Posts Tagged With: sacramentorefugeecommunity

Re-Rooting

The transplant was still fresh, only 5 months old, but Hamid and Asma had friends to introduce the new soil and slowly help them re-root in it. 

From the moment a family or individual must drop their lives and flee home, their identity sharply shifts from a rooted resident to a sojourning stranger. Many find refuge on an in-between soil and there they obtain the status of “refugee”. For many, that is when a waiting game begins. A grueling game, for there is no strategy for winning and no foreseeable end in site.

When resettled in a receiving country, the new soil is supposedly permanent. The uprooted plant is given a chance to place its roots back in the ground and slowly, steadily begin finding new roots.

This past Sunday, a small group of Sacramento locals prepared a “Friendsgiving” meal for their newly-arrived friends– a family of 7 from Afghanistan who were resettled in America this past July. My parents’ house served as a geographically convenient and hospitable location so everyone could gather and eat around family-size tables and feel the familial sentiments that only homes provide.

The small group had previously spent time with the family in varying capacities, most of those being assistance in getting to appointments and helping them with the bare basics required for survival in the first several months of resettlement– language learning, enrollment, applications for programs, etc.

Like dried out roots getting re-accustomed to the feeling of soil and potential nourishment, integrating in a new country is a long-haul process. Beyond filling concrete needs, emotional support is vital as well. People, no matter their country or culture, will always need friends. For three hours, this mixed group with mixed stories got to simply dine together, muse over pretty decorations or backyard plants, listen to each other play piano, shoot some basketball hoops, and observe each other’s social tendencies. And in joy, I got to simply absorb those bounties of friendship happening around me.

Friendship does not require common culture, common faith or even a common language, but it does require a little dedicated time to slow down and simply enjoy each other’s company. There’s respect in that, there’s longevity in that, and there must be patience and excited anticipation for growth in that.

The group leader said she saw break-through that afternoon. From what I’ve learned, a key part of

encouraging newly-arrived friends to put down new roots is to share life with them.

Show them your own soil. Tell the stories of how your roots started and grew there. Let those stories and your love itself prove how the soil can be good and hope-filled when you give it a chance, some time, and proper care.

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Communion

Written By: Emma McHenry

Home has its meaning in every culture and every people. It is a deeply intimate term, and one that often makes its way back to the earliest memories of childhood. Some days you may step through a familiar doorway into a house you know as home; other days you may think of a land or a culture or a face far away, and you will call them home. But walking into the warm light of apartment #46 on the second floor, I began to see this simple word in a very new light. That night I found a kind of home that went far beyond a house; I found communion.

Nader and Maryam were cordial hosts, to say the least. From the moment I stepped through that door, the family thought of nothing but making me feel welcome. All of them shook hands politely to honor my own culture, and the light in their eyes showed the joy that was theirs for having us all under their roof. They laid out food while we talked, they listened carefully as I slowly spoke about my family and life through translated words , and they cooked a magnificent, rich meal—fit for royalty. Cooking, cleaning, and making sure we were all given an abundance of delicious food was their way of showing the highest honor, and though we were yet strangers they treated us like old friends.  

That night I was left in awe. All I could think of was what a beautiful culture God had blessed these people with. What fear or prejudice has kept Christians from seeking out their new neighbors? What could possibly be at risk?

When engaging other cultures, American society tends to get hung up on the apprehension that they are going to offend someone or come off as a fool. Even though that was a possibility that night, there was a greater possibility of something far more significant: making a friend. And I am glad that was something I was willing to risk!

Even more so, I ran the risk of gaining a deeper view of this world. God has made every culture intrinsically unique, and as we engage with others from different nations, it makes us aware of our own perspectives. As the diversity and beauty of two different societies joined that night, I found a window into new viewpoints and insights into both their culture and mine.

The last thing “risked” as I entered into Nader and Maryam’s apartment was this: seeing them in God’s eyes–not as foreigners, refugees, Muslims or strangers, but as my beloved neighbors. God didn’t create culture to divide people, but to build strong and lasting relationships that embrace diversity and depend on love, surpassing any weak cultural links by doing so! And it was in this love that I found a new kind of home in apartment #46. The friendships that were formed, the communion that was shared; these were a marvelous reflection of the home and belonging that may be found in Jesus. And that is what I pray all of us may find in the presence of God, our true home.

