A year ago my life got a fresh start at a new church. I have a gift of serving, and I wanted to express it somehow in my new home with new people. I tried making ornaments with a group of ladies who took me in as their own, despite the notable age gap. But something felt unfulfilled.
It was a Sunday after service when I pulled a flier from the information desk titled “Refugee Initiative”. I reached out, and next thing I know I meet Ms. Laura, manager of the Initiative’s English Language Learning program (ELL). Ms. Laura put me right to work. And that is exactly what I wanted. I would greet the refugees, take them to their classes, and engage in what I thought was just the common courtesy of a conversation. What I did wasn’t much, but boy, was my soul happy.
Over time I learned names, faces, and stories. The smaller conversations deepened, and the recognition continued. I started to miss the adult students I didn’t see for a while, but of course, refugees’ lives are far more complex than mine. Getting involved in the Refugee Initiative more deeply with my family really forced my eyes open to the complexities and struggles that come with being a refugee. Some students can’t have their picture taken; otherwise, detractors back home might hunt them down. Many of the students are separated from family or injured, yet have to work a heavy-duty job. Many don’t have their U.S. citizenship yet, and some have children who are going hungry. How do we find love in a place so full of hurt and trauma? We do it by believing in our students as they believe in themselves; by encouraging; and by bringing them hope in the form of friendship, counsel, and solutions that are sometimes physical, and other times, emotional and spiritual.
God’s love can be manifested in an infinite amount of ways. But the ways I’ve seen in the ELL program are these: A simple greeting that turns into an open heart. A small conversation that promotes seeking wise counsel. The gift of listening to truly understand before speaking. God speaks through the testimony of loss, and the Refugee Initiative represents thousands lost - but now found. Reflected love inspires. Thank you, refugees, for teaching me what it means to love deeply and live fully.
“You love me when I’m up, you love me when I’m down. Your love surrounds me,
I can’t get away” (“I Can’t Get Away”, by Melissa Helser and Naomi Raine).
Where in my life have I seen such a love - strong and tethered?
A refuge in a storm might tether me. Or maybe, a refugee.