Saturday, February 02, 2008

IRC - Barbara's Reflections

One of the experiments planned as part of our second year of Partnership for Missional Church is called 5 in 5. The idea is that we will interact with and get to know 5 different cultures in our community within 5 months. There are several purposes. One is to expand our awareness of God at work in our community. Another is to develop and build relationship with our neighbors. A third is to prime the pump of our imagination as to ways that we can get out of our building and join God in His activities. Last Saturday a group of us visited with refugee children and families who have been resettled in an apartment complex a couple of miles from our building. Barbara compiled her reflections on the day...

Last Saturday, Jan. 26th, 22 Skillman people went to an apartment complex off of Greenville Avenue to host a party for some refugee children. While we were there, we learned about the IRC - International Rescue Committee. This group was founded in 1933 at the request of Albert Einstein. The IRC is the oldest and largest non-profit nonsectarian voluntary organization that provides assistance to refugees and victims of oppression and violence in their home countries. Dallas is one of 25 resettlement communities in the U.S.

The terms “refugees” and “immigrants” are not the same. Refugees have been forced to leave their countries due to fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, or membership of a particular social group or political opinion. Immigrants voluntarily leave their countries of origin to reside in another country.

The U. S. accepts a certain number of refugees each year, determined by the President and Congress. In 2006, the U. S. admitted 70,000 refugees, although more could have been admitted – in recent years many slots have gone unfilled.

In order to qualify for resettlement in the U.S., a person must come from a country or belong to a group designated by the U.S. Department of State. They have to prove that they have a well-founded fear of persecution. Officers from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service conduct interviews to identify people who are eligible for resettlement in the U.S. Once they are approved, they undergo medical and security screenings.

When they arrive in the U.S., the gov’t and non-profit agencies, such as the IRC, provides time-limited assistance, helping refugees to adapt to American society, get jobs, learn English, find housing. They are entitled to refugee status for one year after they arrive, then they are eligible to become permanent residents. Five years after their arrival in the U.S., they may apply for American citizenship.

Our group provided snacks for about 40 beautiful children from Burma and Burundi, and helped them complete an art project. We gave them the socks and scarves that the congregation provided. We also met several volunteer workers who are also refugees. They are grateful for the help they themselves have received and want to give the same help and kindness to other refugees. One of the workers told us her story about her family fleeing their home country of Burma due to persecution related to their political beliefs and how they ended up in a refugee camp in Thailand before they were relocated to the U. S. She spoke of the difficulty in adjusting to a new country with different customs, foods, and language.

We had an opportunity to spend some time with people who don’t look and sound like us, but yet a connection was made in that brief time. It made me think about God’s beautiful creation – this tapestry of people and cultures that God created. What an amazing plan He has! He is at work in the lives of people everywhere, whether they are living in an apartment complex filled with refugees or in this sanctuary of our congregation.

I have been thinking a lot recently about what it means to be “missional”. I think that I have defined being “missional” too narrowly. It’s more than providing support for mission efforts. It’s more than doing good deeds and working and picking out a particular “cause” or service project to be involved in. All of these things are good. But I think it also involves taking the time to hear the stories of people and genuinely being interested in them. Being “real” with people leads to further discussion and further opportunities to share Jesus. To be honest, this is difficult for me. But I know that this is something that I can do each day if I will only take the time to be aware of what’s going on around me.

I think this experience with the refugees raised our awareness. We became aware of issues faced by refugees and their needs. We became aware of their desire to rebuild their lives in a new country. We became aware of their spirit.

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