God's Heart for Refugees
By Vicki Riggins | September 6, 2022 | Return to Blog
My friends and I stood scrunched together at our small, city-airport, arrival’s gate. We anticipated with wonder that perhaps some new life change would be soon walking toward us.
Just two days prior, I had been contacted by a local resettlement office to lead a welcome team for a family arriving from Guatemala. Though I have a background and knowledge of the life of refugees before resettlement, I knew very little about what awaited them once they immigrated into their new country. Immediately I was to be thrown into a whirlwind of learning and experience of what this new life was like for a refugee family.
Three small figures soon could be seen under the square beams of the arrival gate. The mother’s weary eyes met our ”bienvenidos” sign and turned to a smile. Her boys, standing almost to her height, walked close by her side. “My boys were afraid no one would be here,” she told us. The 24-hour travel had brought exhaustion to their bodies, but it paled in comparison to the pain their souls were bearing.
A Painful Story
Later we would learn their story. My friend would translate through emotional tears as she felt the pain and continued worry our new Guatemalan friends felt.
“In Guatemala things are very bad. We were very poor. Gangs, drugs, and violence run the streets. God blessed my husband and I with four boys. My oldest was married and gave me two grandbabies. He was recruited into a gang; but he refused to join… and so they killed him. He was 21. My daughter-in-law is now living in a refugee camp with my grandchildren. I hope they will soon come to the US. I came to America to give hope for my youngest two sons. There is nothing for them in Guatemala. The gangs were trying to recruit my 13-year-old before we left. It is dangerous to stay, but it is also dangerous to apply for refugee status. If they find out, they will kill you. My whole family became endangered when we applied. We had to move to a different part of the city to protect my older, living son. He and his wife also have two children. Not just his family is at risk, but the gangs are also threatening my husband, sisters, and their families. My dear husband decided to stay with the rest of our family while I came here with the younger two. He couldn’t leave the rest of our family behind.
Since I have been here some very dangerous things have happened, making things even worse for my family. A close relative was beaten up and threatened. Every day our family is living at risk. My son that is still living in Guatemala decided it was worth the risk to apply for refugee status, so his family is awaiting the results. Every day that they wait, I await the possible terrible news that they have been hurt…. or worse. It is good that we have come here. I have hope for my two youngest children: that they will live a better life - that they will have a chance. But we miss our family terribly and worry about them all the time.”
In the Wake of Tragedy
A few weeks after their arrival news circulated that a tractor-trailer was abandoned in the scalding heat of the Midwest killing over 50 men, women, and children. I felt the pain of the loss of these lives, and for so many others at our own border who were like our new friends. I wondered how many in that truck bed had been seeking asylum from the depravity of their own countries. I couldn’t help but wonder if I would do the same in desperation to save the lives of my children.
It reminded me of the countries of Jordan, Lebanon, Slovakia, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Bangladesh, Uganda, and others whom have taken in massive rushes of people when war, famine, natural disaster, persecution, and violence have pushed people to flee their own homes to safety. Global Partners has partnered for two decades with churches and communities who are burdened to help those in need in some of these countries.
But now the plight of those in desperate need has reached our own border and our own hometowns. Will we say it’s not our problem? Are we okay to send aid and join missions trips to help other countries bearing the weight of the refugee plight, but will not give up our very own world to do the same?
Looking Beyond the Surface
I have no political ideology on immigration. I do not know enough about all the ins and outs of the issues. I understand it’s very complex and layered. I believe there is no one right or left way through this. What I do know is that our world holds people in absolute great need. I could so easily be in the shoes of a person in need, yet today I could just as easily say "it’s not my problem."
The most common question I’ve gotten from my community is, ‘Is this family here legally or illegally?’ Relief floods their face as I tell them they have come here legally as refugees. What I want to ask them is: “Should that matter?” “Should it matter how a person in desperate need has gotten to my doorstep?” They are on my doorstep and they are in need. I should help them… because I can.
Why suddenly because a person is not here legally should it not be my problem? What form of the Gospel do I follow? Does the Gospel invoke fear and protection or does it invoke peace and welcome? Is it a hands out, palms forward kind of gospel or one that opens its arms no matter who comes forward?
I’m so grateful the gospel has room for me, and I believe, for every person God has created. Indeed, if that is who Jesus is to me, and if I have been transformed by His overflowing grace and love – how can I not be compelled to say “yes” no matter how, when, or where people in need show up in my life?
Where to Go From Here
My encouragement to you today is not to stop showing up for those across the ocean that are living in desperation, but also not to think twice about breaking down the wall of hostility in our own backyards. We can show up for those ministering at the southern border. We can seek out those in our towns in need of a new start. Together, we can befriend them as we help them find jobs and learn English. We can allow our children to play with theirs, make meals together, celebrate their culture, and show them that they matter. Whatever has brought them to this time and place, we can let the Gospel of Jesus speak through our love and actions. Together, we can make room for the supernatural work of the Spirit of God, not only across the ocean, but also here in our own hometowns.
Perhaps then we will be moving a little more toward God’s heart for our world - where every tribe, nation, and tongue comes together in worship with Him.
Every day families are resettling into the states and are in need of Welcome Teams to assist them in this process. If you live in the Roanoke, VA or Harrisburg, PA area and would like to assist a refugee family in this way, please reach out to us so we can help get you connected!
Local Service Opportunities in Central VA:
- Restoring Hope Roanoke has a page listing many ways you can serve refugees and others who have immigrated to the area. They are seeking ESL mentors for the spring semester. Training is provided!
- Friendship House Roanoke is seeking volunteers to help with transportation, childcare, tutoring, and hospitality, as well as renovating refugee housing sites.
- El Faro ("The Lighthouse"): Volunteers are needed to help with English or Spanish Kids Clubs and to tutor ESL in the Spanish speaking community. Click this link to Email Lucy Tamez to get started.
- Immigrant Connection is a network of Immigrant Legal Services sites. The Blue Ridge chapter is open to volunteers with a clerical or legal services background (email here).
Local Service Opportunities in Pennsylvania:
For those outside these areas, we invite you to view this national directory from We Welcome.