Sacred Meals and Invitations

This morning I slowly opened my eyes to bright sunlight. As I lay in bed, still sleepy, I reflected back on the last few days and on Thanksgiving, just hours before.

A dear friend arrived on Tuesday from Ghana to stay with us. The first time she ever came to the United States was as an 18-year-old from Karachi, Pakistan, here to attend college in Western Massachusetts. She arrived just days after the 9/11 attacks that sent the world into a spin and redefined wars and border crossings. Mariam has now lived in multiple countries with her family, and writes well on what it is to be globally mobile. She is the epitome of what it looks like to learn and grow across cultures and communicate across boundaries.

Her arrival sparked stories and conversations that have been lying dormant in my heart. These global connections are more than friendships – they are opportunities to share stories, they are ways to promote understanding, they are journeys into our hearts and what is really going on. Every morning we have curled up on my couch with homemade lattes, savoring the sweetness and time. These hidden stories don’t make sense to everyone, but they do to Mariam.

Yesterday we worked together to prepare a Thanksgiving feast. Traditional turkey and stuffing blended with Palak Paneer and parathas with a goal to make sure every guest was suitably full to the brim with food and thanks.

It was an eclectic group of us around the table. In today’s climate, some may consider it a dangerous Thanksgiving. An American raised in Pakistan and an American raised in the military feasted with friends from Pakistan, India, Afghanistan, and Iran. There were no walls and there was no talk of walls.

There were stories topped with cranberry sauce, thankful hearts accompanied by whipped cream. There were linguistic comparisons and nostalgia over favorite foods from passport countries, there were missed references and laughter to make your stomach hurt.

There is something sacred about sharing a meal. In the liturgy of our faith tradition we experience the bread and the wine, the body and the blood in remembrance of a meal. But the sacred act of sharing a meal continues when we, equipped through the liturgy, go out into the world. That is why the meals that Christ shared while on earth feel so important. As humans, our need for food and water, the reaching across a table to share these with simple words like “please pass the bread” bind us together in mysterious and hopeful ways. Author Leslie Verner says “A meal equalizes, for as we dine together, we lift the same utensils to our lips and touch the same bread to our tongues.”

There are times when I lose hope for this country, land of my birth and my passport. I wonder how a place with so many resources and such abundance can collectively operate without generosity, with an ethos of scarcity instead of abundance. I think about the lessons I have learned about hospitality and invitations, living out of abundance from the land of my childhood, and the lands that I have loved and lived in as an adult. I lose hope for myself, for how quickly I get caught up in the pervading attitude of “me first” and others last. I feel anger toward the fact that in a worldwide crisis of displacement and refugees, a nation with room to spare has stalled resettlement.

But when I think about yesterday, about a room full of people from around the world who gathered with laughter and joy for a shared meal, I know that’s not the whole story. I know there is more. I know that there are many opening up their homes and making room for more; many who hate walls and want to build bridges.

And I am convinced that inviting others into our homes is one of the most hopeful acts of resistance possible.

We are going into a season of excess and abundance – my prayer is that we – that I – channel that abundance into loving well and serving more, that I channel it into invitations and hospitality.

The ending paragraph of the book Invited is nothing less than inspired. Throughout the book we see an invitation to a different way of living and being, a way of living out of abundance not scarcity. So I close with her words on this day after thanksgiving, inviting all of us into another way to live.

Lord, pry the film from our eyes, the scales from our skin, the shield and sword from our hands. Equip us to notice the stranger and the strange. Embolden us to be the stranger and the strange. Pull us into the flow of your Spirit at work in the world, infusing our ordinary days with your extraordinary presence. Hold open our eyes to to admire your wonders and delight in your mysteries. Fill us with gratitude for the paths you’ve paved for us, and all the ways you’ve proven that you are Emmanuel, God with us.

Motivate us to always invite, because you never stop inviting. Inspire us to welcome, because you lavish generosity on us and promise to refill the gifts we give away.

Come Lord Jesus.

Let us live like invited ones.

