Last fall, my husband and I were asked to lead a small group at our church: a dialogue on the refugee crisis. It wasn’t a topic we chose. To be honest, it is probably not something I would have picked if given the option. The facilitator books were really helpful, and led us through a 6-week discussion on Wednesday nights.
For our first week, we read the leader’s book, did some additional online research, and typed up a handout. We felt mildly prepared to talk about refugees, their resettlement in the US, and the involvement of church around the world.
Before we could even dig into our nifty handout, we were asked: “What is a refugee, and why is this called a crisis?” Well, shoot! This question was not meant to be condescending, but highlighted how very little we know about events in the world. Thankfully, we had some stats and were armed to tell just a small part of the story. There are 68 million people worldwide who have been forcibly displaced from their home. War, persecution, natural disaster, and more make it unsafe for people to live in their home country. Many flee to refugee camps, where it has been estimated that the average person will live for 26 years. Less than 1% of the world’s refugees are resettled, though the need is far greater.
I could literally go on for pages citing alarming facts and statistics on refugees. But you have the internet. If you are interested in learning more, there are a ton of resources out there which describe the reality of refugees in our world and how organizations and countries are working to help.
So, we finished our class. We learned a lot, we had engaging conversation. But for all of us in the class, we were left with this feeling of “Now what?” There is a massive need in the world. As Christ-followers, we are called to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, welcome the stranger (Matt. 25:35). How can a small church in Omaha, Nebraska have any impact on such a massive problem?
Thankfully, there are organizations established to help, and they are seeking congregations to partner with. We reached out to Lutheran Family Services and basically said “Hey. We’d like to help. Tell us what to do!” And they did! Now here we are just a couple months later with a family arriving in the United States THIS WEEK!
A family of three – a woman, her 19-year-old son and her 10-year-old grandson – are arriving in Omaha on the evening of January 16. They have names; they have a story. They are Karen people, indigenous from the Thailand-Burma area. With decades of fighting in the region, hundreds of thousands of people have been forced to flee and many now reside in refugee camps along the border of Thailand. These camps are overcrowded, filled with disease, and experience army attacks.
With one week lead time, we were handed the keys to an empty apartment. Our congregation is charged with furnishing the entire apartment, stocking the pantry, and making sure this family has winter-appropriate clothing when they arrive. Imagine arriving in the United States from Thailand with only the clothes on your back. After lengthy travels, you end up in Omaha. What does that blast of windy, cold January air feel like?! We are hoping for a big stash of good, warm winter shoes and coats for this family!
As this blog posts, we will be moving the items we’ve collected into the apartment, then working to determine what we still need before Wednesday. There is a lot of work to do! Quite a few items yet to find, people to coordinate. Normally, a project like this would leave me in a state of anxious panic!! Yet somehow, I sense that God totally has this!! Four months ago we could not have predicted that our church would have the opportunity to welcome a refugee family to the United States. Yet here we are. When there is a need, and people are asked, they respond!
Maybe you’d really like to help refugees. There are many ways to do that. One way is financial donations… If this interests you in any way, here is a direct link to donate to Lutheran Family Services of Nebraska. Donate
LFS does amazing ministry with limited resources. They actively help resettle refugees in the Omaha and Lincoln area, and are engaged in countless human and social services in Nebraska.
If this organization or cause does not speak to you, there is need all around. There are countless ways we can help our neighbor, especially if we are willing to jump into something new and scary and trust that God will do His thing!
Prayers, please! Prayers that the apartment is stocked, that the family arrives in Omaha safely, and that God weaves in and out of this experience for all of us, showing the light of his love through community and partnership and help for a neighbor!