Refugee Work Interview with Ashley
- Talk about your ministry with refugees. What brought you to it? How long have you done it? What’s your role?
In 2007, a week after I graduated from Baylor University, I went overseas to serve. For seven years, I went and partnered with different ministries, churches, and individuals for several months at a time and come alongside their vision of what God led them to do. Every season, God would highlight different people groups or vulnerable children that I felt led to serve such as orphans, former child soldiers, Muslims, refugees, internally displaced people, and anyone affected by terrorism.
I began working with refugees in the Middle East in the winter of 2014 and knew very early on that I would relocate and move to the Middle East to continue working with the refugees there. I moved to Northern Iraq in February of 2015 and completed my one-year commitment with my sending organization in February of 2016.
My role during that time was to serve as a staff member of a safe house that cared for girls and women who had been in captivity with ISIS. My role also included orienting new staff and providing logistical support for those serving in the safe house.
- Describe your most fulfilling day in this role. Describe your most challenging day in this role.
I think every day provided something special. One of the most fulfilling things to witness was the change of countenance on the women’s faces from the day they arrived until the day they left the safe house program. When the women arrived through the gate of the house, most of them had a look of death, terror, and shame; however, when they left, they had smiles on their faces and said they felt beautiful and had hope to continue on with life.
Every day was challenging. Spiritual warfare is something that is very real. We would experience a lot of opposition almost every day in several ways like miscommunication, misunderstanding, or division within the team or from the local contacts.
One of the most challenging days I remember was one on which several of the girls continually went into flash backs throughout the day, one girl had two seizures, another girl received a phone call telling her that her three brothers had been beheaded by ISIS, and constant spiritual warfare that created a lot of chaos and confusion. I always had to be prepared for anything and everything that could take place both in the spiritual and in the physical sense.
- Is there anything that surprised you about refugees that you didn’t know before you worked with them?
People are people. Everywhere I have traveled and no matter with whom I speak, a rich person or a refugee, we are all broken people in need of a Savior. I see refugees like my own family so I don’t think there is anything that really surprised me about them.
- What or who are all the players who influence what you can offer? (i.e. Local government? USAID? Your agency? Local churches? Individuals who come to serve short term?)
As of March 2016, the organization with which I served has pulled out of Northern Iraq to regroup and reassess where they would like to focus their ministry efforts. During my time serving in Northern Iraq, we partnered with the local Kurdish government and Ministry of Religion under Yazidi Affairs. We received financial and volunteer staff support through churches and individuals, mostly from North America and Europe.
- What is something you have learned that can help other global workers in their work with refugees?
I think it is important to constantly be learning. Reading books about the region in which you live, about the culture or people group with whom you work, the history of the people you serve, and learning the heart language of the people groups with whom you work are all extremely beneficial. I think getting in God’s presence daily and learning His voice above any other voice is crucial in successfully working with refugees and loving them well.
- Tell us about a refugee individual or family you’ve encountered. In brief, where has their journey brought them, and what can they hope for? (i.e. Will they be in a refugee camp all their life? Are they trying to get to a different country or integrate here? Etc.)
These 140+ women who came through our safe house were very satisfied with the life they lived on Shingal Mountain. All the women who came through our home were sold to a city in Iraq or Syria and had escaped. Some are still in refugee camps; however, many of them have moved on to Germany for further counseling and education. They have mixed emotions. Many would like to return to their life on the mountain; however, they know that dream will most likely not be reality, nor would it be the same if they returned due to the death of so many loved ones. A lot of the women believe Germany is their answer and life will be much better once they get there; but there is also a struggle because Germany is very different from their homeland and the pain of what has happened to them is still with them.
I think educating these women, empowering them, and providing a place for their voice to be heard is a step for healing to take place. Once hope is placed in their hearts they can begin to dream and create again and understand that there is life after tragedy. I also believe constant intercession on behalf of the Yazidi people is crucial during this time of restoration and redemption. Jesus will make all things new in His time and make beauty from ashes.
- Your job is hard. What keeps you going? Is there a passage of Scripture that motivates you? The story of a person you met? What self-care do you intentionally engage in so you will last?
Something that has helped me is intentionally praying throughout the day and worshipping through song even when I do not feel like praying or singing. I love having worship music playing throughout the house as much as possible.
I think about the life of Paul and how he endured much suffering. I believe something that has helped my while serving in the Middle East is to remember the cause to which I am committed for the sake of the Gospel. Knowing the truth of God’s Word and praying it over my life and the lives of my teammates and choosing not to believe the lies and accusations of the enemy has also been helpful. I have had to do that more times than I can count. I learned this the hard way. I have a wonderful prayer and support group that prayed for me throughout the year. Something I failed to do was really reach out to these people when things got really hard. I would send a monthly prayer update; however, there were days that I could have had some major intercession and waging war type prayers done on behalf of what was happening on the field.
In January of 2016, I intentionally sought out five women to whom I could send a quick message and they would immediately pray for me. Sometimes they would Facetime me for 5 minutes and pray right then. There is so much power and healing and victory when I am able to share my struggles, insecurities, and weaknesses to trusted friends and sisters and they speak the truth of God’s Word over my life.
In regards to self-care, I would give myself pedicures, go get a massage at a nearby hotel, or have a nice meal somewhere. I would also leave the country for some proper R&R and remove myself from the spiritual dynamic of the land to refresh and then return in a healthier state.
- How can we pray for you?
I am in a season of transition. I need wisdom for my next steps and clarity with some opportunities ahead. I have grown to love Northern Iraq and I would love to return there; however, I am open to wherever the Lord desires to send me.
Please pray that
God’s continual protection would be upon me
He would give me favor with presidents and leaders of nations and governments
He would give me an increased ability to learn language wherever I am
He would give me songs of hope and deliverance to sing over the broken-hearted worldwide.
God would grant the financial provision to remain on the field, financial provision to continue my master’s degree in trauma counseling, and financial provision for the transition time of inner healing and waiting on the Lord for this next season
About the authorView all articles by: Ashley Harrington
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