Recent photos and stories of Syrian refugees have opened our eyes, broken our hearts, and stirred our collective conscience. Scripture reminds us that as the people of God, we too were once strangers in a foreign land and that God rescued us. Because of this, we are called to love and care for the stranger in our land.
Abilene has been identified as a refugee friendly community. The International Rescue Committee (IRC) and Episcopal Migration Ministries are two organizations that help refugees relocate to Abilene. Many of these refugees are originally from Bhutan and various parts of Africa. Many have spent years living in a refugee camp before they ever made it to the United States. Once they arrive in America, they must learn a new language, a new culture, and new job skills.
Many of you may be asking what can I do to help? How is Highland working with our local refugees? What is the best way to help? How can I join in? While refugee families may initially need help financially or other physical needs, one of their greatest needs is to develop relationships with others. They need good neighbors. They need people who will help them learn about American culture and improve their English skills. Many Highland members and ministries are already connected with refugees. Here are a few ways that you can join with them:
Things you can do:
- You and your family help mentor a refugee family through the International Rescue Committee. This could include helping them find their way around town, navigate the supermarket, and to local schools. (http://www.rescue.org/us-program/us-dallas-tx)
- Be a mentor for a refugee student going through a six-week class in partnership with the Church of the Heavenly Rest. These courses help students learn the basics of tracking spending, keeping a budget, using banks, avoiding rent to own centers and payday lenders, setting goals, and having emergency savings. Contact Jen Rogers or Sue Thomesen for more information.
- Tutor a child at Lee Elementary on Tuesday or Thursday afternoons. Work one on one with a child to help them succeed in the classroom. Contact Royce Curtis for more information firstname.lastname@example.org
- Join with The World’s Backyard, (https://www.facebook.com/worldsbackyard/timeline) a student led group whose vision is to facilitate community transformation in Abilene through holistic kingdom discipleship and sports ministry to 5-18 year olds.
- Consider hiring refugees as employees. While many were professionals back home, they often have to take low pay and low skills jobs just to make ends meet.
- Do you have a trade or skill that you can teach which will help them get and keep better paying jobs?
- Offer assistance. If you are in a place of business and you notice someone that seems confused as to how things work, help them navigate the system.
Things not to do:
- Give them money directly. While well intentioned, this can actually do more harm than good. If you would like to give financially, give to an organization that is working with local refugees.
- Think of them as a burden to our community. Rather, realize that they have talents and abilities that will make Abilene a stronger community.
- See and treat them as a victim. While many will have lived through unspeakable tragedies, they are beginning a new phase of life in America. These refugees are smart, industrious and hardworking.
- Assume they know what you know. Refugees won’t know how to do daily tasks in America. While they acclimate to Abilene, they will need help navigating opening checking accounts, using the post office, buying a card and getting a driver’s license – just to name a few.