Can you tell me the best way to get rich? The words tumbled quickly from the lips of our new friend – laughing as he saw our surprised faces.
We weren’t sure we heard right. Our ears heard English, but our friend barely knew how to speak the language of his new home. So…
He laughed again – and once more – as clear as day, Can you tell me the best way to get rich?
It was spring of 1989. It was the time when Communism was shifting in the former Soviet Union. In those days we learned the U.S.S.R. was actually individual countries: Ukraine, Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania, and others. Mikhail Gorbachev was cracking open the doors and allowing families persecuted for their religious faith to exit. By the thousands, these families left their beloved Russia in search of America’s freedom – freedom to worship as they chose – freedom from persecution. This was only the beginning of change for that government.
Our home became one of several in the area to welcome such a family – a Russian speaking family of eight – for six weeks.
Our guest surprised us with his bold statement, and we would continue to experience many more crazy surprises in the weeks to follow. Yet, it was the best and worst six weeks of our lives as a family. We were stretched and blessed. Our lives were impacted and we were forever changed.
It’s now 25 years later and another surge of refugees are given passage to our city. A much different flood of immigrants – immigrants who are war-torn, weary, broken, surviving at great cost. Refugees from cultures much different than we have seen in our nation’s history. Middle eastern, African and Asian – all are high on the list. Believers of different faiths and practices very foreign to our western ideals. Tribal and familial, draped in burkas or turbans – some with only the clothes on their back – they come….yearning for rest and security…longing for new beginnings…grieving what was lost.
My husband and I are soon welcoming a single mom and her three early teen-aged children. Of course, it will be much different from our first experience since much is different about us, personally, and there are more resources available today. Our role will be an important connection to help them ease into their new culture and home over the next several months. This time, after welcoming them at the airport, we will settle them into an apartment arranged by Catholic Charities. Some supplies and culturally acceptable foods will be in place to relieve culture stress. No doubt animated hand gestures and facial expressions will be our mode of communication with an occasional interpreter to assist. We will laugh, feel awkward, maybe cry a bit as we learn to love the new foreigner in our midst.
We are doing as much research as we can to understand a bit of their cultural ways and norms – but, mostly – it will be on-the-job-training, and that’s ok. It’s best to not have too many expectations.
Except – maybe a surprise or two.
Are you interested to learn more about refugees in your city? Or, possibly how to get involved? A few links are listed below to get you started: