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Learning from refugees

Refugees bring a wealth of experience and perspective.  When we’re willing to get to know them, we deeply enrich one another’s lives. Here are three things I’ve learned from my refugee friends.

Generosity

One definition of generosity is having “a readiness to give more of something than is expected.” Refugees have often lost everything, and presently live in demanding situations full of unknowns and insecurities. Logic might tell us that people in refugee camps are simply supposed to be receivers of generosity from others, but this has not been my experience. When you meet refugees, when you walk through a refugee camp or community, you find people who are generous in truly inspiring ways.

I have seen members of refugee churches give 10% of their monthly food ration to orphans and widows in their community. I have heard refugee Christians praying for hours and hours for victims of natural disasters and persecution in other countries around the world. I have been blessed with meals fit for a king from families I know would not eat for days to come. I have been welcomed into family and community events of people from tribes and religions that are not my own.All of these and more are living examples of pure and perfect generosity. Refugees have taught me what it means to have a constant readiness to give more than is expected.

Thankfulness + Gratitude

As I have lived and worked with refugees, their lifestyle of gratitude has deeply impacted me.  I have found this to be something unique about refugees - they do not lose sight of the blessings in their lives, especially in the midst of the struggle.  They do not lose sight of the good things even when they are surrounded with pain, struggle, and hopelessness. This is one reason I believe all nations would benefit from welcoming refugees with open arms. 

My refugee friends manage to keep a proper perspective in life, and this inspires me. They appreciate and feel deeply what they have, not what they don’t have. In my experience, refugees are always ready to show appreciation for assistance and any good thing that comes to them. They acknowledge these with kindness and with thanks, and feel deeper joy than most people do when someone is kind to them. Their spirit of gratitude is contagious, and I have been blessed by it in many ways in my life.

Perseverance

I have seen so many refugees have their dreams dashed time and again, only to keep working, keep fighting, and keep going.  Every obstacle you can imagine has come against them: people have lied to them and cheated them, friends they trusted have turned their backs on them, all their hard work has come to naught due to wars and fighting in their country. Yet I have seen these same people find new ways to move forward, find new reasons for hope, and find new ways to work harder when doors are continually closed in their faces. 

I have met refugees who completed college degrees in their own country, but lost all their documents in the wars and destruction of their villages.So they started over in a new country, and completed their course work a second time, just to do what they loved. I have seen 40 and 50 year old men and women going back to school or learning a skill they have dreamed of since they were children, but were prevented from achieving because of their situations.I have seen refugees with business ideas and innovations be threatened and harassed all along their journey, only to one day succeed and turn around and bless others.

It takes resiliency and perseverance to get back up time and again, and to start all the way from zero multiple times in life.Very rarely are there small setbacks in the life of a refugee, they are often huge setbacks most of us cannot imagine.Yet these incredible people find a way to keep hope when the world takes it away. They have shown me what real perseverance looks like, and I am a better person because of it.

-written by Jake Tornga

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