By Laura Moore
“…A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
‘Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!’ cries she
With silent lips. ‘Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!'”
Most people do not know these words written at the base of our beloved Statue of Liberty, myself included until recently. Her unabashed, wide-open welcome is challenging to understand, let alone accept. Read those words again. She boldly stands as a beacon for the “tempest-tost”, those seeking refuge from lands of oppression. It sounds a lot like Jesus…who was Himself a refugee (Matthew 2:14). He says, “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest…rest for your souls” (Matthew 11:28, 29).
A refuge-seeker, or refugee, means “someone who flees for safety.” Any time I hear “refuge” I think of the verse, “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in times of trouble” (Psalm 46:1). In fact, one of God’s names is Machseh, “Refuge” in Hebrew. Now we’re touching on something dear to God’s heart–so dear that it’s part of His character and identity.
So you ask, “How can I help refugees when I’m a busy mom?” The same question I asked myself. Answer: befriend a refugee family! For us, I thought, “We already go out to have play-dates with other kids, so why not visit a new family instead?” Then we jumped right in with both feet.
We got connected with a family from Afghanistan that lives just ten minutes from our apartment. Before visiting, I contacted the head of the family, Mr. N., on the phone and introduced myself, my family, and then asked if we could stop by for a visit. He told us we would be “most welcome”, even the two kids I was bringing in tow. We met him in the parking lot then walked up to their apartment where we met his wife and two children. Upon entering and then removing our shoes, I said, “Salam Alaikum” (“Peace be unto you” in Arabic) to Mrs. N. because I knew the family was Muslim, and she repeated it back to me with a smile. We both had a baby in 2016, and we both have one boy and one girl. It is harder to get to know her because she is just beginning to learn English. Our visit mostly consisted of dialoging with Mr. N. and corralling my kids. My oldest child had a challenging time because there were no toys in their apartment, and it is very bare.
This sweet family just arrived in the USA less than one month ago. They have their basic needs met, but have no “extras” that my family is accustomed to and often takes for granted. Like toys. Or a car. Or a fully-stocked kitchen. Or neighbors that speak my language. Or family close-by. Or a job or two. Or spending-money. Or a closet full of clothes, shoes, and accessories. Or a college degree that is recognized by the country I live in. Or a community where I feel welcomed into and accepted by…like Kindred. Other moms who are in the in the trenches with me. My new friend, Mrs. N., is admittedly lonely. She is so very far away from her family and friends that constantly “did life together” and misses them terribly. Their daughter is accustomed to dozens of cousins running around to play with. It is a difficult adjustment for each member of this family. Mr. N. was working with the UN in Kabul but was facing threats from those who oppose their work and endured physical abuse by them. He left a well-respected, much-needed, good job behind because he wanted to protect his family. Thus how they became “refuge-seekers”, fleeing their homeland to a safer place, a place of refuge.
Doesn’t this sound a lot like the spiritual life? If God is our Machseh, He is our place of safety–where we run to in times of trouble or fear, or just simply when we need a hiding place. That makes me a refugee. Therefore, I can come alongside someone who is a political/legal refugee as a friend and support. Maybe somewhere along the way I will get the chance to tell them about the One in whom I am seeking refuge–my Provider, Helper, Friend. All the things Jesus is to me I can seek to replicate and be a dim reflection of Him in the life of others. All it takes is “coming alongside.” The phrase, “to come alongside” harkens back to the ancient world when a broken-down ship was only able to come into harbor when accompanied and helped by another vessel.
There are many ways to serve, but this is one way to help provide refuge for a refuge-seeker that flows with the natural rhythms of family-life. Trading a playdate, or time spent with people you know, for a chance to get to know a new friend and have a family visit. You would be “most welcome”, to quote my new friend.
Remember Lady Liberty? She welcomes with open arms, inviting the stranger in, providing a safe harbor for the weary and vulnerable. Jesus welcomes me with open arms every time I run to Him. A small way I can be a “little light” is to imitate His hospitality and welcome a stranger, a refugee family practically in my neighborhood. It might take some small sacrifices, some awkward moments, some creativity and thoughtfulness. But that’s where grace comes in. His grace flows in and through me when I’m His refugee, finding my safe-place in Him. “I have strength for all things in the One strengthening me” (Philippians 4:13).