Wednesday, July 1, 2009

What's the best thing Americans can do for refugees?

San Diego: Financial Literacy

Today I went to a meeting about refugee ministry that I sort of wasn't invited to. It was a collaborative meeting for all churches and ministries that work with refugees in Dallas, and it was forwarded to someone in my office, who forwarded it to someone else in our office, who forwarded it to me, etc..etc.

I got all excited because I am just dying to know who is doing what with refugees, how my church can get involved, etc. It rocked. There was delicious lasagna from Romas, which pretty much immediately means the entire thing will be a success. The meeting was split about half and half between male and female, and half was about my age and half were middle aged. It was exciting to see younger hip people there from The Village, because that means a precedent is set that my (also young and hip) church might be comfortable following. There were around 30 people from churches and ministries all over the city, and we spent most of the time just telling who we are and what we do.

I was super excited because just two hours before I'd traded emails with a girl in the refugee resettlement organization that I volunteer for (it's not a Christian organization) setting up a meeting for me to meet with a new refugee family that I will mentor. Turns out she was sitting across the room from me in the meeting and is a Christian herself, and is passionate about matching people who love God as mentors for refugee families. We both had a mini-party when we met. Yay!

The man that briefly spoke for the meeting is a refugee himself, and now in charge of a refugee ministry at a local church. He talked about arriving in the US and spending years struggling to settle down and fit in and become a productive member of society. He passionately spoke about the tendency of Americans to throw money and things at incoming refugees. How true - we'd just heard a number of people talk about their humanitarian outreach to the local refugee communities, and it's true that when we hear about and see the poverty of refugees we do find it easiest to just GIVE to them. This man talked about how horrible this cycle is - essentially teaching refugees that if they remain poor people will continue to give them free things and they'll be able to remain on welfare. When ministries or well-meaning individuals perpetuate this cycle by just giving more THINGS, the refugee families never become productive members of society, their children are not taught how to grow up and work, and there is no giving back to their own people and communities. It's a tragedy.

My friend asked this man what is the best thing that Americans can do for refugees. His answer? Commit to spend a couple of hours with them a week. Give them your time and your relationship.

That... is awesome... mostly because that's what I'm already doing and that's what I want to get people at my church to do. Mentoring. Basically being a friend and cultural guide for them. It's actually really hard to get people to consider this because despite all of our financial woes, it's almost harder to get people to commit to giving their time and sharing their lives then it is to get people to donate money to a project.

Anyways... more on that later, but if you want to see an AWESOME example of someone that is a mentor for a refugee family, you can the beginning of my friend Alysa's journey as mentor by seeing THIS post with photos of meeting her refugee family at the airport when they first arrived, or these posts with more stories about their relationship:
Second Visit
Sunday Together
Grilled Cheese, Tomato Soup, and Laundry

Or you can follow a couple of the posts on the blog of the refugee organization that I volunteer for. This week they put up a post about the refugee camps in Thailand that so many displaced Burmese live in. The family that I will meet next week has probably been in one of these camps for YEARS.


Annie Peterson said...

When I first read your title I thought "preach the Gospel!" And giving your time to loving them is the perfect way to get an in for that!

Ake said...

thanks for the comment, i wish i could post pics all the time - they are so cool, these kids, and so crazy in the things they face in their every day lives!

Alice said...

Great post. I have loved following Alysa's story too.