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When Faith is Tested

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

Children inspire me in very special ways.  I find they often feel the needs of others more deeply than adults, they see injustice in things we often overlook, and when inspired they can be amazingly generous in their desire to help others.  Over 800 children from the community came to participate in the Vacation Bible School activities at Fellowship Reformed Church in Hudsonville, MI, this week.  They played games, did arts and crafts and ate lots of cookies.  They also learned about some global refugee realities. 

As the children learned about the Bible, and the way it can guide us in our lives, they also heard that many refugees do not have a Bible of their own, due to the fact that they had to run away from their homes and leave most of their belongings behind.  They also do not have access to shopping malls, book stores, or Amazon to purchase them while living in isolated refugee camps and settlements. 

This inspired the children to raise money for bibles for refugees through the work of IAFR.  Together, over 4 days, the kids raised over $8,000 to buy 800+ Bibles.  This was far and away the largest amount of money raised in the history of the VBS program.  They have sent us a message in their generosity: that we can all come together to help those who walk the refugee highway, and let them know that they are not forgotten. 

Thank you so much to Fellowship and the VBS program!

-written by Jake Tornga

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.


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.


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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