Sunday was a break through day for me.
We have been the church of a number of international people lately. The apartments in our part of the city are being used by the government to place refugees for a while so that they can settle into American society and try to find jobs. (more on this at another time, it's extremely hard for them to find work) We have people coming from All over Africa, from Burma, Iraq, and some other places I can't remember. Some have lived in refugee camps for most of their lives. Some have been through wars and abuses and have been separated from their families.
The language issue is such a huge barrier. I have not made near the effort I should to talk to these people because I find understanding them very taxing. Oh me, I am so selfish if 'feeling taxed' is such a huge burden when these people are desperate to make friends and to be incorporated into our society and our church, I have to admit.....confess.
Sunday after church we had a Family to Family potluck lunch. A lot of our families are teaming up with a refugee family to be their friend, to help them practice their English by visiting with them and helping them know where to go to get basic help and how to do things in our society. If they need rides we can help with that or take them on errands or invite them over.
So we all came in nodding awkwardly at each other, sat by our families we've been matched up with and ate each other's strange foods. (they feel the same way about our food that we do about their food we have found out) We ate, we talked, we nodded. Then Charles got up and introduced each refugee. They each stood before us and in their best English, told us their story. I can't count how many times my stomach lurched or my eyes filled with tears listening to each one tell of their harrowing experiences of wars and beatings and running away and looking to America for refuge.
One man lived in a refugee camp for 14 years before his name came up to go to America, one woman talked and broke down about her experiences of war and abuse and beatings that she still has nightmares and wakes up screaming from. Another woman told us about how her children were separated from them and they didn't see their sons for 3 years. They just recently found their daughter again after 7 years. She is only 15 years old. So half her life they did not know where she was....which turned out to be American foster care homes. Another man from Burma is trying to raise money and make the effort to bring his wife and children over to be with him here. They escaped to Malaysia and then India, where they wait for him.
I can see these people as individuals now and feel a deep ache for each one as I know their stories. Each one has a deep faith in Christ too. They all gave strong testimony of how they depended on God for help as they ran, waited or were separated.
I wish everyone in our church had been there and could meet these brave people who left their homelands for the security we take for granted here in America. It is precious to them. The next time you come across someone from a different land, give them a second look, a knowing nod or a handshake. Some of them are in such desperate times. They need work, but it is hard to find if you are foreign and do not speak the language well yet.
Pray for our refugees and be on the lookout for jobs you see available or help for them in any way. Let Christ be a refuge for them through you. And when you look at them this Sunday, SEE them.