My wife and I have worked with internationals for over 30 years in Africa, Europe and the US. I don’t consider myself an expert really on anything. But for the last six years we have worked in Houston with hundreds of refugees from all over the world. Our city has been the #1 location for resettling refugees for several years. Just remember these are people that have had to leave their homes, families, jobs, all they have known because of war, persecution, famine, or some natural disaster. According to the UNHCR, “We are now witnessing the highest levels of displacement on record. An unprecedented 65.3 million people around the world have been forced from home. Among them are nearly 21.3 million refugees, over half of whom are under the age of 18.”
As you, our new president and elected officials discuss and decide the fates of these people, I wonder how many refugees you personally know. Probably very few if any at all! So Mr. President let me introduce you to some of my refugee friends.
A Syrian family, a couple with two young boys from Homs: In his broken English, he explains why they left. “Bombs, bombs, bombs.” They don’t know still where some of their family members are or even if they are alive. They fled to a refugee camp in Jordan. Now, he is working in a body shop as they try to start their new lives here.
An Iraqi family, couple with two young girls from Bagdad: He explains to me that he and his father were electricians in the Green Zone working with the US military. One day, he came home to find his wife with her throat cut and his young baby daughter with her leg sliced open. Men had come looking for him because he worked with the Americans. They both survived, but he had them show me their scars.
An Afghani family, a couple with three small children: He was a dentist in his country, who worked with the US military there as a translator. His family was threatened and they had to flee. He has found a job as a security guard, because his training in Afghanistan is not recognized here. His wife was pregnant and they had nothing for the baby. Volunteers donated items to help them prepare for the new addition. They had a lovely baby girl a few weeks ago.
These are all Muslim families. None of them are “radical” Muslims. They didn’t want to leave their homes and everything behind, but they had to. They are grateful for this new chance.
An Iranian family, a couple with one daughter: They were searching for truth and purchased a Bible from the black market. They moved to Turkey for work and came in contact with a Farsi speaking church. They all became followers of Jesus and knew they could not go back to Iran. After first being told they were being resettled in Canada, at the last minute they were sent to Houston. (Refugees don’t have any say where they are resettled.) He related their story to me and said they never dreamed they would have the freedom to share their new faith openly and honestly with others. He stated, “This is our Promised Land.” I was fortunate to visit some of the major cities in Iran in 2007. A shop keeper told me as I was leaving, “Please tell all the people back in the US, we love Americans!” That is what I heard from everyone there. Not what you see on the news!
We just started an ESL class last week at one of the apartment complexes with a high number of refugees. We had to turn people away there were so many interested. These people want to make a new life here for their families. Most parents are willing to sacrifice their lives working at minimum to low paying jobs that they are over qualified for to provide a better life for their children.
Or maybe you should meet the Congolese woman who was raped in front of her husband and young children then watched them shoot her husband. These wonderful people are survivors! They have been through things that we could not even imagine. They are such a small percentage of the displaced worldwide.
Yes, Mr. President, I know there is fear here in our land. I have a family even a grandchild. Just like these folks I want a better life for them as well. I don’t want my granddaughter to live in fear. I want her to know and have relationships with those from other countries and cultures. Yes, there are bad people in this world. We will never stop them all. The system for resettling these refugees is working. How can we deny them a chance of freedom to start over, away from the fear and horrors they experienced.
Mr. President these people would be your friends also if you knew them. Frankly, I count it a real honor and a privilege that God has allowed me to have friends such as these from around the world. Let’s not close the door out of fear; let’s open the door and love our new neighbors.