Imagine getting off a plane, suitcases weighed down with whatever belongings you managed to salvage. The signs are in a script you know vaguely, and the faces blur past. You’re bustled to a hotel, given colourful bills and instructions for procedures about healthcare and housing. Within a week, you sit on brand new furniture someone bought for you, alone in an apartment. Where is the grocery store? How do you read your bank statements? What happens when you leave to shop and realize you don’t know how to get home?
These are snapshots of the experience many refugees coming to Canada face. I don’t write about it much here, but Varun and I moved in October to a downtown area with lots of immigrants and refugees with the intention of loving our neighbors in word and deed. For the most part, this means getting to know people on purpose, joyfully joining in community and sharing our hope in Jesus with them. Many of our neighbors are refugees from Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia and Eastern Europe. As we sip tea in their apartments, we have been amazed by the refugee experience. Many of our neighbors knew very little (if any) English before coming to Canada. Many were graciously sponsored by the U.N., and receive a fair degree of support. However, the difficulties are enormous. The examples I gave are all real stories told to me by my neighbors.
Today is World Refugee Day.
If you notice, the countries from which over 100,000 refugees hail, are Somalia, Iraq and Afghanistan. The very same people I bump into every day in the elevator. It’s humbling to have the opportunity to hear their stories and love some of these families who have known incredible hardship, loss and war. We are so grateful that God has given us this opportunity to grow in friendship with, share our faith with, and offer helping hands to many refugees in our community.
I realize that for many people, you don’t meet refugees every day. But because today is World Refugee day, I’d invite you to learn a little more about what causes 8 people every minute to flee their home and become a refugee. Download the iPhone app that allows you virtually experience a refugee’s plight. Take some time today to pray for the 4.3 million people who were displaced in 2011 alone. Give money to the UN, or to World Vision as they assist 1 million Somalians facing war and starvation. If you do know refugees, take time today to listen to their stories, understand their loss and pray with them for a future filled with hope.
As the UN Refugee Agency reminds us, “1 family torn apart by war is too many.”
” For you have been a stronghold to the poor,
a stronghold to the needy in his distress,
a shelter from the storm and a shade from the heat;
for the breath of the ruthless is like a storm against a wall…”