My favorite grocery store remodeled recently to my frustration. Imagine your first visit to an American grocery store after spending several years in a refugee camp. Add in a language barrier, and a task we take for granted can be overwhelming. Refugees entering the United States come seeking housing, schools, jobs, and community. Displaced by violence and persecution, most refugees lost belongings and even family members to arrive in crowded camps with limited resources and then wait up to ten years before resettling in a receiving country. Fear of the unknown often accompanies relocation to the US, increasing stress and often leading to other anxiety disorders, including post-traumatic stress disorder. Refugees may have suffered violence, a loss of self-esteem, and the ability to dream, and many are living in survival mode. These disorders may surface within a few months of arrival in their new home.
Resettlement agencies working with the government assist refugees in securing housing and immediate needs in communities throughout the nation, but they only provide so much. Organizations like Refuge Louisville (in Kentucky) are partnering with churches, groups, and individuals to aid refugees with school enrollment, job searches, English classes, and caring support. Most of all, they are welcoming them into the community.
A welcoming smile, in spite of a language barrier, can open opportunities for friendship to women who have lost their dreams. They may have difficulty adjusting to their new surroundings as well as newly found freedoms. They may also suffer from survivor guilt. By offering to be a friend who listens intentionally and makes the friendship a priority, we can offer them hope. Embracing refugees helps them remember they are not nameless. They are reminded that they have a voice and are not just a statistic.
Helping a refugee dream again begins with a heart set on missions. Contact your local association, your state convention, IMB, or Send Relief to discover ministries like Refuge Louisville in your area. Or search out refugee resettlement agencies in your state at unhcr.org and tell them you want to join their effort to help refugees.
Consider these ways to hasten the return of the dreaming process for refugees.
CONNECT with refugees by forming welcoming teams who provide basic necessities, including paper products and food staples. Include an area map and emergency contact information.
INVITE refugee mothers into your home for cultural exchange. Serve your favorite dessert, exchange recipes, and ask about their home country. Listen to their stories, grieve with them, share your own challenges, and offer to pray for them. Be tactful and gentle in discussing with them, but let them know they are not alone in their struggles.
ASSIST them in learning about their new home. Go shopping together. Include new friends by inviting them to local sporting events and cultural opportunities in your area, including local theater productions, museums, and parks. Invite them to church activities.
HOST a medical clinic offering free eye, dental, and physical exams. Include trained counselors for those suffering from stress, PTSD, and other anxiety disorders.
ENCOURAGE refugees to journal their experiences, thoughts, struggles, and emotions in personalized notebooks.
- Most importantly, let them know the reason you care - JESUS.
Reprinted from the June, 2018, issue of Missions Mosaic, Woman’s Missionary Union, Birmingham, Alabama. Used by permission. To receive this issue, or subscribe to Missions Mosaic, call 1-800-968-7301.