Posts Tagged With: wewelcomerefugees

Replenish, Not Replace

It had been a year and a half since our friendship began. We had our bumps in the road and for a while there, a cultural misunderstanding estranged me from their family; but we eventually reunited. I sat on the living room floor with my hamshira jan– “my dear sister”, as we call each other. We watched her first born show off with his sassy antics, almost always speaking only English , even with his mama. Anoosha has another son on the way and was still refurnishing the better apartment they’d recently moved into.

As we rambled on about our lives, the natural culturally appropriate questions arose, only we chose to answer with care and honesty and not just the formal response.

“How is your family?”

I spoke of my sisters, my brother, my parents and each of their contexts. She spoke of hers.
My family is within driving distance. Hers is across the world. As I listened to her acute awareness of the familial situations afar– some victories, some injustices, what she loved and

missed and what she wishes she could fix, I was reminded that family, no matter its state o

rgeographical location, is irreplaceable.

I love being called “sister”. Many whom I am not related to call me by this name. Many of those who do have been forcibly removed from most, if not all, of their family members. I eagerly soak up the honor and appreciation that comes with this title. Sometimes I feel I’ve earned it; other times, I wonder if I deserve such a name.

It is my heart’s deepest desire to provide a new family, nurture the new home of many who have been given no choice but to restart their lives here in America. Gratefully, I am joined with hundreds of others who wish to do the same. But I am humbly reminded that even when we openly share our lives and treat refugee families the way we would our own flesh and blood, we may be able to help fill a gap, but we can never fully replace what they have lost that is their own.

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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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The Racism Rhythm

The amount of unfair treatment that happens on America soil is immeasurable, even in the most liberal and diverse cities. Though I have personally never been displaced, persecuted for my ethnicity or religion, or truly impoverished, I thought I knew what marginalization felt like by way of other avenues. My experiences may count as a mere thread of the ugly tapestry called discrimination.

I took a dear friend of mine, whom we will call Ameena, to morning coffee and to enjoy the long delayed rays of sunshine last Friday. We were long overdue for some one-on-one fellowship. Ameena is about the age of my own mom and is, like Mom, a mother of four. We met through my friendship with her outgoing,  youngest daughter right here in our apartment complex. We are neighbors. Ameena is an educated, swift, loving, resilient woman. She sought asylum here in America with her two daughters when conditions back home in Afghanistan became too dangerous to return to. Here she remained with no governmental support and, for a long time, no ability to apply for local identification, formal work, a driving permit, nothing. She managed life with her daughters until she was granted asylum and now works with an attorney to be reunited her husband and two sons who remain abroad. I knew she had endured much and was working hard for her rights to be respected in the community and at her on-call job as a translator. Nothing was being handed to her on a silver platter or any platter for that matter.

It hit me the other day that though I’ve heard many a story from my Muslim refugee friends about their lives since they’ve arrived here, there will never reach a point where it is time to stop asking for their stories. No, I racism_011bwill likely never be able to personally relate to what they’ve been through and are going through. Their stories from back home can be hard on the open ears and even more painful to the soft heart. Many of our refugee neighbors are willing to share their stories from a distant country, but not all are eagerly talking about the injustices facing them right here.

As Ameena and I talked, I told her that instead of speculating and speaking on behalf of much of the Afghan community in Sacramento, I wanted to hear from a first person perspective. I asked her what it was like to be in her skin, what trials and joys she experienced in this city, what it felt like to identify as a Muslim or an Afghan or both. She recounted many good experiences and expressed gratitude for several benefits of living in Sacramento, but it was the not-so-few and far between stories of racism that shocked me and hopefully shock you.

These stories will be  exposed in three parts in coming weeks.
Stay connected.
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We will look at how racism sparks negative reactions– real life stories about hate, threats, & ignorance. And we will hear real stories about how it can spur on positive establishments like being educated in the matter, standing  in genuine solidarity and experiencing trusting community.
** Stories will specifically reference Muslim immigrant racism, but concepts will apply to and regard all forms of racism occurring across the country.

“From this moment on, it’s going to be America First.
Every decision on trade, on taxes, on immigration, on foreign affairs, will be made to benefit American workers and American families.”

Who are the ones regarded as “American” here?