Epilogue of Invited by Leslie Verner


Refugee Quotes


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“Unless the world finds compassion for this new communality, learns to make sense of one another’s voices, its humanity will perish.”*

I have been a stranger in many places around the world. In those places, I slowly found a place and a home. It hasn’t always been easy, but there are many times and many ways that I have been welcomed as a stranger and given food and comfort.

It is a gift to be welcomed into places where you are different from those who surround you. It is a gift that you never forget; a gift that you want to pass on.

Wherever they go, the refugee arrives as a stranger with a story. These stories encompass all that it means to be human. They speak of fear and courage; of despair and hope. They help us to see beyond our comfortable lives, and give us a heart to help. If we are willing to listen.

Today I am asking you to listen to the voices of refugees and for refugees. As you read through these quotes, remember this: We cannot sit back, comfortable in our security, because someday it will be us.


“No one puts their children in a boat, unless the water is safer than the land.” excerpt from “Home” by Warsan Shire

This is a century of dislocation not merely of body and home, but also of empathy, dignity, compassion.”-From Refugees Don’t Need Your Pity

“They have no idea what it is like to lose home at the risk of never finding home again, have your entire life split between two lands and become the bridge between two countries.”
— Rupi Kaur, Milk & Honey

To be called a refugee is the opposite of an insult; it is a badge of strength, courage, and victory.” Tennessee Office for Refugees

“If we lived in a just world, all nations would protect their citizens’ human rights. But that’s not our world. Refugees are just one result of injustice. Crucially, they didn’t cause their plight; rather, they are victims of profound injustice. Because their home nation cannot or will not protect even their basic human rights, they must migrate in search of protection. They are entitled to this protection, as all of us are, simply by virtue of being human.” Patti Tamara Lenard, “Who should pay for the refugees? Here are five possible answers.” Washington Post, February 8, 2016

…If the world measures a refugee according to the worst story, we will always excuse human suffering, saying it is not yet as bad as someone else’s.” Victoria Armour-Hileman

The way a government treats refugees is very instructive because it shows you how they would treat the rest of us if they thought they could get away with it.- Tony Behn “Living Like a Refugee: New York Must Do More to Help Its Homeless”, The Observer, September 9, 2015

So often the world sits idly by, watching ethnic conflicts flare up, as if these were mere entertainment rather than human beings whose lives are being destroyed. Shouldn’t the existence of even one single refugee be a cause for alarm throughout the world?” Urkhan Alakbarov

“While every refugee’s story is different and their anguish personal, they all share a common thread of uncommon courage – the courage not only to survive, but to persevere and rebuild their shattered lives.” Antonio Guterres, U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees

*From Refugees Don’t Need Your Pity

Remember! Purchase Passages Through Pakistan and royalties will go to refugees in the Middle East. 


Lenten Journey – “I was a Stranger”


What is our first reaction, our spontaneous response, when we meet the stranger? 

“Who let’s these people in here anyway?” asked the man. He was agitated, shaking his head in complete dismay. “I mean” he paused “The woman who served me coffee the other day was Moroccan!” His voice was raised in incredulity at the end of this declaration. The man was a casual friend of ours and he was speaking to my husband on a chance meeting at a convenience store nearby.

My husband took a second then responded calmly “Who let your people in here?”


But our friend didn’t hesitate and was not to be silenced. “My people came on the Boat!” he said with authority and pride. He did not have to specify “which” boat. Depending where you live, this conversation is not uncommon. It is not nearly as rare as I would wish it to be.

The French philosopher Zvetan Tdorov puts this response well when he says that “our first spontaneous reaction in regards to the stranger is to imagine him as inferior, since he is different from us”.  If one could see the unfiltered version when any one of us confronts difference in the form of a stranger, they may see this response.

Daily in our world we encounter the stranger.

Some times the encounters are interesting, intriguing, fun, joyful. Other times encounters are troubling, assaulting us with faces, smells, clothes, and accents that exacerbate the differences we feel and make us uncomfortable. Sometimes those feelings of discomfort spill over into anger or judgment.

