Liz a dear friend of mine. I have known her for about 4 years and while she is younger than me, I have always seen her as a mentor and leader. She is full of such compassion for others, especially those in from other cultures who are in need. Her gracefulness is an attribute I strive for everyday. Liz is such a wonderful woman and I hope you enjoy her post as much as I do!
When Chelsea first asked me several weeks ago to write a piece about refugees, I had no idea that by the time this was done, refugees would be a major, controversial news topic.
When I wrote the first draft, almost no American news outlets were talking about refugees. There had been no attack on Paris. There was no nationwide debate over admitting Syrian refugees. No one was breaking down the refugee process, and no governors were sending letters to the White House about refugee policy.
But now that all of that has changed—now that we all know more than we ever knew before about refugees and have arrived at our new opinions of what should be done—what I have to say hasn’t changed a bit.
You see, my husband and I spent the last two years working for a refugee ministry in a major US city, living in an apartment complex that housed several hundred resettled refugees. Our complex held mostly Bhutanese-Nepalis, but we were also blessed to have neighbors from the Congo, Burma, Cambodia, and Iraq. For two years, it was our job to help them with anything they needed, most often dealing with the medical and immigration systems, though we also led citizenship classes, taught Bible stories to the kids, and helped a house church get started.
Through months and years spent eating together, living together, and worshiping together, we became friends and more than friends with these precious people. We walked together through sicknesses, births, holidays, and everyday life. We learned that they and their children have experienced more trauma than most of us can imagine. Every refugee story is unique, yet each has a tragic common thread—violent displacement from homes and land, coupled with fear for their safety if they try to return. Most of our friends had spent upwards of twenty years stuck in UN-controlled camps, not allowed to work or relocate, waiting and praying for something to change.
Unfortunately, the trauma doesn’t necessarily end for most refugees when they arrive on US soil. After years of waiting, they are suddenly thrust from shacks or tents into a modern apartment in a large American city. Many don’t know what a refrigerator or oven does, and they often use these appliances as storage space. We even heard of a family in another city drinking toilet water because they didn’t know how to use the sink! Most families feel overwhelmed, isolated, and helpless after arrival, unable to speak English, drowning in culture shock, and with little or no natural support network. The volunteer agencies that are legally responsible for refugees after arrival do all that they can, but usually the agencies’ resources are stretched impossibly thin. Often, all they do is rent an apartment, drop the refugees off at it, and give them a bus pass to get to English classes.
What refugee families need most as they walk through the long transition period is a friend who can help them gain confidence and competence in their new host culture. This can be through something as small as taking them to the supermarket or having a meal together—things that anyone with a little time can do! These sweet people have come to our nation from war-torn lands, often with no access to the Gospel and little hope for their earthly lives, and they are here in our cities, waiting for someone to notice them, care for them, love them. You don’t need any special qualifications to help them—just find out if there are refugees in your city and who is helping them already, and existing ministries would be happy to have you volunteer!
It is my prayer that this short piece helps you see refugees a little less as a political discussion and a little more as people. Rather than arguing over whether or not to accept more, why don’t we spend a few hours of our time showing the love of Christ to those who are already here? Why don’t we welcome the stranger with love? Why don’t we walk through life with other people just as broken as we are, other mothers and fathers and brothers and sisters, and see what we can learn from each other? I don’t know whether or not Christ would approve of the politics on either side, but I know He is honored when His people choose to show love. May we reflect Him in our lives as we serve the orphan, the widow, and the stranger.
Grace and peace.
Liz is a proud graduate of Louisiana Tech University, though she currently does absolutely nothing related to her degree. She and her husband have spent the past two years working with a refugee ministry on the West Coast and are briefly back in Louisiana before moving overseas to work with Muslims. She enjoys reading, hunting, fishing, learning about other cultures, and thinking about exercise but not actually doing it.