The images are heart-wrenching and the numbers are staggering. The New York Daily News recently reported that “the worldwide refugee crisis has displaced a record 60 million people from their homes—the most since the end of World War II. . . . People desperately fleeing death, destruction and abysmal living conditions . . . have sparked a global panic.”
Our future son-in-law, Sam, and his family were once refugees. They fled from Liberia twice during the civil war there. Soon after Sam was born, they fled to neighboring Guinea, and five years later they fled again to the Ivory Coast (Côte d'Ivoire). Sam said of the experience, “At the moment we left our home, we left behind more than just material goods. As a child, I remembered leaving behind one of the greatest comforts of all: loved ones and family—especially my grandparents.”
Sam’s father found a way to the United States in 1995, but the rest of the family wasn’t able to join him until six years later. His father worked at two jobs during this time, sending the majority of his pay to his family so the children could be in school and eat more than just the buckwheat rations provided in refugee camps by the United Nations.
Today Sam works as a refugee health specialist in the Chicago area. His testimony to all, regardless of faith background, is this: “Be encouraged, even through the difficult transitional/assimilation period. God has saved you from the grips of war and other uncertainties, and he will not neglect you now.”
Through the love shown by congregations such as those you will read about in this issue of Together Doing More, as well as many others, Sam’s testimony that God will not neglect the refugee is experienced in communities across Canada and the United States.
One example is Trinity Christian Reformed Church in the suburbs of Grand Rapids, Mich., a church that has learned to respond to those seeking refuge. More than 50 years ago, Trinity helped Cuban refugees adjust to a new country, a new climate, and a new language, and it responded again in the 1970s as refugees arrived from Vietnam.
Today Trinity is walking alongside people coming from East Africa and beyond. Members provide transportation, find furniture, provide English as a second language tutoring, assist with job hunting, and sort through messy credit histories. While they do some of this by means of refugee family sponsorship through Bethany Christian Services, they assist dozens of others in more informal ways.
Back then, peoples’ flight from Communist regimes was easily understood. Today’s refugees are coming for more complex reasons, and the tensions in our world require great vigilance and sophistication on the part of our governments. Moreover, the Islamic faith of many creates greater barriers to acceptance—or at least seemingly so.
Trinity’s pastor, Rev. Gerry Koning, says such barriers are quickly broken down through relationships. People arriving as refugees, without a community of support, develop relationships with church members as they step into a network of caring Christians.
Koning also says that responding to the need of refugees opens the eyes of church members to see the bigger kingdom of God. “As soon as you meet refugees, opportunities for ministry expand,” he said. Trinity is now involved in planting a church uniquely suited to refugees, including some who were formerly Muslim.
In many of our communities there are children, young people, and adults who, like Sam, have come to find new homes and new lives. Get to know them. They will transform your hearts.
And what about us? We have fled the ravages of sin, found refuge in the love of the Father, been redeemed by Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, and now have been empowered with the gifts of the Spirit.
The psalmist said, “Let the redeemed of the Lord tell their story—those he redeemed from the hand of the foe” (Ps. 107:2). Individuals and families are arriving in North America daily, wanting to restart their lives and needing the assistance and witness of churches like ours.
We all must tell our story by words and deeds, and opportunities to reach out to these refugees await our response. The time is now.