- Talk about your ministry with refugees. What brought you to it? How long have you done it? What’s your role?
My husband and I were sent to the Middle East nearly 4 years ago to work with Syrian refugees. I was pregnant with our first child at the time and we now have 2 kids. My husband’s role is emergency relief coordinator and I stay home and support him and our family. Many years ago he spent time in Sudan, resulting in a passion for relief work. I knew when I met him that if we married I would end up somewhere in the world away from home.
We work in a town that had a population of 80,000 and now has a population of 180,000 because of the refugees. There is a refugee camp along the border less than 10 kilometers from our town. In the beginning, people bypassed the camp altogether, but now the refugees coming are those who have left the camp looking for something better. We give mattresses, pillows, blankets, cooking stoves, gas bottles, and floor mats to each family that comes to us asking for help. We drive a truck and deliver each and every item to their place of residence. We have served more than 36,000 individuals this way. Our follow up ministry is to visit people in their homes bringing food packages and diapers. In this culture it is an honor for people to come and visit you, so by going and spending time drinking tea or coffee together the people feel honored.
This is a unique time in history where people of the majority religion are welcoming us into their homes. If they were not in such great need there would be no reason for us to visit them. The real conversations happen during these visits. People are open right now.
- Describe your most fulfilling day in this role. Describe your most challenging day in this role.
While we continue to provide relief essentials, we have also moved on to development with a focus on education. We have a fully functional school for 95 children (teaching math, science, Arabic, and English), English classes for adults, computer classes, women’s trauma healing, sewing classes. Soon we will begin teaching blacksmithing.
Because I am often in the house looking after our children, I do not have as much opportunity to work directly with refugees. Last fall I started teaching a sewing class once a week in order to use some of my skills and invest in some women. The women learn embroidery, beading, and hand sewing. Others are learning crochet, jewelry making, and machine sewing. It amazed me that some of the ladies did not even know how to use a pair of scissors. It brings me great joy to see the smiling faces of women who have gone through so much. The classes provide a safe environment where community is created. They are so eager to learn. It is extremely fulfilling to see these women in a safe place and to see them happy after they have been through so much.
- Is there anything that surprised you about refugees that you didn’t know before you worked with them?
They do not sit around waiting to be helped. They push and shove and make their presence known in order to stand out. They have no shame in asking for help. If they see an opportunity to gain something they are persistent until they get something. While this can be tiring from our end we do our best to help and love them as they are in “survival mode”.
- 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?)
We work through a local church and have about 30 long term and about 1000 short term volunteers each year. People come from all over the world from churches, organizations, by themselves, etc.
- What is something you have learned that can help other global workers in their work with refugees?
Refugees need restored community. We have to create community and bring some sort of meaning back into their lives. Their trust in people has been broken and it is not easy to bring it back.
- 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.)
The refugees in this country are not allowed to work. Their situation is hopeless in the sense that they cannot rebuild a normal life here if they can’t work. Many of them have given up on their dream to return to Syria. They have given up on their life goals and dreams because those dreams were made in Syria.
- 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?
Let us love not in word or speech, but in truth and action. 1 John 3:18
We have found that we must leave our town or the country periodically to rejuvenate.
- How can we pray for you?
Please pray for strength for endurance. The needs of people are endless which can take a toll. We also live in a country where we are not wanted as foreigners which is very burdensome.