If we are being honest, health insurance and accessing health care services can cause a headache (no pun intended) for almost all of us. There are rules, regulations, and policies everywhere you turn. This is no different for our newly arriving refugee clients.
We recently sat down to talk with Michael Evans, the State Refugee Health Coordinator for the Tennessee Office of Refugees in Nashville about his job and experiences working with refugees. Michael began his work with refugees at World Relief in Nashville, then started working with the Tennessee Office of Refugees in March 2013. Michael oversees refugee health across the state of Tennessee, which he says consists of three primary components:
(1) offering a TennCare alternative for refugees who do not qualify for TennCare,
(2) overseeing medical screenings for newly arrived refugees, and
(3) promoting a program that encourages health literacy and helps refugees who have difficult medical conditions.
He spoke of some of the barriers that refugees face with regard to healthcare access, including limited English skills. It is also difficult to find medical providers who are culturally sensitive and have a degree of understanding of what a refugee has been through. Similarly, finding medical providers who are willing to provide interpretation services can be challenging because it could mean covering the cost an interpreter if that is not a service covered by a patient’s insurance.
When asked about the strengths that he has seen in the refugee population, Michael spoke of their kindness and generosity as well as their resilience and adaptability. Most people can only imagine what life would be like in a similar situation: forced to leave home to move somewhere with little or no knowledge of the language and culture and without a strong support system. To say this would be hard is an understatement. Michael said that it is amazing to think about the fact that people actually “make it.” They go through that and more, but succeed and are able to live well-adapted lives - which is such a testament to their hard work and resilience.
Michael said he thinks that it would be very easy for refugees who have experienced so much hardship to blame a higher power; however, he said he does not see that. Most often, they are deeply convinced of who their God is and His faithfulness through hard situations. He says that it has given him a better perspective when he is going through a hard times because he has seen God be faithful to so many people and he knows that God will be faithful to him as well.
Michael, we appreciate your heart and your work for refugees across the state of Tennessee!
On my second day as a summer intern at World Relief, the four other interns and I spent an entire morning and afternoon visiting the homes of refugees in Memphis. We hopped from apartment to apartment hoping to make new friends and to receive advice for understanding and helping refugees who are resettling in the US.
Each home received us with warm smiles, delicious tea, and many stories. One Syrian family even went so far as to prepare an amazing, authentic lunch for us to eat! Each family shared their experiences as they’ve adapted to the States and offered us tips for the different cultures we would encounter during the internship. Some refugees even told us memories of their life back home.
Many of these refugees have fond memories of their countries—how beautiful the green mountains are, how delicious a traditional food is, or how fun celebrations with their families used to be. Every refugee, however, has lost much in the way of violence. All have been displaced, forced to leave their homes and possessions behind. I met some families that have spent as many as 20 years in refugee camps. Even more, many of these people have lost family members due to conflict. Some have died and others are somewhere back in Africa or the Middle East, without contact or a means to bring them over to the United States.
In my life, I’ve had times that were hard for me, and I got through them because people came around me and loved me. These refugees have experienced and are experiencing hardship that I cannot fathom. They absolutely need people to come around them. Being an intern at World Relief showed me firsthand that it’s not impossible, or really even too difficult for that matter, to support and love those who are from other continents, cultures, and religions. So many are happy to invite an American into their homes and share what little they may have, be it tea, food, smiles, and stories. The majority of foreigners have never been invited into an American home, and I know from experience that a meal shared in our home with them would be a great delight and honor! However we can join in their lives and share the same love that Jesus has for the multiplicity of peoples throughout the world, we should seek to do it.
My involvement at World Relief prepared me for the next year that I will spend in Jordan. God used this time to give me experience with Muslim and Middle Eastern culture. If you’re interested in learning to love and share with people like these in your present and in your future, there is no better place than World Relief. Also, please pray for me as I’m in Jordan!
This summer I have been able to interact with refugees through Memphis’ World Relief internship program. Through this internship I have done case work, which includes transporting the clients to doctors’ appointments, helping them apply for government assistance, and setting up homes for newly arrived families. I have been able to get to know many of the refugees and their stories. As a result, I have built friendships with many of them.
