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The Dignity of Work for Refugees

He came to us in dire straits.

Joseph wasn’t the name his mother gave him when he was born in Darfur—it’s the name he took on when he was baptized after coming and receiving medical help in this Middle Eastern country. His story as a refugee is full of twists and turns, starting with his flight, as an injured university student, from the authorities he was protesting.

His story as a refugee is full of twists and turns.

And the end has yet to be written.

When we met, I could see he was a typical refugee in some ways—he’d already been receiving help through the United Nations and church-based ministries, but he’d also tried hard to stay employed and become independent.

However, having come to the city entirely without a family support network, and having survived without stable housing and employment, he was now on the verge of completely falling through the cracks.

He’d almost become a victim of human trafficking.

Besides this normal refugee path, Joseph experienced a second layer of discrimination due to his conversion to Christianity. Friends he’d confided in had betrayed him, and, just a couple of months before meeting us he’d almost become a victim of human trafficking.

When we first met him, he was visibly shaken. He’d had to move again, had left his job to protect his identity, and his demeanor was that of a broken person: head bowed, cowering from the shame of having already received so much and still having to ask for help. He spoke often of wanting to go back to his home country, to die there, rather than here.

He didn’t know what to do. But he was willing to do anything.

Thanks be to God, he’s about to begin something that could restore some sense of his dignity.

One of the best things we did was to give him an Arabic copy of “My Utmost for His Highest”.

Between ourselves and the network of believers, we’ve been able to help him—first, by meeting, counseling, and praying with him, then providing him with a little part-time work and inviting him to participate in a class on discipleship and development that we were holding.

One of the best things we did was to give him an Arabic copy of “My Utmost for His Highest” by Oswald Chambers—which he immediately began to read voraciously. We took him in, helped him to afford a new place to live, and, most recently, connected him with a job. He’s begun fulfilling work with music and suffering children. He’s bringing hope and joy to the poor, and working alongside people who are far more respectful than the ones who had hurt him in the past.

When another member of Christ’s body suffers, and God brings them into contact with us, it’s right for us to sit up and take notice. When there’s an opportunity before us, we must allow the Holy Spirit to massage a feeling of compassion into our hard hearts, and we do this by spending the time and energy and resources to make a small difference, being sensitive to what else we might still do.

The church is helping refugees to re-find self-respect.

Our journey with Joseph was an example of how the church is helping refugees to re-find self-respect, giving them a chance to work and serve those in need. And in his story, we see other examples of Christian refugees at work helping other marginalized people:

When Joseph first left Sudan, it was his fellow refugees who helped him and brought him to a Christian hospital, where he began to hear about the good news of Jesus.

When he kept moving, and found himself in the city, it was in the midst of a refugee ministry where he was studying English that he met a mutual friend, also from the Global South, and, because of that friend’s faithfulness in communication, Joseph eventually was introduced to us.

It was a family of refugees who came to his rescue.

When Joseph needed a place to stay, because his life was being threatened by a co-worker and a foreigner with evil intentions, it was a family of refugees who came to his rescue and gave him a place to live in their home, small as it was.

The church-based UN-connected ministries to refugees that Joseph came into contact with, in our city, are also known for and intentional about taking on new social-work caseworkers from among the refugee population and giving them the dignity of being able to become helpers. They identify promising abilities, provide training, and eventually hire them. In the last several years, this ministry has grown exponentially, from 7 employees to almost 100, with all the newcomers having been refugees themselves.

I see two common threads in Joseph’s story.

The first is the fact that the person being helped needs to be given the opportunity to become the helper. When we do this, we stop defining them in terms of what they need or how we can help them. We start looking at them as a human being, one whom God has created for a purpose, and has given abilities and resources to help themselves and to help others.

The person being helped needs to be given the opportunity to become the helper.

Here’s the second: there’s a process involved in helping a person to rediscover their dignity. There may be a cost to pay. It may take time and resources. It may take much effort and many attempts to connect them with the right people and to be in the right place at the right time to help them find what God is preparing them for.

That’s our role: to give ourselves up for another, to help them to do the good works that God has planned for them.

That’s our role: to give ourselves up for another.

My challenge to you today is to get involved in this process, and to look for how God is helping the poor and marginalized around you rediscover their dignity.

[Photo by Christopher Burns on Unsplash]


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