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“Other”ing

The first time I walked down the streets of the tenderloin in San Francisco, I felt significantly insecure. I was out of place and out of touch with the culture. I was supposedly there to serve and love, but only within the predefined contexts that the outreach trip had set in place. Walking down the street was a side escapade and I quickly concluded that the residents in this neighborhood and I shared no commonality. Out of underlying fear, my friendly, extroverted self bypassed them all. What if she didn’t speak English? What if they were high? What if he took my smile the wrong way? It was too risky. I was me and they were the “others”.

oth·er
ˈəT͟Hər/
verb
gerund or present participle: othering

  1. view or treat (a person or group of people) as intrinsically different from and alien to oneself.(Oxford Dictionary)

“Other”ing is something we often mindlessly do to each other. If I consider another human being as “other” because they don’t speak the same, think the same, live the same, dress the same, etc., then, likewise, I am certainly an “other” to this person.

Humanity in general seems to have a difficult time intersecting with the “other”.
And when it comes to Muslim-Christian relations, sadly, the “other”ing has often become elevated in churches out of fear of compromising doctrine or endorsing another faith system. It’s a reasonable concern, but it’s not biblical.

The world’s best example of a peace-maker and  bridge-builder was one who made himself an “other” as he lived in a time of great religious, political and interethnic conflict.

Multiple faiths. Multiple ethnicities. Multiple friends.

If you read the Bible, it is often easy to bypass the significance of the parables Jesus told and the ways He treated certain holidays and customs and interacted with people and people groups. It’s easy to assume that the specifics of these parables and stories aren’t applicable to our modern age and culture (e.g.,  the healing of the paralytic, the parables of the Good Samaritan and the repentant tax-collector, Jesus’ attitudes toward the Sabbath, his encounter with religious experts, his actions in the temple…). But were Jesus’ teaching and example limited to the age and place He lived? If no, then we must ask ourselves: who and what are these words and deeds of Jesus in relation to our lives and society today?

There were plenty of “others” then and there are plenty of “others” now. One of the “others”, I think, is our Middle-eastern Muslim community. In Sacramento, many are collaborating to do them justice. Organizations and county offices are being sure they are receiving all their benefits such as EBT cards, Social Security, ESL, and medical coverage. We have supported the establishment of their halal markets and necessary vendors. We have spoken out against segregation and unfair treatment by leasing managers, security services in department stores, and public services. That is all well, good and needed. But what if we are perpetuating them being an “other” as we go about creating space for them to naturally live amongst themselves within “our city” as we continue in our regular day to day life? What if, beyond conquering their cultural and practical needs, we chose to learn more about what it means to become engaged, loving neighbors to these who are the supposed “others?”  

When change occurs, we have two methods of handling it: keeping it at bay OR embracing it and adapting.  We must acknowledge how we are often afraid to invite “others” into our lives or be guests of them. Acknowledge the fear, the awkwardness, the discomfort or stigmas— whatever it is you feel. It’s there. It’s real. That’s alright. What you do with it will determine whether the “othering” boundaries remain firmly in place or start to come down naturally from connection over commonality.

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A Year to Be Welcomed

As refugees have poured into United States by the thousands and into Sacramento by the hundreds each month, anyone with a voice of advocacy for the immigrant or refugee has begun to speak up and raise their voices, almost in a demanding manner: “Welcome them! Welcome them!”. Politically and sociologically, this could mean one thing, but “Welcome the stranger/sojourner” should mean something far beyond that for the follower of the Jesus.

“Welcome the stranger”, we’ve been saying repetitively for the past few years. And indeed we should and will continue to. But what if first the stranger welcomes us? What then?

Kay and Kevin and their three girls were anticipating delivering a Christmas tree and bringing Christmas gifts to a newly arrived refugee family coming from Turkey. The family img_9299already had a tree, but was so excited for the opportunity to host guests, that the two families came together anyway. Though the language barrier was evident, the families enjoyed tea and fruit together and asked simple questions of each other. Soon enough, the girls became friends with the family’s daughter and went off to play as Ramin, the host father, immediately asked Kay and Kevin if he could tell them his story with the help of a translating friend. Following Ramin’s heart-felt story of recovery from addiction and then journey to America, he and his wife Elika led a time of singing img_9307in their native tongue and playing guitar. Ramin and his son shared their wonderful skills of guitar playing with their new friends as if they had known each other for years. Kay and Kevin expressed their joy and gratitude with words and smiles and told Ramin and Elika how they will never forget this night. It was evident that they were so welcomed in the newer family’s home and that a very mutual blessing was taking place. Their fellowship lasted several hours as they eventually ate a meal together. Upon departure, Kay and Kevin invited Elika and Ramin’s family over to their home the following week. They wholeheartedly accepted.