I have learned about God’s divine power and that He has a plan for everything. He knew the refugees who would come to Memphis, as well as all the ones that I would get to interact with this summer. He knew the connections that I would be able to make with these wonderful loving people. I have learned about God’s heart for the sojourners and the heart that Christians should have for these people.
I learned how brave and courageous these refugees are. I have heard countless stories of the challenges they have faced and continue to face. I see the hurt that they have because their families are so far away and are in harm’s way. I see the loneliness that they have from day to day. I have also seen them strive to continue to move forward no matter what challenges are before them. They want to learn the language, work hard to provide for those families back home, and be accepted here in the states.
My faith has grown considerably through watching the faith of the refugees. They “live out” a daily dependence on God which we as Christians should demonstrate in our own lives. Through watching them, I have grown to depend on Jesus more, and seen how He will provide the way. Just like God knew who would come to Memphis, He knows my future and I just need to trust him through that. I have grown to be able to share my faith with refugees in my own way while still being me. That may include praying with a refugee about a visible need or asking what I could pray for them about.
One of the most constant challenges that come with working with refugee is the language barrier. Not being able to efficiently communicate limits the depth of many conversations. The second challenge that I have is the fact that I am a task-oriented person and I like to be timely and productive. I like to have a checklist so that at the end of the day I can see what I have accomplished. When working with refugees things do not always work out that way. The idea of being on time is not a standard cultural norm for many refugees, and so we were often late for scheduled appointments. God has shown me that many of the cultures that I work with are relationship-based and just want to fellowship and have an opportunity to connect with me. They just want to show me hospitality. I have learned that I may have to wait at certain places for a considerable amount of time and feel like I’m not accomplishing anything; however, this has shown me to slow my pace and to schedule my day differently, so that I have time to just be with clients in their homes.
This summer I’ve realized that the fact that I was born in an English speaking country is a huge advantage. Things in Memphis are not set up to work under other languages and so the clients who do not speak English have a hard time just functioning throughout the city until they learn English. I never really appreciated the ability to understand what the doctor’s diagnosis is. Also, I have transportation, so I can get around to wherever I need to go. It is also a blessing that I have family close by and others in the city who are welcoming to me. Since I’m living in my first culture, I don’t have to worry about cultural misunderstandings.
Some prayer requests I have are for the refugee community here in Memphis. I pray that the public will see them as people who are trying to make a living just like everyone else. I pray for World Relief to continue to share the love of Christ with them and that their hearts will be open to at receiving what is being shared. I pray that World Relief continues to persevere with the community, no matter how long it may take. They need the love of Christ; the real love of Christ.
That glass jar, the one I dwell in, it’s been shaken and stirred.
Upside down, spinning around.
It had the edges, the lines of clarity I so craved.
“Be nice.” “Be polite.” “Don’t show too much emotion.” “Don’t be angry.”
Those boundaries told me what I knew; what I should know.
But he who knew me better --
He knew that the shaken and stir would do.
Do as it should - shake and stir. And empty and fill.
It had to reveal the reality of the One.
He who exposes the pain, the truth, the realness, the fullness
He showed me the pain and then took it away.
I heard stories of those who had been shot, killed, and chased.
Of those who had babies but could not care because of the dire circumstances of life.
Then He showed me what hope is. And truth, and joy, and grace.
He said it was a smile - from an old man with white bushy hair, separated from his children.
He said it was a young woman - forced to marry at 14 and resilient enough to flee.
He said it was a teenager - born in a refugee camp, with no identity but a love for humanity.
He said it was an African man - scared of his own loud memories, whose mission is to win souls.
He said it was the faith of a young Iraqi boy - not allowed to believe, but worshipping Him anyway.
And the resilience of every single person, that in this life have somehow not forgotten how to smile, and to love.
And He said I could have this joy too. That He was the source. And that I had access.
He said I knew Him - and that He knew me.
