June 20th is World Refugee Day.
I’ve been thinking about this day for several months.
There will be events, festivals, awareness campaigns, celebrations and times of contemplation. It’s a global day to celebrate refugees and to reflect on the trials and difficulties that they face on a regular basis. It’s a day to advocate for peace to end the violence and persecution that so many people face around the world.
I had big plans for World Refugee Day. I was going to write an eloquent piece and submit it to Huffington Post or another site that accepts guest blogs. My professional life revolves around refugees, and on many occasions my personal life does as well. I love my job and I love my calling, and I love to write. I was going to combine those elements and write a piece that would be perfect, poignant and striking. It would have the perfect blend of emotional appeal and factual information. It would compel the reader to take action to ‘welcome the stranger’ to our county. Did I mention that it was going to be perfect?
But I didn’t do that. I didn’t do it because to be honest, I’m kind of exhausted.
So instead I’m sitting at my computer on the eve of World Refugee Day, struggling to come up with words to type. I haven’t had time nor even energy to blog in months, because life is just so crazy. Working in the human services can be incredibly challenging and draining, and it’s also challenging to work to help and serve people who have been through so much in their lives. Trauma and pain are ever present in many refugees’ lives, terrifying experiences are woven in the fabric of their life story. The busyness combined with the sheer magnitude of fully understanding the plight of refugees can feel overwhelming.
But it is worth it.
I was reminded of that very fact just the other day. I was talking to a young man who felt comfortable enough to share his story. His family fled a war after his father and younger sibling were brutally killed. He, his mother, and his other siblings fled to the coast and got on the first boat they could find that would permit them to travel. They didn’t know where the boat would take them, they just knew that they had to get out. After a month long journey, they ended up in a foreign land where they didn’t speak the language or understand the customs. They lived as stateless citizens in this second country for five years. They were discriminated against because of their racial background. They weren’t permitted to work because of their status in this country. Several years into their new lives they were finally able to apply for refugee status. And several years later they found themselves on a plane headed to Atlanta, Georgia.
As I listened to my young friend share his story, I could hear the pain in his voice. At one point he paused and quietly said “This time was very hard for me.” But as he continued, I began to hear the hope in his voice. He has big plans. He wants to go to college and become one of the first lawyers from his ethnic background in Atlanta. He is so proud to be a United States Resident. He already talks about taking the citizenship test in a few years. He and his family embody the reason our country was founded. They faced what seemed to be insurmountable odds to make a new life. They live simply and are building their new life. My friend proudly told me about how they saved up to buy the couch I was sitting on as we ate chapati bread in his apartment.
Friends, refugees matter. They comprise a small population of our immigrant population in the United States but it would benefit all of us to seek them out and form friendships with them. They work long hours at really difficult jobs to make ends meet. They are patriotic and proud to live in the United States. They pay taxes and save money to open businesses in their community. They remind me of my own ancestors in many ways. My family is a eclectic mix of many different nationalities- most of whom immigrated to the United States to make a better life for their families. Some fled persecution, famine or other difficulties. They worked hard to start fresh and to create their own ‘American Dream’.
We are a nation of immigrants, and refugees are a beautiful picture of what makes our country great. Amidst the busyness of my life, the stacks of paperwork and the struggles that come from walking the journey with refugees during their first few days in America, I am reminded of this picture. Refugees matter to God, and they matter to me. They are an important part of our country, and I am so proud, humbled and honored to know many of them.
If you want to get to know a refugee family, let me know. I’d love to introduce you to some of my friends.