And now I speak to the Christian who is reading — the one who believes that the gospel message is for all people. Hear this: the way we confront difference, the way we treat the stranger, reflects what we believe. If we consider the stranger to be inferior because he or she is different then we’d best ask ourselves ‘why’, best examine our motivation and our heart.

“For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in,naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.”*

The stranger – that one who is foreign, not one of us, the unknown.  From Genesis to Hebrews to James we have clear instruction and wisdom on how to treat the stranger. The words of Jesus call us to feed the hungry, bring drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, visit the sick, come to the prisoner. The writer of Hebrews asks us to show ‘hospitality to strangers for by it some have entertained angels’. Hospitality holds a high premium in Middle Eastern culture, both now and in Old Testament times. The verse below is not ambiguous in its command:

‘When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the Lord your God.’

We are told to “love” the stranger. Not just tolerate, not pass by, not ignore – but to love.

International students, immigrants, refugees – they all fall under the category of the ‘stranger’. The journeys that brought them to the United States are as varied as the tapestry of experiences that make up their lives.

Take international students as an example. Figures vary, but the United States has over 800,000 international students that arrive every fall for the academic year. Statistics on international students show that 80% of them never set foot in and American home. Never. Former world leaders who were international students at one time include Benazir Bhutto, Fidel Castro, and King Abdullah of Jordan. The state department maintains a list of current world leaders who at one time participated in American academic programs. The list includes almost 300 former or current leaders.

I have to ask myself – were they ever invited into the home of an American? Was hospitality extended to them during their tenure as students? Or did they come to this country and leave, without so much as a cup of coffee in the home of someone from the United States?

Who is the stranger in our midst? Who is the stranger in your midst? 

And how do we respond to that stranger?

Can we ask ourselves this question and be honest in our responses? What is our first spontaneous reaction in regard to a stranger? What is our response to difference?

Do we consider some worthy of our hospitality and others unworthy? Some superior because they are attractive, or white, or clean, or smart, or beautiful? Do we love only those with whom we agree, because we believe the same things on faith and God? Do we believe those who look like us are somehow more worthy of God’s love and of ours?  Do we love because of obligation or duty which is really no love at all? Do we believe we are more lovable because of who we are and how we live?

Or do we love because first we were loved?

Two weeks ago, I began my Lenten journey. Daily I am reminded of the journey to the cross, made possible by the love of God. If there was ever one to meet the stranger it was Jesus, the God-Man. Leaving all that was rightfully his, he came into our midst and encountered a world that didn’t know what to do with a Messiah. He engaged the stranger and found out their story, he entered into their story, and by entering their story – their lives were never the same. He lived, died, and rose again for the estranged and the stranger. Loving the stranger is not a philosophical idea, it is a spiritual command. 

Reflection Question: During this Lenten season, how will I better love and care for the stranger? 

Purchase Passages to Pakistan and give to refugees! A portion of every purchase goes toward refugee work in the Middle East.

*Matthew 25:35

An Appeal to Choose Fact over Fear 

“Including those murdered in the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 (9/11), the chance of an American perishing in a terrorist attack on U.S. soil that was committed by a foreigner over the 41-year period studied here is 1 in 3.6 million per year. The hazard posed by foreigners who entered on different visa categories varies considerably. For instance, the chance of an American being murdered in a terrorist attack caused by a refugee is 1 in 3.64 billion per year while the chance of being murdered in an attack committed by an illegal immigrant is an astronomical 1 in 10.9 billion per year. By contrast, the chance of being murdered by a tourist on a B visa, the most common tourist visa, is 1 in 3.9 million per year. Any government response to terrorism must take account of the wide range of hazards posed by foreign-born terrorists who entered under various visa categories.” From Cato Institute Terrorism and Immigration, A Risk Analysis.

It is three o’clock in the morning and I can’t sleep. Maybe it’s all the excitement of turning the good age of Heinz 57 sauce, maybe it’s the excitement of a birthday where I heard from people around the world – I’m not sure, but it seemed as good a time as any to write.