That shaking and stirring might seem counterproductive
or counteractive, and most likely it goes,
against the psychological norms of the place I dwell.
But I thank Him for the uprooting of the bedrock - the mixing, that sifting of my soul, for I know that his love is genuine.
And unlike anything I have found common.
For had He not said “to Memphis you must go” and “the refugees you must meet”
I would be a little more afraid and trust in His name a little less.
For He hears the cry of the broken-hearted. He is merciful. And He is good.
What am I doing here? How is this valuable? Why does it matter?
Such questions rolled repeatedly through my mind as I stood next to four Nepali refugees at the DMV office at the infinitely long line of people still waiting in front of us. Already, we had been standing in this line for two hours. By the time we ended up leaving with State IDs in hands, an additional three had passed. Five hours—standing. Somewhere in that span of hours, I remember looking up. My eyes met those of the eldest Nepali woman with whom I was waiting. She smiled. At that moment, I knew I could battle my heart’s selfish desire to leave this line, to give up halfway through, to sit down.
World Relief's manifesto is "STAND for the Vulnerable." One reoccurring theme I learned throughout my year interning with World Relief was this: standing for the vulnerable is often far more commonplace than I imagined it to be. I am quick to lose perspective, forgetting that for those who have been displaced from their own homeland, a State ID is more than just a card with their name and address. It holds dignity, personhood, stability, and belonging. Sometimes standing for the vulnerable looks like literally standing in the State ID line with refugees, knowing that even these small acts are pushing back the darkness of injustice and letting in the light of restoration and hope.
A day in the life of a World Relief intern had me running around to the homes of refugee families, transporting and accompanying clients to medical appointments, ESL classes, the grocery store, and a variety of other social services. Through my work with World Relief, I spent more time on an average day with internationals from countries in East Africa, Asia and the Middle East than with other Americans, all while living in the middle of the United States. I am abundantly grateful for the rich opportunity to be literally surrounded by the nations everyday right here in Memphis. What a unique privilege it was to be able to welcome refugees by preparing apartments before their arrival, greeting them at the airport, and forming friendships with people from so many different places who have moved in literally down the street from me.
Through my relationships with refugees, I have come to more deeply know God’s heart for the foreigner and the oppressed. Throughout the Scripture, God calls his people to care for the alien and foreigner, to defend the cause of the widow and orphan, to act justly towards the poor and oppressed. Our hearts should bend toward refugees the way God’s heart does because their stories tell the truth of our stories as well. God calls us to love the stranger and the foreigner in our land, not just because it's the right thing to do, but because we know what it was like to be a stranger, because we were estranged by God and yet He loved and called us by His grace. We are called to do justice, to love mercy, to walk humbly. By His grace and because of His grace, we are called to stand.
Form Relationships with Refugees
One of the greatest things about my internship with World Relief was meeting and forming relationships with refugees from all over the world. Whether it was though having tea with an Afghan family, playing with Somali children, or taking a Nepali woman to the doctor, I felt as though I was able to see the world without ever leaving Memphis. As I spent time with the refugees, I was able to hear some of their stories, visit their homes, and learn about their cultures. My experience with them opened my eyes to many different types of people and the difficult circumstances they are facing. After working with World Relief, the news on the radio seems much more relevant now that I know people who are affected by the injustices occurring around the globe.
Learn their Stories and Share Yours
As I learned about their stories and cultures, I helped refugees learn about American culture as well. Many things that seem second nature to us, such as how to buckle a seat belt or how to buy groceries, are completely new to many refugees. While these people are learning to navigate life in the United States, some funny instances of language or cultural understanding sometimes occur. With one client from Sudan, for example, I had taken him twice to the doctor to follow up on some kidney problems he had been having. Working across a language barrier, he described leaving his family in Sudan, coming to the United States, and beginning a new job. Then, I thought he told me that he had sold his kidney in Africa and had become a soldier. I was amazed and thought, “Wow, no wonder he has kidney problems!” Weeks later, when I took him to the doctor again, I asked him about these things, but he just gave me a puzzled look. It turns out that all along, he had been trying to tell me about his past surgeries and I had mistaken the word “surgery” for “sold” and “soldier!”
