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.