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The Blessing of my Refugee Friends

I first began volunteering as a mentor to refugees because I wanted to be involved in some kind of ministry that reached beyond the boundaries of my everyday life at home and through my church. Being a mentor fit well because I could work it around my schedule and it gave me opportunity to connect with needy people from different places in the world. I enjoyed helping those first families, and still call them my friends, but much of the blessing for me at that time came from the sense of accomplishment I felt about having helped someone. 

There's nothing wrong with that feeling. We honor God when we help others, so it's normal that we feel blessed as well. I think of the first Karen family our church became involved with, and how much joy they brought to our church family as they built a new life here in America. We were all blessed knowing that we had played a part in their success. But it would have worn thin if the only blessing we received was when we helped them. The blessing would have become a burden. As time went by and Po Eh's family became more independent and the numbers of their community increased, they didn't need us as much. Still the blessing continues, because our relationship continues. Today they bless us as much as we bless them.

I'm blessed when I look at these families and think of the courage it took for them to leave what was known and come to this land of endless paper and hard work. It might be an opportunity for a better life, but it's certainly not an easier life, and the opportunities will be realized in the lives of their children more than their own. That's why I love helping the kids with their schoolwork. I find joy in their success as though they were my own children.

I'm blessed when I watch how these community cares for its own. One friend, whose English is better than the others, is the emergency contact for almost every school aged child in the Karen community even though her own kids aren't in school yet. The whole community watches out for each other's kids. Even their holiday celebrations are more communal.  One Karen friend noted to me after their Christmas celebration last year that Americans celebrate holidays with their families, while they celebrate with the whole community. She was right.

I've been the recipient of their care as well. When I was moving to a new home and my husband was out of the country I counted on my family to come from out of town to help me move. The Karen men showed up to help without being asked. When my father-in-law died and our family was grieving, the Karen community took an offering and contributed significantly to his memorial. I feel blessed to be cared for as one of their own community, even as they learn how to show their care in a way that’s appropriate in my American culture.

I'm blessed too by the presence of their children in our church. The children of these Karen families make up a significant portion of our Sunday school. Without them we wouldn't be having a Christmas pageant on Sunday. As these children learn about God in two different languages, I feel blessed that we can be part of that learning, blessed that their English language education is not only the secular one they receive at school.

In this Christmas season, the blessing continues. One evening last week we had around thirty children at our door, singing Karen Christmas carols. It was the Karen Sunday School, spreading the joy of Christmas like they would in their village back home, but this time they were sharing it with their American friends as well. I hope our neighbors heard it and were blessed.    

Do you believe that immigrants and refugees are a blessing, not a burden? If you're American, visit to learn more. Or if you're Canadian, visit          

[Image: Flickr user protoflux]


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