Rely on God
Working across such misunderstandings and some of the crazy, unexpected things that happened taught me to go with the flow and to rely on God as I go. I know that I cannot do everything to help these people and that I still make lots of mistakes when I try. I learned that God sometimes doesn’t work through the big things we do, but often through the simple. That could mean taking a family for a drive when they are bored and lonely or praying with a woman when her husband has left her pregnant, with little money, and four children to support. When chaotic or difficult things happen, it’s assuring to know that our true refuge is only found in God and in the new life He offers.
Do you know a couple of rising junior and senior high school students who would like to learn about refugees? Encourage them to apply for Nations Among Us: An Immersion Experience. See attached description. We are hosting this weekend plunge July 24th-26th. Applications are due by May 29th. Email firstname.lastname@example.org to request an application.
“You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself.” Leviticus 19:34
One of the most effective ways to become equipped for doing cross-cultural ministry overseas is to engage internationals right here at home. Lasting kingdom impact within a culture requires understanding how to relate cross-culturally. If we don’t have experience in cross-cultural relationships, we will be unprepared for adaptation and penetration into a culture.
Sometimes a huge population of refugees lives in the shadow of U.S. churches, yet they are linguistically and culturally “far away” from the gospel. The same churches may even be sending missionaries to those very refugees’ home country. We need new eyes to see the new mission fields God is establishing. In times past we thought we could reach a people group only by living in their homeland. Today we find we can reach them by living among them, whether they are in their heartland or among a diaspora of refugees or immigrants living in a different part of the world. God is at work in the world, shaking countries up, scattering peoples of the world to every corner of the globe. God is calling His Church to embrace this unique period of time for decision and action in history, and to step out to reach the nations living right in our own cities. Cross-cultural missions exposure and experience no longer requires spending a lot of money to go overseas. We can bring the gospel to unreached people groups who live right in our cities.
Ethnic concentrations in the United States are expanding every day. What should our response be to the high numbers of refugees, students, and immigrants coming into the U.S.? While some of us can and should be involved in seeing better filtering in the immigration process, we need to focus more on our attitudes and behavior towards these internationals. Perhaps immigration is one way in which God has sovereignly chosen to bring the peoples of the world closer to the gospel. God has unreached peoples living down the street from us right here in the U.S. The desire to be involved with overseas cross-cultural ministry often begins with a spiritual experience in the heart which always grows and develops over time. This desire should begin to direct our lives and the lifestyle choices we make. High levels of migration in the world today leave no excuse for anyone not to be building friendships and ministering cross-culturally to internationals right at home. One way to begin a relationship with internationals is by volunteering with World Relief. See here for more information.
If we believe we are called to long-term overseas ministry, we should test this calling and take advantage of all the opportunities available to develop our cross-cultural skills. Moreover, Westerners are rarely prepared for daily life in the new culture, the loss of conveniences, and the local community lifestyle. We must begin now to make important choices to test and prepare ourselves for the typical lifestyle of overseas living. Basically, we need to know and live our callings here before we take them over there. We want to be people who are “worthy of hire” in regards to ministry support by making sure our callings are integrated with our present ministry and lifestyles (1 Timothy 5:18).
If you'd like to learn more, plan to attend Understanding and Engaging Islam on Tuesday, May 12 from 6:30-8:30pm at 3340 Poplar Ave., Ste. 222, Memphis, TN 38111.
This blog comes from Chapter 4 of a book David Frazier wrote in 2014 called Mission Smart: 15 Critical Questions To Ask Before Launching Overseas which is available in Kindle and paperback at Amazon. David (leader of Understanding and Engaging Islam Seminars) has been involved in cross-cultural ministry and equipping believers for over twenty-five years. Before moving to the Middle East, he and his wife, Vicki, ministered to internationals in their hometown of Memphis, Tennessee, USA. He uses his twenty years of overseas work, mentorship, teaching, and cross-cultural living to equip and train others to reach the unreached. David leads Equipping Servants International, a ministry that mentors individuals, trains churches and advises mission agencies. Their desire is to equip God’s people to do healthier candidate assessment, pre-field training, and on-field guidance for cross-cultural ministers both at home and abroad. For more information and to arrange for training or consulting, please refer to their website: www.esionline.org.
