Author: Kristyn Peck, LSSNCA CEO
Earlier this week, I met Abdul*, an Afghan refugee receiving services from LSSNCA. Abdul worked with the U.S. military as an engineer, and he and his wife have five children, two of whom are young adults. Abdul shared with me his fears of not finding work that will allow him to support his family, of improving his English, and of the high cost of living in Northern Virginia. He told me about family members who were left behind and weigh heavy on his heart. When I asked him what keeps him going, he spoke with pride about his hope for his children, and what coming of age as Americans would mean for their futures. The most important thing, he told me, was that his family is now in a country where there is peace. He spoke of his admiration of the Constitution and the protections it provides to men and women, to people of all ethnicities, races, religions, and political beliefs. He spoke with deep relief and gratitude about the meaning of that for his family, and his daughters.
Abdul’s story is like so many refugees arriving to our country, seeking peace, and hopeful about the future. In my almost 20 years of experience providing services and advocacy on behalf of persons forced to migrate I continue to be deeply moved and inspired by the lived experience of the refugees and migrants who have so generously shared their stories with me. I am deeply grateful for the life lessons I have learned about faith, hope, and gratitude from newcomers to our country.
Although LSSNCA is currently responding to Afghan refugees, we have more than seven decades of experience serving refugees from all over the world. We expect our caseload to shift early next year, and we will serve refugees fleeing persecution, war, and violence from countries like Syria, Myanmar, South Sudan, and Venezuela. Although each person’s situation is unique, all refugees share the experience of being forcibly displaced from their homes due to war, violence, conflict, or persecution, and needing to seek safety in another country. Seeking protection from their own country is not an option for refugees, who are targeted for being themselves— persecuted because of their race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion. Refugees, like Abdul, often leave without the luxury of a plan, literally fleeing death, with only the clothes on their back, leaving loved ones, possessions and family pictures and heirlooms, homes, and jobs, behind.
As I’m writing this, Christians around the world are preparing to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. Following his birth in Bethlehem, Mary and Joseph fled to Egypt on learning King Herod’s intention to kill their infant child. In the gospel of Matthew, Jesus tells his followers, “I was a stranger and you welcomed me,” Matthew 23:25. This call to welcome the stranger inspires Lutheran Social Services of the National Capital Area’s work to welcome refugees, and to work with communities in need to create belonging.
This is not a uniquely Christian call. The importance of welcoming refugees with compassion transcends the world’s religions. The Biblical Exodus is central in Judaism. Jews were forced to migrate from Israel, their homeland, due to famine, and were enslaved by the Egyptians in the country in which they were seeking refuge. God sent Moses to liberate the Jews from oppression and cruelty. In Islam’s origins, Prophet Muhammad, threatened by the Quraysh clan of Mecca, flees to Medina. One of the tenets of Islam is to aid and protect migrants who are under the protection of Allah.
LSSNCA has witnessed this call to welcome the stranger in the abundance of support we have received from you and other members of our community.
- We see you, volunteers, who spend hours unpacking boxes of in-kind donations, and walking Afghan refugees through our inventory, helping them to select items to furnish their new homes.
- We see you, sending in-kind donations via Amazon wish lists, Welcome boxes, and gift cards, helping us to restock and replenish our inventory for our new neighbors.
- We see you, Good Neighbor Partners, mobilizing your congregations, your neighbors, your community to collect items you are storing in your garages, ready at a moment’s notice to do home set ups for newly arriving families.
- We see you, employers who showed up at our recent job fair and are connecting our new neighbors with jobs with living wages and potential for upward mobility.
- We see you, donors, foundations, and local grant makers, providing us the resources to pay a few more months of rent, provide toys to refugee children, and offer mentoring programs and women’s groups.
We could not do our welcome without you. Together, we are changing the fabric of our communities to be more compassionate and more welcoming. And together, we are serving as catalysts for change by modeling what it looks like to welcome the stranger.
*Name has been changed to protect the identity of the client.