across the border and attacking ranches in New Mexico or something.”
Those stories made Jackson — who now has three children between the ages of 3 and 10, one of whom she and her husband adopted from foster care — feel fearful as a mom. But none of that seemed to fit with her evangelical faith, which she said taught her that Christians “are called to be wrung out for one another.”
Then she encountered Women of Welcome.
“What I learned really felt more in line with where my heart is with foster care, where I just feel like Christians are called to compassion and to do something,” she said.
Women of Welcome is a collaborative partnership between the National Immigration Forum and World Relief, one of six faith-based agencies contracted with the U.S. government to resettle refugees in the country, aiming to help evangelical women understand immigration and refugee resettlement from a biblical perspective.
As attention turns to the border with the end of Title 42 and with new policies restricting U.S. entry for asylum-seekers, the head of the organization says she believes those women are changing the conversation among evangelicals.
“This is why I am confident that this community of women is going to change the dynamic in the immigration space — I’m 100% sure of it — because of the women who are in our community and the growth that has happened with the women in the community,” said Bri Stensrud, director of Women of Welcome.
The organization was founded in 2017 after rhetoric around immigrants and refugees became “inflamed” and “dehumanizing” during former President Donald Trump’s first campaign for office, Stensrud said. Previous polling by Lifeway Research showed evangelicals’ views about immigration were being shaped more by the media than by the Bible, she pointed out.
Research also showed evangelical women were more supportive than their male counterparts of policies impacting immigrants and refugees, said Matthew Soerens, U.S. director of church mobilization for World Relief. Women also expressed more ambiguity — voicing concerns about security alongside values like hospitality and compassion, Soerens said.
Plus, said Jennie Murray, president and CEO of the National Immigration Forum, “It’s really clear that what’s very important in many evangelical communities, and the glue that often brings together really wonderful efforts, are the women that lead those efforts.” Many connect care for immigrants and refugees with their beliefs about protecting life or with support for children in foster care, Murray said.
Nobody was speaking to those women, according to Stensrud.
So Women of Welcome created a free Bible study looking at immigration through the story of Ruth and Naomi in the biblical Book of Ruth. To date, it has been downloaded more than 135,000 times, she said.