Only days after witnessing Venezuelan refugees’ plight on the Colombia border, and mere weeks after praying with African refugees in Uganda, International Mission Board President Paul Chitwood traveled to Capitol Hill Thursday, May 16, to discuss the global refugee crises with U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY).
Chitwood and John Brady, IMB’s vice president of Global Engagement, along with their spouses, met with Sen. McConnell, a longtime Southern Baptist elected to the U.S. Senate in 1984 from Louisville, Ky., in the Majority Leader’s office in the Capitol Building in Washington, D.C. During the meeting, which also included members of Sen. McConnell’s staff, Chitwood and Brady reflected on the refugees they met during an April trip to Uganda and a May trip to Colombia, and the American members of non-government organizations seeking to meet the most basic needs of those affected on both continents.
Chitwood said he welcomed the opportunity to meet with the Senate leader about these issues affecting the work of the IMB.
“I’m humbled that as leaders of the global organization representing Southern Baptists across America and Baptist partners around the world, we could offer our firsthand observations to the Senator on these issues,” Chitwood said. “Our intent is to keep a dialogue open with influencers who can help ensure the safety of our global workers sharing hope — and to discuss any way we can offer support to those people seeking hope and peace around the world.”
According to Baptist Global Response, a primary ministry partner of IMB, there are an estimated 60 to 65 million displaced persons in the world today. Some are refugees, who have crossed country borders. Some are internally displaced peoples (IDPs) who remain in their country but are forced to leave their homes.
During the meeting with the Senator, they also discussed an increase in religious persecution, an issue affecting fellow Baptists and missionaries worldwide. Pew Research reported in 2018 that more than a quarter of countries had “high” or “very high” levels of government restrictions on religion in 2016, an increase from 25 percent the year before.
Chitwood said Senator McConnell had several questions about the work of the IMB and expressed his appreciation for those who are living their lives in service to the world’s hurting.
“As in past meetings we’ve had, Senator McConnell was gracious, engaging, and very interested in the work of Southern Baptists,” he said.
Chitwood has stated in recent weeks how he is thankful for Southern Baptists reaching out to refugees such as Agnes, a single mother among 1.5 million refugees in Uganda — 85 percent of them women and children under age 18. He shared about Baptist workers offering hope to thousands of people daily crossing the bridge between Venezuela and Colombia, their lives marked by fear and pain.
“You can’t meet these precious people and walk away unchanged,” Chitwood said. “God has given us insight into His work in these lives. We have a responsibility to intercede for them, and also to use whatever opportunities God gives us to help them and share the hope of the gospel with them. Today’s meeting with Senator McConnell was part of that response, and I’m thankful for that opportunity.”
Julie McGowan is public relations manager for the IMB.