Before David was born I had a unique job working with immigrants and refugees every day.
My job had a lot of facets, but I had the great joy and privilege to really get to know families. I attended quinceaneras, baby showers, and citizenship celebrations. We prayed together, cried together, we complained about the weather. When I told my international friends I was pregnant they responded with four baby showers. I was given the great gift of becoming friends with and living daily life with people from all over the world — Mexico, Egypt, Sudan, Burundi, Guatemala, Cuba, Congo, Iraq, Afghanistan, Bosnia, Croatia, and there are so many more.
One of my many baby showers
All of those people from all of those countries and each one a different story and past. We never talked politics. We never talked politics because when you stop grouping people into categories like “immigrant” and “refugee” and start seeing them as individuals, politics don’t matter as much. God’s word is very clear about His heart for the sojourner, and it’s very clear that we are all in desperate need of God’s saving grace. No one is righteous or entitled or “better.” The greatest thing I learned during my time working closely with immigrants and refugees is that we’re all the same.
He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing. And you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt.
The most amazing and humbling thing, perhaps, was how generous these people were with me. They freely welcomed me into their homes, invited me to their family gatherings, shared food and traditions. I will never, ever forget the generosity of these families.
I’ve lost touch with several of my friends in the past five years, but the time I spent with refugees and immigrants changed me. It helped me understand our world and our God in a deeper way.
Bible stories at the park
There is so much in the news right now about refugees, and it’s hard to watch. I’m thankful that we’re all taking time to consider the plight of the refugee; the least of these is so often overlooked. Regardless of what happens at the borders, it’s hard to hear the negative and often damaging rhetoric surrounding the issue. This affects refugees that are seeking asylum as well as internationals what are here, living in our midst. Our neighbors.
In light of the recent political unrest, I want to encourage you to get to know the refugee. If this is an issue that is important to you (and my Facebook feed tells me that the plight of the refugee is dear to many of my friends’ hearts), now is an important time to support and befriend immigrants and refugees that are in the United States. Consider the families that are already here trying to make a new life, find a job, provide for their family, learn a new culture, and a new language. And now they are doing it under a haze of a lot of controversy.
He has told you, O man, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?
Here are a few ideas for how you can get involved with refugees and immigrants in your community. You can donate money here, and you can also get to know your neighbor, and welcome them to this country.
1. Find your local refugee resettlement agency. If you live in Virginia, there are lots of opportunities with Commonwealth Catholic Charities. To find the organization that resettles refugees in your area, here’s a great list: UN Refugee Agency Resettlement partners, or you can Google “refugee resettlement [YOUR CITY]”
2. Find a local church that seeks to love, serve, and worship alongside international families. Ask them how you can get involved.
3. Find local ESL classes. Most ESL programs are run by volunteers and almost always need teachers, conversation partners, childcare, and other volunteers.
4. Donate household items. Here’s a list of items needed in Richmond. Your local resettlement agency can help you know what’s needed in your area.
5. Once you find your local resettlement agency, you’ll find tons and tons of opportunities. Here are a few that come to mind:
- Tutor a child – imagine your child coming home with homework that you can’t read, help with, or check. Even if you speak conversational English, deciphering a child’s homework can be an overwhelming task. Having a tutor help can be the difference between success and failure in school for a child.
- If you know another language, volunteer translation or interpreter services.
- Provide transportation to job interviews, doctor’s appointments, etc.
- Help with taxes. In 2011 I was part of a program helping immigrants and refugees file their taxes. Nearly every person we met had been a victim of some sort of tax fraud simply because they don’t understand the system.
- Help a refugee prepare for employment: connecting with potential employers, preparing for interviews, filling out applications.
6. Hire a refugee! Refugees are legal and authorized to work in the United States (plus, if you hire a refugee you might qualify for additional tax breaks!)
7. Be a friend. Imagine coming to a country where you don’t know the language, the climate, the culture. After basic needs, you’d want friendship. You’d need someone to teach you how to ride the bus, but you’d want someone to talk with, to complain about the humidity and share a glass of Fanta. Being a friend to the refugee is one of the most basic and necessary ways to welcome foreigners to our country. No special skills required.
8. Share your interests. Piggy-backing off #7, if you have a hobby, invite a group to come along. Seven years ago some friends and I started a running club for kids. It was kind of a long shot because everyone knows no one likes to run. But the kids loved it. Seven years later, they’re still running with volunteers that care about them. Since then I’ve seen people start sewing classes, book clubs, cooking classes. Once we made Valentines together. And guess what? It was awesome because of the relationships that bloomed.
9. Pray, pray, pray for the refugee. Pray for those seeking refuge, displaced and/or in imminent danger, and pray for the refugee living in a new, foreign land. There are so many needs. For safety, for families that have been separated, for bodily safety and healing from trauma, for courage, hope, and dignity. Pray that they will know that God cares for the refugee, the displaced, the needy. Pray that they will be comforted with the knowledge that Jesus Christ does not leave us alone in our suffering, but has defeated death so that we may have life.
This is certainly not a comprehensive list. If you have other ideas or experiences, please share them in the comments below. And if you’re in Richmond and would like to get to know a refugee or immigrant family, I’d love to talk.