The question "what did you learn this summer at World Relief ?" sparks millions of trails in my mind. There is no general answer.
Working with people in poverty or in suffering is never easy. It means stepping out of your comfortable, idealized view of the world and into a place where, the majority of the time, things just aren't fair. Often you end up wrestling with the nature of God--is He for us or against us? How can anyone say that God is for us when there is a family in pain and suffering, missing family members, barely surviving?
This stream of thought often leads to dehumanization. We isolate the pain, the negative stories, and assign it to a person as their only characteristics. This summer, I began to see people not just as victims of horrible circumstances--though they are, in many cases--but rather as feeling, intelligent human beings whose sorrow ran deep, because of their circumstances in life and because they are far from God. They laughed, like me; they cried, like me. They got hurt and confused, they had good days and bad days. Is my suffering in any way comparable to theirs? Hardly. But I realized that in order to truly care about the people I was meeting, I had to care about them as people. It's easy to care about them as a box on the checklist; it's harder to emotionally engage when you know, chances are, you will encounter difficulty and you may suffer as a result of truly understanding their pain. When running around with refugees constantly, it was easy to get caught up in meeting physical needs. And granted, these physical needs are essential and were what I was there to provide. However, using these physical solutions to cop out of engaging emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually was a fear mechanism I soon began to recognize in myself.
It's hard to remember that God is good when you're sitting with a family trying to get them foods stamps, and they don't understand what's happening but they can't tell you so all they can do is look at you and smile sadly. It's hard to remember that God is good when a child is screaming while getting checked for diseases...and tests positive. It's hard to remember that God is good when a hardworking, brilliant doctor comes to the States as a refugee and is not allowed to practice.
And sometimes, as Christians and as the Church, I think we fear those questions. We cover our eyes because it's just so hard to deal with these questions. The evil in the world is overwhelming. It seems like no matter what we do we can never make a dent.
Our duty as the Church, however, is to brave our fears of wrestling with evil and engaging with pain. One thing I learned about God over the summer of 2014 is that if you ask Him to break your heart the way His is broken for the lost, HE WILL. And that is not easy. It's painful and uncomfortable and disorienting. The whole question reminds me a lot of Psalm 22. David begins by saying "my God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from my cries of anguish? My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer, by night, but I find no rest." In the moment of pain and hopelessness it is hard to understand, but David continues to seek the Lord's face in all that he does. The psalm ends with, "all the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the Lord, and all the families of the nations will bow down before him, for dominion belongs to the Lord and he rules over the nations. All the rich of the earth will feast and worship; all who go down to the dust will kneel before him— those who cannot keep themselves alive. Posterity will serve him; future generations will be told about the Lord. They will proclaim his righteousness, declaring to a people yet unborn: He has done it!"
Throughout the pain, there is joy: there are smiles, there is laughter, and there are new friends and new faces. For anywhere that there is pain and darkness, there is the Lord proclaiming "I AM HERE AND I CARE," using His people to heal the hearts and hurts of His Creation.
More information about this summer's internship program is available here! Interviews for the Summer Internship 2015 will begin in April 2015 and the deadline for application is May 1.
My day job is Intake Supervisor with the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission (EEOC). I have volunteered with World Relief since March of 2013. In that time, I’ve served in a variety of ways to help people become acclimated to America. Sometimes this means taking people to appointments or just spending time with families. I’ve also recently helped with Spanish translation for Cuban parolees.
Through my time spent volunteering with refugees, I’ve learned that we have more in common than not in terms of core values and needs as human beings. It’s easy to relate and connect to people who may initially seem different from you if you’re open to them. People desire sincere relationships regardless of country of origin. Having relationships with refugees is a great opportunity to learn and teach. Volunteering and helping others helps me feel like I have purpose in life. I appreciate the sincere gratitude that refugees express for what seems to me to be something very small. It makes me want to do more!
