Currently 42 million people in the world have been displaced from their homeland fleeing war, persecution and political upheaval, according to the International Rescue Committee The Office of Immigration states that a total of 56, 384 of these refugees were admitted to the United States in 2011. Several John Brown University students have devoted time to caring and providing for these refugees all over the country.
Seniors Sam Young and Jake Waid spent their summer in Dallas working with For the Nations: Refugee Outreach and the 80,000 refugees displaced to the Dallas-Fort Worth area.
For the Nations uses educational programs to meet refugee families’ long-term needs and to share with them the gospel of Christ. The staff teaches classes in English, citizenship and computer skills and also provides programming for children.
Young and Waid assisted the organization with its summer program. They spent the morning with the children, taking them to various camps and vacation Bible schools. In the afternoon they taught various classes for the adults.
“This is all for the goal of assimilation into American culture and to make that as smooth as possible,” Waid said. “The refugees come and they are in their apartment complexes with really no cultural connections. They are just kind of fenced in. They stay within their group with no language skills, no other skills.”
The language differences form an initial barrier for refugees. Most do not understand more than a word or two, preventing them from doing tasks such as applying for a job or buying groceries.
“Everything you say has to be the simplest way to understand it,” Young said. “And that was so frustrating at first, but once you got the hang of it, it was fun to try to figure out how to explain something.”
Young said the one thing he learned this summer is that ministry is not necessarily glamorous.
“One of the guys who started the mission talks about how refugee ministry is pretty sexy, like it’s really great for short-term missions,” Young said. “But as far as long-term, enduring ministry with these people… it’s not glamorous or exciting all the time, but hard work doing the same thing, offering the same programs, and teaching the same gospel again and again.” Senior Emily Schad interned for the refugee program at Christian Community Ministries in the inner city of Memphis, Tenn. Schad helped new families adjust to life in America with tasks as simple as taking them to fill out paperwork or go to the doctor.
For 15 hours a week Schad managed a jewelry business, which provided supplemental income for four refugee women from Nepal. She traveled to many events to sell the jewelry for profit.
Schad especially enjoyed the time interacting at the apartment complex where everyone lived.
“I felt like I was in a different country all day long,” she said. “So just sitting and drinking tea with women from Somalia or going to eat a meal with the Nepalese people or going to eat eggrolls with my Vietnamese friends. It really was a cultural experience in itself.”
At the same time Schad found it hard watching these people struggle.
“Their great need is so much more than just getting to America,” she said. “They are here and they are safe and being provided for. But at the same time, watching men not be able to provide for their families because they can’t speak the language and they can’t get the job is hard.”
Schad said the experience really rocked her views of the world and showed her God’s heart for the nations.
“My boss did a lot of teachings, and one time he said that when we die and go to heaven one day, as Americans we will be the minority,” she said. “And I got to have a little bitty taste of what heaven is going to be like because I got to be with people all around the world who he loves so much.”
Sophomore Tekste Gebreslasse has spent most of his life around refugees. Growing up in Ethiopia, he lived about two hours from a refugee camp which held 80,000 people. When he came to the United States as a student, several refugee students came at the same time.
“I came here as a student and I already had family here,” Gebreslasse said. “But the refugees had to find out for themselves how to live in a strange place.”
Gebreslasse said young children from all over the world—from Thailand to Somalia—went to school with him in West Chicago.
“Most of them were nonbelievers and they tended to be like the gangs, into drugs and stuff,” he said. “We helped show them how to live and be successful in this country without being in the bad stuff.”
The youth group would play sports with the refugee students, take them to movies, and host prayer groups. They even went so far as to set up a World Cup tournament, where the refugees could compete with their own nationality.
At their high school, the group created the Multicultural Organization so students would have a chance to participate in something and have a voice to tell what they are going through.
“We do this so they are not depressed anymore and are not sitting at home hating everything about life in America,” he said. “We did all these activities to make them a part of the community in the west suburb of Chicago.”
Gebreslasse said he really enjoys interacting with these people and learning more about their culture. He emphasized living life with them and not forcing one’s beliefs upon them or judging them.
“Be more patient and understandable to their culture when you are interacting with them,” he said. “Never be surprised by what they do.”