A radiant smile overwhelmed the tears on the face of my friend as she shared about her husband’s imminent surgery for a brain tumor. This mother of three boys, a refugee, had already endured the permanent loss of home and country as well as the death, imprisonment, or disappearance of countless loved ones. Yet she was filled with gratitude to God for access to medical care even as she shared about her husband’s life-threatening illness.
From my perspective as someone raised in comparative affluence, freedom, and abundance, it was hard to understand how my friend could be so joyful in the face of what looked like overwhelming tragedy to me. Yet throughout her husband’s surgery and the years of follow-up therapy, this friend would regularly proclaim the goodness of God.
Recently while drinking coffee together she said again, “Rachel, everything in this life is a gift. How can I not thank God for the good things I have?” Where I would be tempted to ask God why, she has responded with joy and perseverance through yet another life-altering challenge. And it is not just this woman; I have often heard those who have lost everything humanly speaking declare the gifts and goodness of God in simple things I take for granted as “basic rights” and subtly have come to believe are owed to me.
The perspective and gratitude of this woman, as many other refugees I have met, have challenged my faith in ways I find difficult to put into words. Poverty takes on many forms, and the physical poverty of many refugees pales in comparison with the spiritual poverty that can grow from living a life of relative physical ease where we too often tie God’s character and love to the difficulty or comfort of our circumstances. We have so much to learn and gain from our refugee brothers and sisters whose faith has endured gut-wrenching injustice and Job-like sorrow. Let us listen well and learn from the faith and resilience of those who have truly walked through fire.
“…the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy….” 1 Peter 1:7-8
-written by Rachel Uthmann