She sang quietly to her baby in a language that rolled gently over the rocks of a beautiful melody. A steady presence in an unfamiliar place. I sat further down on the beat up wooden bench, pretending to attend to my phone but really fully tied into the moment that was unfolding next to me. We were sitting outside of a free clinic, myself as a missionary with an ear infection and this woman with her baby new to the country. I watched as she navigated the huge task before her of figuring out American healthcare all while not knowing the language, intimidated by the paperwork she couldn’t read, and clearly uncomfortable with the unknown process before her. So far in America, she felt like a fish out of water.
His family came to America in broken pieces. After fleeing war with only the few things they had time to grab, “home” for most of the first decade of his life was a dusty refugee camp composed of canvas tents and pick-up soccer games. When the dream of America finally became a reality, his family was torn in two. His mother and the children would go ahead with the hope that his father would follow soon after. It was all such a blur as he landed in a place that left him wide-eyed and often intimidated. He attended school in America only for a short time before giving up. Afterall, he didn’t speak the language and felt beyond lost in the culture before him. That’s when the gang reached out.
“Finally, American friends!” he thought. They seemed nice but he had no idea their kindness had strings attached that would define his future. It was small things at first, like stealing something from a store or delivering packages he was instructed not to open. It was the day they told him he needed to prove his loyalty and steal a car that changed his life forever.
The car he chose to steal was left running outside of an apartment building. At first he thought he had lucked out until further down the road he heard a cry coming from the backseat. In his rushed attempt to jump in the car and drive away, he didn’t realize a baby was still strapped in the backseat. As Amber-alerts lit-up phones for miles around, his future became one that would end up behind bars. So much for the American dream.
She came from a solid family, although they had been through much loss. But now, America. It was the talked about dream- a way back to life again. Gone were the days of her brother selling corn on the street corners trying to make ends meet. She had occasionally caught glimpses of American TV shows when her family would go into the city. Americans were rich, and soon her family would be included among them.
Reality was a hard pill to swallow as her family of eight packed into a 2 bedroom apartment much like the cockroaches that inhabited the walls. Her parents were exhausted and almost never home. They worked the night shift gutting chickens along with many other refugees. The money they made didn’t go far enough. They could hardly keep enough food on the table day to day let alone save enough to get out of that place. The day she was old enough to get a job she did and her family was so proud. She worked hard trying to keep up with her education during the day and worked evenings and weekends. Unlike most high school girls her age, she didn’t use that money to buy an Apple phone, but used it to pay the rent and keep her family floating. This was not the comfortable, easy life she had seen on TV.
These are just a few of the stories that are commonplace here in Clarkston, GA among the refugees our family works with. At first glance, these stories seem horrific and a task too overwhelming to mount, but tucked in these stories of brokenness are also stories of redemption and hope. Of light shining in dark places and spaces. Of physically hungry people becoming spiritually hungry as needs are met in love. Of students coming to know Jesus, actively learning how to follow him, and turning the hearts of their family and friends along the way. Jesus is not only breaking through to the hearts and lives of the refugee people here, but they are taking Him back to their homeland too. The Gospel is advancing.
Matthew 24:14 “And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.”
The wildest part to these stories I share is the fact that ordinary people like you and I can play a role in this refugee crisis. Many of us don’t even realize that refugees from all over the world are resettled here in the Fox Valley. You have the unique opportunity, in such a time as this, to be the American friend they so desperately want. A friend who will love them and show them Jesus in the process. Afterall, the gift of Jesus is far greater and more transformational than the American Dream will ever be.
*Alliance Church is currently partnering with World Relief by training Good Neighbor teams who will walk alongside refugee families coming into the Fox Cities. If you would like more information about joining a Good Neighbor team, contact email@example.com.
*If you are interested in participating in a mission trip to work with refugees at the Envision Atlanta site, visit our Global Connections page for upcoming trips.