There are certain emotions that are just palpable. Relief is one of them. When fear and apprehension leave a person’s body, it can literally change the air in the room. That’s what I observed late one night in the Phoenix Airport terminal.
I was standing there with the case manager, a translator, and a Christian sponsor family—a couple and their two pre-teen daughters. We were there to greet Awet (name changed) and her three small children, who had just arrived in America after a three-day journey from Eritrea.
Eritrea is a small country located on the coast of Northeast Africa and ruled by a dictator. There, Awet and her family were subjected to Islamic extremism. Awet and her children are followers of Jesus. Their journey as refugees to America had been induced by religious persecution.
Now, here she was, standing in a brightly lit American airport late at night, surrounded by strangers and clinging to the one person in the country that she knew and trusted—that was another young, single, Eritrean mom named Rachel (name changed) who had come on the flight with her. I watched as the case manager explained to Awet that her friend Rachel would not be living near her. Rachel had been placed in an apartment complex about five miles away.
Awet looked pensive and withdrawn. She refused to make eye contact with us. Then her eyes filled with tears as the reality set in that her one remaining friend in the world was about to be taken away from her.
As her children watched these events unfold, their beautiful faces were marked with exhaustion, fear, and apprehension. It was a painful moment. But then, Awet’s sponsor family stepped forward. They told her through the translator that they were also followers of Jesus. They were here to be her friends and they would see to it that she had the opportunity to visit Rachel.
That’s when it happened. Awet’s tears were replaced with a broad smile that stretched across her tired face. She realized that she and her children were safe. She realized that they were not alone, that there were people who would help them, and that she would indeed see her friend again. I watched as the fear and apprehension slid from her forehead and shoulders. Her posture straightened and the atmosphere of the room changed. It was a leveraged moment. A unique bond had formed. Two little American girls joined hands with two little Eritrean girls, and two families from radically different worlds who had been complete strangers just minutes before walked out of the airport as newfound friends.
Over the past months, I’ve watched powerful moments like this play out time and time again. Each and every one is unique, and each one touches me in its own special way. Lately, I’ve invested heavily in just one of our network churches. Out of this church, God has enabled us to mobilize ten families who are now living on mission by serving nearly 40 newly arrived refugees.
Most of these refugees are Christians, single moms who’ve been forced to flee their homes due to religious persecution. This has been a massive undertaking—catalyzing the recruitment and training of all the volunteers, soliciting, loading, and moving truckloads of furniture into the refugees’ apartments, finding enough food to feed every one of them for their first week and getting it into their kitchens, etc. Successfully completing these tasks, knowing the difference it will make for these vulnerable brothers and sisters from other countries is fulfilling, but it is not the most exciting thing I am experiencing in the work with refugees.
The most exciting thing I see is that God has opened up a unique opportunity to reach these refugees’ neighborhoods with the good news of Jesus. Since many of these newly-arrived refugees are Christians, they can now partner with us in taking the gospel to their new neighbors, many of whom are refugees with Muslim backgrounds who do not know Jesus personally.
You know another emotion that’s palpable? It’s excitement! We are so excited at what God is bringing about in this ministry with refugees. And this excitement is spreading to more believers and churches who want to be part of what God is doing. Will you join us?
Awet's family and sponsor
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Steve Hubler and his wife, Melissa, live in Phoenix, AZ. He coaches church planters and develops new pathways for missional engagement.
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