“Refugees are more than people in need.”
This is one of the phrases we at IAFR repeat the most when speaking to churches or groups about caring for refugees and other displaced people. While many displaced people live in a state of great vulnerability and have very real needs, they are not just refugees. They are people made in the image of God, with gifts and blessings to offer and so much to teach us about faithfulness, hope, and loving our neighbors.
For those of us who because of economics or cultural dominance are used to being in the position of 'helper', it can take a lot of work to reorient our posture from rescuer and 'meeter-of-needs' to someone who is also a learner, friend, and a person looking to come alongside and behind the dreams and solutions of refugees themselves.
One step in this direction in daily life is to allow the displaced people we long to help to see and meet our needs. Engaging in this kind of reciprocal relationship can be very uncomfortable for people who are used to seeing themselves as the helpers and refugees as the hopefully grateful recipients of their charity.
On a recent trip I heard a beautiful story of an American working with refugees who is living out this kind of authentic, reciprocal relationship. He has a Syrian friend who survives by rifling through dumpsters in Istanbul looking for usable goods or things that could be sold. One day while digging through others’ trash, the Syrian man found a small pair of shoes and realized the size looked just about right for his American friend’s young son. So he cleaned them up and brought them, these shoes from a dumpster, to the young boy.
Thankfully, the boy received the shoes with gratitude, regularly wearing them for months to come – this precious gift from their Syrian friend. And thankfully his parents weren’t too proud to receive the hospitality of the Syrian man expressed in this unusual gift. Instead they gave their heartfelt thanks and allowed this person -- who the much of the world sees as a burden or something to be cast away, like so many of the items in the dumpsters -- to be a source of blessing to them.
-by Rachel Uthmann