Things I’ve Learned From Refugees

“I think about the trees, the flowers, the brown grass in the fields.

They can all be patient, Certain that spring will return.

They don’t have to hope, They can be sure.

Hope is a thing made only for people,

A scrap to hold into

In darkness and in light”

Home of the Brave, 246

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The other day, I wrote about things I’ve learned about refugees from my work at World Relief. There’s been a lot of new information circling regarding resettlement, refugees, and statistics regarding the growing displacement crisis. While facts are important, especially true ones and ones written from a personal connection, ultimately I wrote down things that you could find elsewhere on the internet.

At the end of the day, they’re still just the facts.

And these people are so much more than facts.

Interacting with people who have literally been forced to leave everything they know and arrive in a foreign land, often alone and not speaking the language, has done more than just teach me a few important tidbits about the refugee crisis. They have taught me about bravery, resilience, humility, hope, and hospitality. The people, not the facts, have chipped away at hardened pieces of my soul and shown me more of the grace and love of Christ.

They aren’t just numbers, pieces of the resettlement system, or the faces supporting the new refugee Olympic team. They are some of the strongest, most courageous, most genuine people I’ve ever met. And here’s just a brief glimpse of some of the things they taught me this summer:

• Our presence is always communicating something – through our smile, our eyes, our body language, and the emotional state of our hearts. 

I couldn’t speak to most of the people I’ve picked up from the airport. I couldn’t tell them how to buckle their child in the car seat or that it’d probably take an hour before we get to their new apartment. The point of translators is to help fill in those gaps and make the experience, at least on some level, a little less overwhelming. While it can be frustrating to have so much you want to say and find yourself unable to, especially as someone who likes using words to communicate, it has given me a new and profound appreciation for the presence we carry simply in our being.

Eye contact. Smiling. Nodding. Whether we like it or not, how we carry ourselves genuinely reflects our emotions. And when our emotions are overwhelming love and care for these people we’ve just met, it makes it easier to submit each encounter to the Lord and trust that His Spirit is saying more than we ever could. However, when emotions harbor a little more frustration, distraction, or selfishness, then spending ten minutes with the Lord before we step out of the car to greet a U.S. tie can be the most worthwhile thing we do all day. Because, like it or not, our very presence carries something with it – safety, welcome, warmth, compassion, annoyance, apathy. The question is, do we emanate the love of Christ, or something else? Because we’re always communicating something.

• There’s a resilience, bravery, and courage that we bear in our human spirit; it’s our choice to embrace it or not.

As part of my internship, I wrote weekly reflection papers. Week four, I picked up two large families from the airport, accompanied only by a U.S. Tie. It was my first solo airport pick-up and the size alone was a little daunting. I agreed, but my mind was not without hesitation. Are we sure I was capable of getting these families to their new homes and making sure they would be safe for the night? What if something went wrong? Despite preemptive fears, the pick-up was incredible. After I got home, I wrote the following:

“Not only did I navigate the whole evening successfully and alone – getting everyone safely to their respective locations, including their luggage and food – but I had the humbling privilege of hearing pieces of their story through the U.S. Tie. Knowing that his wife came to the US alone, as a refugee, empowered me in some small way. Watching the older couple try to figure out seatbelts, knowing they couldn’t understand anything I was saying, as I helped pull the band across their bodies, I saw a bravery and resilience in their eyes. Everyone that World Relief resettles knows they are coming into a place that is literally worlds different than what they’ve known. Yet, they chose to do it  – for safety, for a better life, for a future, for protection, for hope. If my motivation is the love of Christ, literally the Hope of the world, what fear could hold me back from choosing all the plans He has for me, no matter how different, distant, or daunting?”

Because of the built-in comforts of our American life, and our innate desire to run from situations that are uncomfortable or uproot deep seated fears of loss, loneliness, or failure, it’s easy to forget that there is strength available to us. Comfort doesn’t breed growth; challenge does. The thing about challenge is that while it may feel like it’s killing us, most of the time, it’s not. We have strength in who we are as human beings – we were created to be resilient, for bravery and the ability to grow. As Christians, we also have a strength that is inbred into our relationship with the King of Kings. It’s no wonder He continually reminds: “For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline” (2 Timothy 1:7). Do we tap into that power and resilience on a daily basis?

• Don’t underestimate the small things and the need for flexibility when it comes to hospitality.

The more I think about it, the more I think that hospitality isn’t the kind of thing that makes up best-selling biographies. No one really wants to read about people washing dishes, sending emails, or spending extra time to pick out matching blankets for a family. Acts of hospitality typically aren’t the documentary-worthy moments of serving others. Hospitality often looks more like Jesus washing feet or the woman on the side of the road wiping Christ’s brow. It’s small, insignificant things that put you in a place of submission and humility as you choose others over yourself. The moments that don’t gain accolades, or may not even be noticed or remembered, but plant the seeds of love and care upon every place you tread.

Because, at the end of the day, people may not remember you and they may not remember the little things you did for them, but they’ll remember the feeling of being loved, served, and cared for. Isn’t that ultimately what Jesus did: to serve with humility; to love without pretense?

Things like welcome cards made by elementary school classes, picking out matching blankets for a family, or being willing to cut your lunch break short to drop a DVD player off for a family so they can watch ESL videos with a volunteer. These are the things of hospitality. These are the things that make life a little more beautiful for someone else and, when done with a heart of humility and love, ultimately please the Father’s heart.

Maddie MacMath

Maddie is a 20-something lover of Jesus, journaling, nicknames, coffee, chocolate, listening, roses, and hugs. Journeying towards less Maddie and more Jesus, her life is really a big mess covered by infinitely more grace. She writes more about the wisdom and beauty of the ordinary over at Sweet Tea and Me.

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