If you ask people about the refugee crisis, they will generally think of Syria. Images of Aleppo have haunted our media and us. We see before and after pictures and cringe at the destruction and death that shadow once thriving markets and neighborhoods.

The horror in Syria is real and it is right that we pay attention, but not at the expense of forgetting the refugee situation in the Horn of Africa. In its third decade, the Somali refugee situation is the most prolonged in the world. Donor and compassion fatigue add to the hopelessness that many of these refugees feel. Babies are born in exile while grandparents die in exile. And it is unconscionable to forget Afghanistan and Iraq, two countries with massive internal and external displacement, something that the West must take partial responsibility for due to our involvement since 2001 and 2003.

It is this humanitarian crisis, considered the worst in recent history, that will be affected by the order temporarily banning refugees into the United States.

For 6 years I have been writing about refugees in the United States and around the world. This group of people has had my heart for years; not just because it has suddenly become popular.

This past 24 hours we have watched a wealthy, western country bow to an idol of safety that headlines fear instead of fact.

I am not a scholar, but there are scholars and researchers that study this issue with carefully collected statistics and low margins of error. Here is what an institute that studies immigration points out:*

  • For 30 of the 41 years studied (1975-2015) no Americans were killed on U.S. soil in terrorist attacks caused by foreigners or immigrants.
  • For every 7.38 million nonterrorist person who entered the country in studied visa categories, one foreign-born terrorist entered. Important note: This does not mean that the terrorist was successful in killing people. In fact, in the vast majority of cases, they were unsuccessful.
  • Of the 3,252,493 refugees admitted from 1975 to the end of 2015, only three of refugee status killed anyone. That was in the 1970s and they were Cuban. The Tsarnaev brothers of the Boston Marathon bombing came to the U.S. on tourist visas and later applied for asylum.
  • The vast majority of foreigners who committed terrorist attacks did so on tourist visas. 99.7 percent of the murders committed by terrorists on tourist visas occurred on 9/11 by 18 men.
  • A sensible terrorism screening policy must do more good than harm to justify its existence, meaning that the cost of the damage the policy prevents should at least equal the cost it imposes.

The article is a clear, non-emotional appeal to reason. The conclusion is that the United States should continue to devote resources to screening immigrants  and refugees, but that a moratorium would impose “far greater risks than benefits”. 

I will now appeal on an emotional level. 

To those of you who are concerned, can I challenge you to learn more about refugees? I encourage you to listen to some personal stories and ask refugees questions about their journeys. Get to know the people inside the statistics.

Here are some questions I would pose:

  1. What is your personal experience with refugees and immigrants? This includes your own family history. How does this experience affect your view of refugees and immigrants?
  2. What is your greatest fear about refugees? When did you begin feeling this way?
  3. If you are part of a faith tradition, what does your faith teach about strangers? Aliens? Those who are not the same as you are? 

As humans, many factors go into our deeply held beliefs. It is easy to turn our backs on issues, unwilling to be challenged.  It is also dehumanizing to see people just as an “issue”. We must see people as people, as image-bearers, not issues.

It is far more difficult to turn our backs when we see real people, when we know people by name. To turn away those in such desperate need is to deny our own humanity.

So I beg you, study current policies. Read the report I’ve cited. Fight the fear. Stand for justice. Seek the welfare of the cities where you live, and that means working for the displaced and the homeless; for the refugee and the poor.

Choose to walk away from fear. Choose to love as you are loved; choose to offer your heart and your resources to those in need.

It’s no longer the time to sit back and wonder what you think. It’s time to think and act.

It’s time to stand for all that is true and good and holy and just. 


Here are ways to help:

  • Find out more about the resettlement process from the Office of Refugee Resettlement. You can also find ways to help here:
  • Give to Heart for Lebanon – This is an amazing organization that works with refugees around Lebanon focusing on food distribution and education. The organization is based on developing relationships with refugees. I can’t speak highly enough about this organization.
  • Make health/hygiene kits. I reached out to this group and they responded with this: Thank you so much for your email – and your support for our mission. We will gladly accept shipments at our Tigard Oregon Distribution Center – 14150 SW Milton Court, Tigard OR 97224. Again, thank you for your interest in our project – We are so touched by the kindness and compassion from people around the U.S.”