In Western society, we have a tendency to assume the role of giver. When generosity is a factor, we would generally wish to be on the giving side rather than the receiving side, if given a choice in the matter. Sometimes there is even a sense of shame in receiving the generosity of others.

As a caseworker, transportation assistant, neighbor or just a friend, I’ve been in and out of the homes of local refugees, particularly Afghan refugees, for more than 2 years now and if there is one word that best describes their culture, it is HOSPITALITY.  Whether they arrived on American soil within the past 4 days or established themselves here 10 years ago, you can always anticipate being treated as an honored guest when entering the home of an Afghan.

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This Christmas, Raft Amad and StudentReach asked American families to do more than just deliver a Christmas tree to some refugee families. Instead of the role of Santa Claus, with a jolly posture of giving and going, we asked people if they’d presume the role of recipient, preparing to be welcomed by the family and visit for a while. As we watched these fellowships take place, story after story came back to us about how easy of a connection was made and the gift it was to the American family to be so warmly welcomed in by their refugee neighbors. Seems reversed doesn’t it? Yet this is so very natural.

As we step into 2017, I want to challenge myself and challenge YOU to be willing to be welcomed first. Whether you are the one to initiate or not, regardless of your comparative assets, no matter whose home you are in, will you receive the blessing of hospitality and welcome from your refugee neighbor?
“Welcome! Make yourself at home in this new country” is the unspoken message you send by gratefully receiving their natural gift of hospitality to you. To receive is the best gift you can give anyway.

 

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Community in Practice

It was Saturday afternoon. My apartment had been given the royal treatment. Candles were burning to create the aura I desired, though I knew that appetite-stirring aromas would soon dominate the room as valued guests found themselves in my home, bearing dinner dishes that properly represented their country of origin.
It is an honor to open up my apartment and my arms.

There are a handful of varying activities or places that bring me sweet joy. Those include everything from hiking mountains to attain glorious views to tasting the intricate flavors in a vast array of coffee beans. But no matter the experience, it is almost always enjoyed more when shared with a friend.

On a broad scale, there are few things I enjoy more in life than COMMUNITY.

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Here is a perfect representation of just that!

This past Saturday night, I had the privilege of co-hosting a group of Intervarsity college students who opted to spend their weekend away from Sonoma State and in Sacramento. They wanted to try out the flavors of our domain here , particularly the ever-growing refugee community.

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Food + Folks = Fellowship

So we collaborated…my refugee friends and I. Sometimes I forget how recent their transition to the states took place because it feels like we’ve been friends for years.  Fatemeh, Rustam and their son Arsalan are from Afghanistan. Bahram, Arezoo and their son David are from Iran.

I’ll admit.. collaboration was a stretch. It’s not within the cultural/societal norms in Afghanistan nor Iran to ask a friend to help you host other guests in your own home. You are either a guest or a host and culturally-speaking, you would never ask a guest to share in the work load. But I was brave enough to ask and they were brave enough to give it a shot. Together, we all understood our unified purpose of representing our city and community to the students through an enthusiastic presence and some authentic food!

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Learning from each other.

The evening was lovely. There were 14 of us in total, gathering around a suffra (An Afghan-style mat for eating on) on my living room floor, dishing out delicious dinner onto each other’s plates with little to no self-control. We each told where we were born, our names, and if we could travel anywhere in the world where we would go. I loved the diversity, but I particularly loved the bravery of my sweet friend, Dida. She is 12 years old and her family is from Iraq. We made friends here in my apartment complex a few weeks back. She heard about my dinner and wanted to come; I invited her and so she came! Sweet girl was the only one her age in the room and while Fatemeh and Arezoo could converse in their mutual language of Farsi (Dari in Afghanistan), Dida could only participate in English. She was ecstatic to share with the group where she would love to travel when she is older.

I was especially proud of the ladies.
Arezoo and Fatemeh made such a grand effort to engage the women students, even while they are still improving their own knowledge of the English language.
The men engaged swiftly as well, swapping stories of their favorites philosophers and theological teachers.

Differing culture, different faiths, differing paradigms, philosophies, and perspectives.
Isn’t this what the Honorable Jesus did while He dwelled on earth?

I had many reasons this night to be proud of the community I am surrounded by. We were accomplishing exactly what I know I’m commissioned by God to do here… connection, stories, community.
We were creating Raft Amad.

 


 

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