Upwardly Dependent » walking the delicate balance of absolute truth and overwhelming grace.

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A Foreigner’s Perspective on the Refugee Crisis

When I lived in the United States, my life was very much red, white, and blue {well, mostly white, middle-class} with the exception of a few multi-cultural experiences.

I had a student once who only spoke English and her parents only spoke Spanish. Her sister was the translator in their home. I wrote her progress report notes in my best Español.

I employed a kind woman from Mexico to help me clean my house twice a month. She was an illegal immigrant. I kept her secret.

Gavin and I picked up a young Hispanic woman on the street one day who had run away from her abusive boyfriend. We brought her home, I made her a sandwich, and per her request, we drove her an hour to the nearest Greyhound station. We bought her a ticket. She gave me her watch. And then she was gone.

I’m sitting here REALLY trying to rack my brain for more instances of cross-cultural interactions, but this is it. Three times in my adulthood I can remember allowing someone from a different country to interrupt the rhythm of my daily life on familiar soil.

Good grief, these weren’t even interruptions.

I never once thought about how to warmly include Lydia’s parents in classroom activities.
I never considered inviting immigrants to share significant holidays with my family.
I never checked back in with the runaway girlfriend.

Hadn’t I done enough? Hadn’t I made an effort to connect with foreigners on my turf?

I thought so. Until I became a foreigner myself.

There are many things that I’ve learned from moving overseas, but one of the greatest lessons has been the definition of hospitality.

There was not a single soul that asked us to move to SE Asia. No one invited us here without our prompting, no one begged us to grace them with our presence and skills and education.

We just showed up…and hoped someone would welcome us in.

I wonder if that’s how refugees feel?

I have no idea what it’s like to flee my nation’s border out of fear. I have no idea what it’s like to stick my kid on a boat in distress. I have no idea what’s it’s like to be forced out of my safe place dependent on a merciful hand.

So I can’t say for sure how it feels to be a refugee. But I know what it’s like to try and find my place in a culture that’s not my own, immersed in a language I don’t understand, and surrounded by societal norms I just can’t figure out.

Daily life is stressful. Finding food for your family is stressful. Taking public transportation is stressful.

EVERYTHING IS STRESSFUL.

Sleeping in an unfamiliar place.
Comforting your child in new surroundings.
Trying not to offend your neighbor.
Running important government paperwork.
Shopping for basic clothing and household items.

But the hardest, most stressful challenge of transitioning across borders?

Finding a community that welcomes you.

Not in any single one of these stresses do I feel like I can understand the crisis so many Syrian refugees are facing today. They aren’t even being granted freaking asylum. Much less an outreached, welcoming hand.

We moved abroad with twelve trunks of cataloged, familiar belongings.
We flew in an airplane.
Someone paid for us to study language for a year.

We were immediately surrounded by teammates who helped us transition.
Our landlords helped us run important paperwork.
Local acquaintances became friends who took us shopping for necessities.

The community was just…here. And we were welcomed into it.

How I wish this narrative were the same for every one of the faces I’ve seen in the news recently. I wish the 4 million Syrians who have fled into surrounding countries had the social support I’ve known. I wish there were as many online resources and counseling centers and training organizations helping these people enter their cross-cultural transition.

I’ll never look at an immigration issue or refugee crisis the same after living overseas myself.

I’m thankful that the world has been unnerved by the images in the media over the past couple of weeks. I’ll never be thankful there are bodies of babies on a shoreline. But I think we could all use a little unnerving.

I’ve desperately wanted to have words instead of just a heavy heart. I’ve struggled to find the black and white after living in a world of perpetual gray. But I saw this image tonight, and I was struck by how deeply it resonated with me.

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Yes, church, let’s open our doors. But let’s also open our hearts.
Let’s give our money. But let’s also give our time.
Let’s lift our hands in prayer. But let’s also put those hands around real shoulders.

There may not be a refugee knocking at your door today. I know there’s not one knocking on mine.

But there are sojourners looking for a home. Grasping to understand their new surroundings. Seeking a welcoming community.

And I just wonder…are we ready to be the Gospel as much as we’re ready to preach it?

If we are really going to respond to a refugee crisis, it’s going to take more than our feelings and our money.

It’s going to have to be a whole crazy mass of God’s people adding chairs to our kitchen tables, inviting different people into our regular social circles, and sharing life with foreigners in our land.

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