*Cato Institute – Terrorism and Immigration: A Risk Analysis 

Valley of Weeping

We arrived in the Bekaa Valley and immediately felt the temperature change. It was cold and damp, the sun hidden behind a grey cloud. We entered a cold, concrete warehouse full of large, blue bags and boxes. This is where food and supplies are stored for refugees in the area. A truck was parked outside and volunteers were busy filling it with bags and boxes, all part of todays food distribution.

Inside the building we met Bashir, the director of Heart for Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley location. He explained to us that this is the hub for the 13 camps and thousands of refugees that they have committed to working with in the area. We would be going to visit a school and then head to a camp where we would be part of a regular food distribution. Along the way, we would meet and hear the stories of a few refugee families.

The school was a few miles away and up a gravel road. A mural on the outside, painted in primary colors, brought a bright splash of color to an otherwise bleak building. The inside, as though defying the outside to determine its fate, was full of life and learning. The school principal explained that the school focused on the neediest kids, kids who were orphans or who had lost at least one parent in the Syrian conflict. There was room for 75 kids and he said that parents are constantly pleading with them to accept their children. Many of the refugee kids have no opportunities to go to school and have now missed two to three years of critical learning. No school means long days at refugee camps with hundreds of children. No school means a generation lost to learning the basics.

We visited each classroom, watching dedicated teachers, some of them refugees themselves, focus on English, Arabic, and Mathematics. I longed to whisk some of the kids away and soak them in a hot tub for hours. It’s hard to keep clean with no running water, and kids around the world attract dirt like magnets attract metal.

Our next stop was at a camp around fifteen minutes away. The camp had 165 tents and with an average of ten people per tent, hundreds of residents. The food and supplies truck had already arrived and men were busy unloading. We received instructions: Each family would get one bag of food that contained sugar, tea, lentils, salt, rice and a few more basic supplies. Added to that we put three containers of oil, a bottle of dishwashing liquid, and soap into a bag. We got to work filling bags while the volunteers called a member of each family over to receive their allotment.

Most of the families from this camp came from farming communities in Syria. They are used to hard work, and life has never been easy for them. But refugee status has added a whole new level of ‘hard’ to their existence. Each family pays for the tents that they live in, $600 per year to use the land. The camp is isolated, far away from any stores or businesses. Men try to find work, but it is limited to informal arrangements as they don’t have legal status to work. Being paid ‘under the table’ means that you have no rights to argue your pay. You take what you get and move forward.

While the food distribution continued, we walked through the camp to visit a family. Taking off our shoes, we walked across the carpeted ground and sat on pillows set up around the sides of the tent. We asked the family their story. They were farmers in Syria near Aleppo — the family had 1500 olive trees that they tended and used as income generators. They lived simply, but the olive trees had been in the family for generations. With ISIS coming in and wreaking havoc, they fled to nearby Lebanon and had been at this camp for over 15 months. The olive trees were gone now, chopped up for firewood, no longer a living thing offering fruit and oil.

The extended family was large and growing, with a pregnant daughter-in-law as well as other family back in Syria.

Just one family. Just one story. But symbolic of so many more. Olive trees gone to waste, trees that had stood for generations helping a large farming family survive. Gone. Tragically cut down by people who care nothing for life. A family displaced, living in extreme cold and extreme heat in the Bekaa Valley of Lebanon.

We left the family, knowing we had so little to give. Now, a week after leaving Lebanon, I write this so I remember. So the pictures stay in my heart and mind a little while longer, so that I don’t forget. The rallying cry of these refugees is “Don’t forget. Don’t forget us. Remember us. Pray for us. Tell our stories.” And so I must.

We said our goodbyes and left the valley in late afternoon, driving up through a mountain pass where a thick fog blurred the valley below. Looking out the window, vision blurred, I thought about a Psalm I memorized years before:

How blessed is the man whose strength is in You,
         In whose heart are the highways to Zion!

