We live in a day when global migrations are occurring at a dizzying pace.
According to the U.N. Refugee Agency, more than 44,000 people per day are forced to flee their homes due to violent conflict or persecution. Let that number sink in — 44,000 people per day.
Many countries are struggling with the burden of how to handle the large numbers of people surging across their borders. But could we pause for just a moment? Instead of trying to wrap our minds around statistics and policies, let’s engage in a thought experiment.
Imagine the following: What would it be like to see life through the eyes of a refugee? Consider the following scenarios that reflect the experiences that many refugees face. Imagine yourself in their situation.
“I just arrived in this new land. I’m eager to start a new life, but I cannot forget the horrors I have been through. They told me that some people would meet me at the airport. There they are. I see the sign with my name on it. In my own language.”
Language has always been a barrier or a bridge. If we know each other’s language, it can be a bridge of communication. If we don’t, it’s a barrier. For refugees, the language barrier seems almost insurmountable at times.
“I realize that I need English. Without good English skills, I can’t get a good job. Or communicate with my child’s teacher. Or fill out basic forms. Or describe my symptoms to the doctor. I want to go to an ESL class, but the classes aren’t near my house. And the bus routes aren’t convenient. Maybe if I can get a job, I can buy a car and drive.”
For many refugees, finding a good job is incredibly difficult. If your education is limited, so are your employment options. Even if you were a professional in your home country, job prospects are grim. The degrees and certifications you had in your country are often not transferable. You’ll just have to take what you can get.
“I thought the U.S. was a land of opportunity. But there is no opportunity for me. With my poor English, I cannot find work. The only jobs I hear about are very low-paying. And my rent–even for this small place–is very high. How can I make a living here?”
The natural result of language barriers and inadequate transportation is that refugees feel cut off from mainstream society. Add in the cultural differences that cause misunderstandings and misperceptions, and you have a recipe for loneliness.
“People here don’t seem to like me. They don’t care about what I’m going through. Everyone stares at me. Maybe it’s my traditional clothing. Maybe it’s the color of my skin. Maybe it’s because my family and I do things differently. I feel so alone. If I only had a friend.”
Sadly, the conflicts and persecution that uproot people from their homes don’t always go away when they cross the border. The level of violence may not be as severe as in the war zone that they fled, but as they arrive in their new “home,” refugees don’t always find the welcome mat waiting for them. Because of social pressures and the strain that refugees place on the host country, many people just want them to go home.
“Go home? I would love to. My home is where I belong. Where I grew up. Where my people are. Where everything is familiar to me. Why would I want to leave that? I didn’t. I had to flee for my life. For the safety of my family. For my sanity and emotional well-being. I hope I can go back home soon. For now, that’s impossible. I just hope I can find a home here. A place of refuge.”
Psalm 46:1 reminds us that “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” Those who are most vulnerable are sometimes most acutely aware of how desperately they need a refuge. God’s people are uniquely positioned to point refugees to God as the refuge and salvation that they desperately need.
The author of Hebrews directly addresses this issue of caring for the vulnerable: “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it. Remember the prisoners, as though in prison with them, and those who are ill-treated, since you yourselves also are in the body” (Hebrews 13:2-3).
In caring for refugees, we become a living testimony to the gospel of Jesus Christ. As we “weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15), we embody the compassion and love of our Savior.
As followers of Christ, we must move beyond seeing refugees as an “issue” and welcome these strangers as brothers and sisters. Maybe it begins by seeing life through their eyes.
by Billy Haselton, NC Baptist Contributing Writer