Choose a Route
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Whether you look upon the new presidency with support or disdain, there is a choice to be made.
Do you exist and live for the benefit of yourself? Timeless teachers, prophets, geniuses, social advocates, martyrs, neurological scientists and figures of all kind teach time and time again that selflessness is the essence of joy and putting self first is the quickest path to your own mental and emotional ruin.

racism_handsBeside considering the consequences of your choices for our own sake, perhaps we also ought to consider Jesus’ verdict on the matter. He said that our treatment of the widow, the orphan, the shelterless or the immigrant parallels our treatment of Him. What we do for them, we do for Him. When we neglect them, mistreat them, and ridicule them, we neglect Jesus, mistreat Jesus, and ridicule Jesus. (Matt. 25:27-46)

These stories are not about causing permanent division. But on some matters, knowing both perspectives, choosing a side and following it with utter conviction is the first step of action. Concern yourself with your own thoughts, beliefs and measures of action first.
Out of love, hear stories. Out of love, know the facts. Out of love, model your convictions.
Truth speaks for itself.

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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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Through the Eyes of a Kid.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. It is so easy to make friends with kids.

One day I returned from a bridal shower and without changing out of my nicer clothes, took a walk with my  6-pound dog named Mia. No matter the age of the kid, this tiny dog seems to captivate the eyes and hands of almost every kid in the apartment complex- girls and boys alike. As I headed back to my apartment after the walk, each eye that spotted the puppy drew right toward her.

“It’s Mia! Awww, hi Mia!” ….. [stroke, pet, drool,]… “Oh, hi Amelia!”
Though I must be at least twenty times taller than this cute creature, I tend to be the second one noticed. It’s alright; I’m the one who ends up in conversation.

That particular day, the boys were playing soccer (better known as futbol) in the alley way. An abandoned roller blade boot and razor scooter serving as one set of goal posts and the red painted curb serving as the other. Mia eventually went back in the apartment and a few of my young girl friends helped me make some fresh popcorn. We sat on the curb, stuffed our faces, I listened to the latest school drama and we watched the boys whip around with their fresh futbol skills. I wanted to play, but needed an opportunity to prove myself. The ball rolled through one goal and straight to my toes. Now was my chance. I hopped up, scooped up the ball and drop kicked it back into play.

“Whooaaaaaa”…and then a few glances back in my direction, as if the boys didn’t know girls could kick a futbol correctly. I eventually invited myself into the game. We formed teams and played to 5 goals. I may or not have shown off my skills.  That day the boys learned my name and haven’t forgotten it since.
Futbol and food makes friends and the acceptance I received from those kids that day filled my heart right up.

Most of the kids that hang outside in my apartment complex are the children of refugee or immigrant parents. Most of their families have come from Iraq, Afghanistan, or Mexico.

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This past week had been a rough one and not just for me. As if trying to process two deaths in my circle of relationships wasn’t enough, I was also battling some minor seizure activity that flares up from time to time. Sometimes it takes me a while to regain all my speaking and listening abilities after an episode. I had just experienced some activity but let myself out for an evening walk with Mia. Some of my favorite girlies in the complex found Mia (and me) as we walked. I wasn’t feeling too great, so I dismissed us, promising to loop back around on our way in.

My friend, Dida, found me again. She had been having a hard time (6th grade and refugee life isn’t all sunshine and butterflies, you see) and needed to enter into a venting session. I tried to explain to her why I was struggling in my communication and listened to the best of my ability as we sat on the curb and talked a bit through her latest struggles. I didn’t know how much my explanation of seizures had really made sense to her or how helpful my words or advice about life really were.

Next week came around and I saw the girls again. Dida came up to me, reunited with her best friend in the complex, and they both gave me hugs. She asked me how I was doing and if my brain was okay by now.
Sweet girl. She had remembered.

Dida and her family are from Iraq. Her Dad is living in Arizona and working a job there, visiting the family only once every couple months, according to her. Her family of 7 is living in a two bedroom apartment. I don’t write this to provoke pity. But seriously, take a glance. Refugee life and youth life mixed? It’s not easy.

Some of my favorite moments in the week come from 5-15 minute moments spent with the kids. It’s times like these–stealing their soccer ball, greeting them by their names and asking them about their day or seeing them put a water bottle on their head and challenging them to a more impressive balancing job– that allow me to be a very real human who isn’t too busy to stop and have a little fun or listen to whatever they deem most important in the moment.

In the midst of a week filled with pain, struggles and not enough energy or time to feel very capable of hardly anything, what I could do was be present with my neighbors.

The kids in my complex are some of the best at paving a way for neighborly relationships.

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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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