Passing through the valley of Baca they make it a spring;
         The early rain also covers it with blessings.

They go from strength to strength,
         Every one of them appears before God in Zion.*

I look at the history of the verse and understand that historically this is a valley of weeping. And so these refugee tents full of people are scattered across this valley of weeping, this valley of tears. I can only pray that along with the tears is a God who sees and remembers, a God who will turn this valley into blessing.

*Psalm 84:5-7

Note: This week I hope to relay several stories from our time in Lebanon and Jordan. Thank you for your interest.

And We’re Back…

Last night we arrived back to Terminal E at Logan International Airport. The trip began early morning in Lebanon and by the time we arrived we had been up for 24 hours.

A wet snow was falling as we made our way out of the terminal, a contrast to our 60 degrees and sunny in both Jordan and Lebanon.

There is a lot to reflect on and think about as we readjust to our day jobs and seek to live faithfully in a place that we don’t find easy.

We are richer in spirit and are humbled by what we have seen and heard.

These are some first thoughts on return. More stories will be coming, stories that are important to hear, but for now these are the things most on my heart.

  1. “Refugees all want to come here”..this is a myth perpetuated by a faux media. They want safety and to go home. It is arrogant of the West to think that all want to come to this part of the world. It is wrong of the Church to base decisions on fear instead of prayer and wisdom.
  2. The churches in Jordan and Lebanon are deeply involved in helping in the crisis. They are tireless in their efforts to feed, clothe, educate, and provide health care for refugees. No penny you give will be wasted. I have provided links to two organizations that I guarantee give money to projects directly helping refugees in their daily lives.
  3. The problem is so huge there is no room for competition or territorialism. There is only room for collaboration and hard work. No one organization or group of people can possibly handle the scope of refugee work that exists. Competition hurts the very people that the organization wants to serve.
  4. In every crisis, there are opportunists. This is the hardest thing for me to come to terms with. Exploiting the marginalized, the refugee, the hurting is nothing new – but there are infinitely creative ways to do this. My heart hurts deeply for this. Da’esh (ISIS) is one evil, opportunists are another. The way to intervene is to offer appropriate help.
  5. Babies are born in the worst of circumstances. They are a picture of grace in the midst of difficulty. I’ll write more later on the importance of offering good forms of birth control. I would gently challenge anyone against birth control to visit a refugee camp and not reconsider their position.
  6. I have been challenged more than ever to pray and believe that the Church has a significant role to play. It is a role of service, prayer, and help. It is a place for the Church to show what it is made of and to live out the Gospel message.
  7. There is only one who is the Saviour, and I am not that Saviour. Yes, I hope I have a role to play, but I have to see my role through the eyes of humility and grace. There is no place for arrogance.

It was a gift to be with my husband on this journey and hear stories together. Thank you to those who have followed us on this trip.

On this Martin Luther King Day, I am reminded to pray that voices and lives rise up for peace and justice around the world. In the words of Amos the prophet: “Take away from Me the noise of your songs; I will not even listen to the sound of your harps. But let justice roll down like waters And righteousness like an ever-flowing stream”

  • Conscience International – If you are interested in small projects like food distribution, helping to fund a mobile medical clinic, or helping support Syrian children go to school. CI does small projects that directly support refugees with almost no overhead.
  • Heart for Lebanon – This is an amazing organization that works with refugees around Lebanon focusing on food distribution and education. The organization is based on developing relationships with refugees. I can’t speak highly enough about this organization.

Note: We received permission to take and share all pictures that you see on this blog. 



Self-Sufficiency in 8 Months – How to Settle a Refugee

we can build walls

It came to my mind yesterday that most of us have limited knowledge of the refugee situation in the United States alone, much less the world. The purpose of this post is to give a few important facts about refugees and resettlement. Because I am in the United States, I have focused on the process here. In order to better understand the worldwide problem, I think it’s important to know what your countries rules and laws are.

