Last fall I had the privilege of spending a semester abroad in the beautiful country of Rwanda. When people ask me how my experience was, I usually shift a little uncomfortably and reply with my best “It was really good!” I squirm because that’s mostly a lie, and I simply say it because I’d rather not be obligated to explain why that semester was personally very difficult for me.
Parts of it were good, of course, and I try to look back on the good. But some of the hard parts changed the way I will look at people of other cultures for the rest of my life. I experienced in myself the despair of being completely unfamiliar with the customs and cultures of a new place. I experienced the helplessness of not speaking the language and desperately trying to remember the one-word name of our neighborhood to tell the bus driver in case I got lost. I missed my people, my food, my school, my confidence, and my personal time. I constantly thought of returning home, and counting down my days there made it a little more bearable.
As I searched for meaning from my months in Rwanda, God subtly directed my heart and thoughts to people immigrating to the United States from different parts of the world. I thought of the people who have lived in the U.S. for years and still struggle to learn English. I thought of people who are looked down upon because their culture is not widely understood by the majority of people. I cringed because of people who wish to keep immigrants and refugees out or who blame them for just trying to survive or improve their lives. How awful to live in a place where you know people don’t want you there or they are afraid of you on top of the incredibly difficult transition away from home and everything you’ve ever known! I got to go home after four months, but many people do not have the luxury of knowing if they will ever be able to return home. God opened my eyes and showed me his heart for the displaced and how much hurt is caused by isolation and maladjustment.
Fast forward a few months and I am invited to join the Refugee Response Committee’s quest to address the needs of refugees. It has been a privilege working alongside all of you as we enact God’s heart for people who have been displaced by forces out of their control. In May we launched the Welcome Home Project through Catholic Charities to collect items to outfit an entire apartment for an incoming refugee family. We were overwhelmed with the response of Newberg Friends and North Valley Friends who graciously donated every single item we asked for—and more! As of now, we are still waiting for a call from Catholic Charities to tell us where everything can be moved. The apartment will be somewhere in or just outside of Portland so the family is able to get to and from their required classes in Portland. Families must also be in country to sign an apartment lease in person before we are given permission to move in. So when we do receive a call (which could be anytime) we need to be able to quickly jump into action and literally get a move on!
We won’t know who the family is or where they are coming from until we know their address, but we eagerly and prayerfully anticipate their arrival. In the meantime we are collecting school supplies to make school kits for displaced people around the world. If you would like to get involved, please see this week’s Need Sheet for items to buy.