While we sip our six-dollar lattes and wear Patagonia sweaters in 72-degree weather, more than half of Syria’s population is being displaced from their homes and forced into finding refuge. While we type the words #prayforSyria, more than half of the children of school age are not receiving any kind of formal education. While we travel on paved roads to visit our loved ones, spouses are being sent to two different refugee camps, without any idea of when or if they will see one another again. It has become too easy for us to rely on empty words without using our hands and feet. Let’s be the hands and feet of Jesus, not the tweet of Him.
It is time for more than thoughts and prayers when it comes to our refugee crisis and to truly be the servants we are called to be. Over spring break, I had the privilege to volunteer alongside a team of students at a non-profit organization, Voice of Refugees, in Anaheim—only about 20 minutes away from our school. I hate the cliché “my life has been changed by this trip” reaction of going on a mission’s trip, but the thing is, my life has been changed.
Voice of Refugees assists Middle Eastern and North African immigrants, refugees, and asylum seekers by offering English learning classes, childcare, food, furniture, as well as resources to find a job. It takes lots of time and effort to do what they do—all to serve the kingdom of God.
The least that the rest of the body of Christ could do is help.
I was blessed with helping with childcare. While I fully expected to be working with a staff member of VoR in the children’s department, I learned that the kid’s coordinator was out on medical leave and had suffered a grave injury.
My partner and I found ourselves slightly unprepared for the fifteen children, all under the age of four, that we had the task of taking care of.
At one point in the day, I had one crying baby in each arm and three little girls braiding separate sections of my hair. It was mayhem, but the best kind.
I didn’t realize how aware of their situation these children were, until one told me a little bit of his story, while he wrestled with his cousin. I was surprised at how rowdy they were, but figured they were just typical, energetic boys.
But when one of the tiny warriors, a 9-year-old child, told me that the reason he knows how to fight so well is because his dad forced him to learn while they were in Afghanistan because “bad men live there,” my heart nearly broke.
A father was so worried over his son that he felt the need to teach him how to defend himself with his fists.
Refugees and immigrants are not charity cases. They do not come to the United States with open hands and mouths. They come with all the brokenness of their home countries and put on a brave face for their children, motivated to find work and provide for their families.
But most of them have degrees and certifications that are non-transferrable, as the education system here in the United States is different than the country they received it from. They were lawyers, doctors, entrepreneurs in their home countries. But they come here and are gas clerks, janitors, and other low-earning workers.
Imagine the frustration of having no control over the loss of everything you previously knew, and complete lack of opportunity in foreign soil.
This week I found myself constantly in awe of their bravery.
There was one little girl whose image will never leave me. She was a year and a half, and mighty. She walked in with her mom and got right to playing with her toys, the giant Legos being her favorite.
But no matter how immersed she was in her play, every single time her mom attempted to leave the room she would burst into tears and became so anxious at not knowing where her mom was that she would throw up, repeatedly.
I was so terrified for ther, the thought of losing her mom made her so upset that her body immediately reacted by vomiting. But what I learned through her anxiety was how much time these moms spent with their children.
I learned at Voice of Refugees that it is typical in Arabic families for men go to work and women to take care of their children. The mothers spend every single day, morning to night, with their kids. So, on the off-chance that they do have adult interaction at Voice of Refugees, their children are so confused at them not being present that some throw up and the mom will have to leave her friends and console their little one.
That is heartbreaking.
Thoughts and prayers are great, I am not saying spiritual intervention is impossible. What I am saying is that it is time to pair those great things with action—let’s get uncomfortable. Let’s put our actions where our posts are.
The mother that had to leave two of her children behind because she did not have enough time before the Taliban raided her village cannot feel the “value” of your tweet. But she can see your smile as you hand her a loaf of bread.
The Christian man that escaped Al Qaeda may not see the pretty cursive-written post stating “Pray for Peace,” but he can tell you his story while you volunteer in an English learning class.
If you would like to help with Voice of Refugees, they will accept as many volunteers as they can get. But if not them, find another organization. Be persistent in aiding others and put a face to the body of Christ.
The excuse of “I’m too busy” is not at all acceptable—make time for this. Go out of your way to help others. That is the only way true Christianity will be exposed to the world.