Tuesday, May 26, 2009

8 Things I’ve Learned Working With Refugees

Source: Weight Upon the Lord

A couple weeks back, I posted an article the day after a family of Bhutanese refugees came to stay with us while their apartment was being prepared. Those items I posted were my initial reactions, and while they still hold true, I’ve definitely learned a lot more than that. Here are the top 8 things I’ve learned (I tried to come up with 10, but I’m still learning - I’ll share the other two in a later post):

  1. Cultural intelligence does not equal true intelligence - By default, I think I automatically assume that someone should have a basic understanding of indoor plumbing, or that crayons are used on paper, not walls, or that in this country, we dry clothing in clothes dryers and not on the bushes in front of the house. However, all of those ‘common sense’ things are only common sense to someone who’s lived in a developed country their entire life. Common sense is often confused with cultural intelligence - what the culture requires in order to survive and get along. Common sense really should be equated with adaptability, for it’s in one’s ability to adapt and learn from new experiences that really shows one’s true intelligence.

  2. No matter the culture, with age comes wisdom - Sukmaya, the ‘grandma’ of the family, exudes wisdom. Even though we can’t understand a word she says (with the exception of the frequent ‘Halleluljahs’ that she utters when patting her grandkids’ heads or touching the flowers in our yard), you can just tell that she has seen a LOT in her 76 years, and most of it probably hasn’t been pleasant. As a result, when she speaks, her daughter-in-law- Bishnu listens; her granddaughters listen; and we listen, even though we don’t understand. I can’t help but think that when I read Proverbs 31 in the future, her face will be one that I picture when I think of a Godly woman.

  3. Winning the lottery isn’t easy - Granted, this Bhutanese family didn’t really win the lottery; however, to go from living in a tent city to living in a 2-bedroom apartment with baseboard heat; to go from being uncertain when you’re going to eat next, to being overwhelmed by the choices at an American grocery store; to go from having 2-3 changes of threadbare clothing to a closet full of second-hand dresses - all of those are like going from a $50K salary to a $50 million grand prize. The UN basically assigned this family to the US, and in doing so took them from the poorest of the poorest in their country to the upper class nearly overnight. While it’s a change that definitely can improve their situation, it’s still a HUGE change, and it’s one that will take a great deal of time to adjust to.

  4. We hold onto our ’stuff’ way too tightly - My wife likes to keep a clean house; I like to have plumbing that works; my older daughter likes her personal space and the retreat that is her bedroom; my younger daughter likes her barettes and hairclips in the drawer in her bathroom, waiting for her at a moment’s notice. During this past week, none of us had those things - we voluntarily gave them up when we welcomed six additional people into our home. If I learned anything this week, I learned that liking our comforts isn’t the same thing as requiring our comforts. God has blessed us with many ‘things’ here in our comfortable home in suburban Chicago; however, they are on loan to us. None of the things we treasure are permanent or give eternal comfort. If I have learned to loosen my grip on these things just a little bit this past week, then God has a greater chance to be glorified in my life moving forward.

  5. The body of Christ, the church, can do amazing things - a team of people from our church has been instrumental in getting these new family settled. Opening our home to them was one small part - there is one couple, Ken and Kathy, who worked tirelessly to make sure their new apartment was furnished with everything they needed to get started; Linda spent many hours driving them around to doctor’s appointments, to church, from the airport; Justin and Carter played with the kids and made sure that Mom didn’t blow anything up by blowing out the gas burner instead of turning it off the proper way; Sam and Debbie brought foods they knew that the family would appreciate (since they ate more rice and masala in the refugee camp than they ate french fries and milkshakes); and Chris and Norm are helping and will be helping with finances, English lessons, and the many other needs this family with have into the future.
  6. No one knows how others may come to Christ because of this family - we’re already seeing God work in some of our neighbors, who have been curious about why this family was staying with us, and why we would even consider opening our home to them in the first place. It’s made for some very interesting conversations about the difference between works and grace.

  7. Our role is to be Isaiah 25:4 - You have been a refuge for the poor, a refuge for 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 driving against a wall. The Nepalese government (the refugee camp was in Nepal) was quickly becoming the ‘breath of the ruthless;’ we are called by Christ to be a refuge to the poor and a shelter from the storm. Yes, it’s not always easy to do so, but Christ never said living for Him would be easy!

  8. One week doesn’t cut it - we hosted the family in our home for a week; however, our responsibility to serve doesn’t end there. In the case with this family, we’ll be supporting them for a long time. It may mean giving up some of our time, some of our money, some of our treasures and talents. But as stated in #7, it’s what God calls us to do, and we know that that may mean it won’t be without sacrifice.
I pray that God would continue to show us how to serve, not only this family but others that may come our way. And I pray that by doing so, He would be glorified, not only in our lives, but in the lives of this family from a land on the other side of the world.


Anonymous said...

Awesome, we too have "adopted" a Nepalese family with quite a bunch in our church now. What a culture difference!!! shopping trips are the most fun, and the tea, coffee and fried dough are great, not to mention the goat meat dinners and fish soup. Our new friends have come to love Walmart and the thrift store, and have tried to love us back with their kindness and teaching us Nepali while we help them with English.... Be sure God is happy to put you and your adopted family together...it's like being a new, big family in God.....God bless you all....

Three30 Student Ministry said...

Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts. I'd love to email you directly with some questions I have about the Bhutanese refugees here in Dallas if you had the time. My email address is mark.a.pritchard @ gmail.com. Thanks again, really enjoyed your post.

t0xicv3nom said...

Very nice post. I read your post on "8 things I've learned working with refugees" and I'm delighted. I was surfing in the net to know how our fellow bhutanese are living in the US and somehow I clicked on your link. Had fun to learn that there are also godly people who embrace those in misery in neighborhood. I was predisposed to believe that bhutanese in the US aren't living comfortably enough as we do here in Australia after a very close friend of mine was shot death in Jacksonville, Florida. I appreciate your help to the bhutanese community struggling for toehold in there. Hope you will convey my greetings (namastee) to those on your next visit. If I could be of any help to you, I'm Chuda (chuda.bhattarai@hotmail.com) from Adelaide, South Australia. Alright, I'm off for my next lecture. Have fun!!