Legal Definition: “A refugee, as defined by Section 101(a)42 of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), is a person who is unable or unwilling to return to his or her home country because of a “well-founded fear of persecution” due to race, membership in a particular social group, political opinion, religion, or national origin.

Brief History: The definition of the word comes from the United Nations 1951 Convention and 1967 Protocols. The definition was crafted because of the need for international protection of displaced peoples after World War II. Policies around refugee resettlement in the United States go back to 1980, when Congress passed the Refugee Act and huge numbers of Souteast Asians came to the United States under refugee status.  It was then that the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) was created.

Key Point: Our refugee policies have not been truly updated since that time! 

Process: The process is long and difficult, and the number of refugees who end up with legal citizenship in a country where they resettle is small compared to the overall number of refugees. Each year, the president submits a report to Congress called the “Proposed Refugee Admissions Report.” The overall number of refugees that the U.S will accept is proposed by the president and agreed on (or not) by congress. It’s important to note that the number of refugees actually settled is generally far fewer than the number agreed on. This is because of the cumbersome and ridiculously large amount of paperwork that goes into each person’s application. In 2014, that number was 70,000 but the actual number was around 45,000.

There are three choices for a refugee once they escape: repatriation (once safe), local integration, resettlement in a third country.

Priority for resettlement is based on three things: 

  • Priority 1: Individual cases primarily based on persecution
  • Priority 2: Key designated groups – these are selected in consultation with other groups like UNHCR.
  • Priority 3: Relatives of refugees who are already settled in the U.S. (spouses, parents, children under 21)

The process begins in camps or at borders by UNHCR. UNHCR registers refugees and determines their status. They then refer to the US Resettlement Program (USRP). Prescreening is done by Resettlement Support Center staff, followed by an onsite interview by United States Citizenship and Immigration Service and Department of Homeland Security. It is safe to say that with the increased threats and fear of terrorism, this part is grueling. Once the person is approved, they are finger printed and have security checks. The average time for processing refugees is 18 months but applications from Syrians take much longer because of security and the difficulty of verifying information. 

Key Point: The average time in a refugee camp has risen to 17 years. 

Final steps before arrival are medical screening and determining where in the United States the person will be resettled. Travel arrangements are then made by the International Organization on Migration.

Key Point: Cost of travel must be repaid within 6 months of arrival in the United States. It is not free. There is no free lunch in this process. I promise. 

On Arrival: A VOLAG (Volunatry Agency) meets the refugee on arrival and takes them to predesignated, furnished housing. During the first 90 days, VOLAGS arrange for housing, food, transportation, medical care, and employment counseling services. Each state has a state coordinator and the VOLAGS work closely with the state coordinators. Both ultimately answer to the Office of Refugee Resettlement.

Key Point: The goal of the United States Refugee Program is “Self-sufficiency after 8 months.” 

Think about that for a minute. You’ve lost everything. You hear a car backfire and you think it’s a bomb. Anyone in authority fills you with fear, because you know your life journey is literally in their hands. You grieve for the family you left behind, even as you are relieved that you are finally safe. But in eight months, you need to be a fully functioning member of society. That is an enormous task.

Difference between Immigrants, Refugees, and Asylees: An immigrant comes to the country of their own accord. Some would argue that often circumstances in their countries are so difficult that they have to look at other options, but they are not forced from their homes. Refugees and asylees must have a “well-founded fear of persecution due to race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group.”* The difference is that refugees get permission to come to a country before they arrive, whereas asylees receive permission after they arrive.

Important things to remember: Research has shown there to be four main categories of stress experienced by refugees. These are Traumatic Stress, Resettlement Stress, Acculturation Stress, and Isolation Stress.  A key part of working through this is strengthening areas that contribute to resilience in people. Among other things, family and community support for the refugee contributes to resilience and ability to move forward. Community matters. Family matters.

As I think about the current crisis, I think the photograph at the top says it all, so in closing, I will repeat it: “….But imagine for a second if it were you; your child in your arms; the world you knew torn apart around you. There is no price you would not pay; There is no wall you would not climb.”**

I highly recommend the film The Good Lie. The movie came out last year, but was not widely shown. It tells the story of the Lost Boys and Girls of Sudan, orphans who walked thousands of miles to get to refugee camps in Kenya. It is a poignant look at the refugee journey and the tenacity it takes to resettle.  I’ve included the trailer for the movie here.



**Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission

Trauma-Informed Care


In recent years, trauma-informed care has been a front and center topic in healthcare. Trauma-informed care “is an approach that aims to engage people with histories of trauma, recognize the presence of trauma symptoms, and acknowledge the role that trauma has played in their lives.” 

At heart, this means that I, as a nurse, need to recognize that some of the symptoms I see in a patient are a result of their story. As I tell health and human service workers all the time: “The symptoms are in the story.”

I think all Christians need to attend a workshop on trauma-informed care. Because as we interact with people, whether they believe our truth claims or not, we need to get a better understanding of what lies beyond the surface.

We need to better understand the story behind the cynicism. We need to have greater empathy for the narrative behind the fear, the resentment, the inability to get involved, the anger toward authority of any kind.

We need to practice trauma-informed care. Specifically, as more and more attention is finally being drawn toward the refugee crisis, and sites like We Welcome Refugees pop up like daisies, (or sometimes dandelions) in a summer lawn, we cannot go into this work blindly, unaware of the trauma sustained by refugees and displaced people. 

One way to be ready is to learn how to give trauma-informed care. So how do we practice trauma-informed care? 

On the surface, it’s simple. Get to know the person behind the symptoms. Find out their story. Everyone has a story. If we practice active listening, we can better get to the heart of the story.

But beyond knowing the story, what do we do? It is completely unrealistic to think we can know everyone’s story. It is beyond our ability to be able to spend the kind of time it takes to get to the heart of why a person reacts the way they do.

SAMHSA – The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration offers these characteristics of organizations that have a “trauma-informed” approach. These organizations: 

  1. Realize the widespread impact of trauma and understand potential paths for recovery;
  2. Recognize the signs and symptoms of trauma in clients, families, staff, and others involved with the system;
  3. Respond by fully integrating knowledge about trauma into policies, procedures, and practices; and
  4. Seek to actively resist re-traumatization.*

These six principles guide the approach: 

  1. Safety
  2. Trustworthiness and Transparency
  3. Peer support
  4. Collaboration and mutuality
  5. Empowerment, voice and choice
  6. Cultural, Historical, and Gender Issues

On a practical level, what does this mean?

For starters, using these principles, a church or refugee organization can develop their own models of care for refugees and others who they long to reach. A church or faith organization needs to recognize signs of post traumatic stress disorder, and know how to direct the person and family for counseling. A church needs to see this as a mutual work, not a hierarchy. The refugee family is NOT below the other families in the church. The refugee family is NOT to be an object of pity. Rather, they should be seen as full partners in the settlement process.  Organizations must understand the need for cultural competency and, within trauma-informed care, seek to care for the person in culturally responsive ways.

There is so much more to say on these topics, and I will write more in the coming days, but let us not enter blindly. Let us enter with humility and determination. We are not Saviours, we are partners in this process. 

It may sound easy on the surface to open your heart and home to refugees, but ask anyone, anyone who has worked in the field for a long time and they will tell you about burnout. They will tell you about how you can’t meet the needs of everybody. They will tell you about their clinic, how after you give out 30 numbers to 30 patients, you have to turn people away. They will tell you about waking every day, begging “Lord Have Mercy.”

Because the problem is so big. Because that is the reality.

Blogger’s Note: Would that these principles of trauma-informed care be used on everybody that enters the doors of our churches. Just as packages that contain breakable items declare in bold letters: “Fragile! Handle with Care!” so do many people wear invisible signs: “Fragile! Handle me carefully.”

Here is an excellent article The Resilient Refugee, written by an ATCK and expat writing friend. Anoter great article What the Migrant Crisis Says About Us is written by a thoughtful writer and researcher who I was privileged to meet in February at the Families in Global Transition Conference.

*These principles are taken directly from SAMHSA