My faith has grown through my involvement with refugees. I now have an increased prayer life and a better understanding of how I can be intentional about sharing Jesus’ love with people through my daily interactions. One recent example is when I was writing a card for a family who is leaving Memphis for a great work opportunity. I often write notes quickly, but I instead took the time to grapple with and pray about what to say to them.
The most challenging thing about interacting with refugees has definitely been communication and breakdowns in communication. Patience is required, and I’m growing in that area! I’ve also learned that I often take my relationships with people for granted- that we have the same background and common cultural understanding. Once you get involved with refugees, you gain family (close) relationships with people if you’re open to it. Any apprehensions you may have (I can’t do this!) will dissipate as you engage with other human beings who just so happen to have been born in another part of the world.
And He said to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” (Luke 10:2) My prayer to the Lord of the harvest is that more people would be proactive about sharing God’s love with people from other countries who God has appointed to be in Memphis right now.
It may be cold now, but summer will be here before we know it! If you are a college student or recent graduate, consider spending your time off working with refugees in Memphis. Here are some reflections from one of the summer 2014 interns:
Last summer I was an intern with World Relief Memphis. It seems like my world expanded in a whole new way through interacting with the refugees here in this city. There were challenges and wonderful experiences, but I will not forget what it is like to serve the refugees in Memphis and build close relationships with all the people involved.
There are various ways that I was involved with refugees last summer. One of the primary ways I was involved with refugees is through providing transportation. There are many appointments they need to be taken to, so I spent a lot of time taking them from place to place and learning about their life and families. Another way I was involved with refugees was through setting up their apartment before they arrived, and picking them up from the airport. Most of the people we picked up from the airport seemed exhausted from their long flights, but they were relieved when they saw they had a furnished apartment and could rest. Most of the refugees were entering into a completely different atmosphere than what they were used to before, and it was difficult to see some of them try to adjust. It truly made me feel compassion for the refugees and I saw how important it was for me to pour myself out for them every day.
Over the course of the summer there were many challenges as I worked with refugees in Memphis. One of the main challenges was the language barrier in communicating with some of refugees. We had many experiences that were frustrating. Others were funny. In the end, we managed to make it through each situation. Many times I wanted to share the gospel with them, but often times we were only able to go so far before everything was lost in translation. Another challenge was gaining the trust of the refugees. Some of the families seemed to naturally trust us, and desired to seek for our help in so many ways. However, sometimes it was very difficult to gain the trust of others. This was completely understandable since they are in a completely new environment and may not know anyone around them. I continually wanted to show them that I was there to serve them, and wanted the best for them. There were several challenging things we encountered this summer, but it was all worth it to be involved with the refugees this summer.
My faith grew during this time as well through realizing how I can do nothing apart from Christ. Each and every day I was met with new challenges and I began to see over the summer just how weak I truly am. The Lord taught me that I needed to completely trust Him in every aspect of my life and be humble in relying on His power. I also realized how complicated I often make following Christ. During the summer I really wanted to grow closer to the Lord, and tried many things to do so. I tried my best to make sure I was spending time in the word, time in prayer, and reading great devotionals. Through this I did not realize how I had not been following the Lord with simplicity, but I had been evaluating every small piece of my life. It was like I was trying to micromanage my spiritual life. Then the Lord taught me that the one thing I needed to be focusing on have having Him on the throne of my heart. If I had just been focusing on making sure there was absolutely nothing to compete with Him in my life, then everything else would fall into place. This was a very important lesson for me to learn, and I pray that I continue to grow closer to Him as I follow Him with simple faith.
Please pray for me this school year as I am in my first teaching position at the Brinkley Heights Urban Academy. It has been a difficult transition, but I am very excited about it at the same time. Pray for the children in the school and that I would be a witness for Christ to them every day. Also pray for the opportunities I have had to continue to reach out to the refugees here in Memphis, and that I would not soon forget everything I experienced over the past summer.