Walking with a Refugee

BY EMILY PATTERSON-JACKSON, CARE CENTER VOLUNTEER & GRACE ATTENDER

I had the pleasure of helping a Latina woman tonight at the Food Pantry who has recently immigrated from Venezuela. She had her young daughter with her. As we chatted and I told her about my kids and that two were from Colombia, she was excited to share that she was from the neighboring country of Venezuela. I told her that I had been reading a lot of articles recently about what's going on in Venezuela now and how desperate the situation seems to be for the people there. She instantly grew solemn and she shook her head sadly and said, "It is very, very bad there now." She got this faraway look in her eyes that seemed like she was remembering something, so I tried to steer our conversation to something more upbeat. I asked her how long she had been here, and she said that she had been in the US for 14 months but that her two children had been here almost 9 months. I think I actually gasped a little, and I said, "You were here for 6 months before your children could join you?!" She said it was the worst time in her life, but that she was desperate to get them out of the country. There is no food, there is no medicine, and children are starving. She would have done anything, even not seeing her most beloved children for 6 months, to protect them from this fate.

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 As a mother, I can't even begin to imagine that. It really puts into perspective the hardships that refugees face in the world today. It's almost impossible for us to imagine being so desperate to feed our children; so afraid for our children's lives in the face of unbelievable violence; unable to even provide the most basic medicines and necessities, that we would be willing to leave the only home we've ever known, leave our children behind, and face dangerous, life-threatening transport, with only the HOPE of being able to make life better for your children. But that's what millions of mothers and fathers face every single day in Venezuela, Syria, and hundreds of other places.

I have absolutely no idea if my new friend tonight immigrated here legally or not. I didn't ask her. Because that's not my job. My job, as a sister to her in Christ, is just to love her well. It's to walk alongside of her. It's to meet her needs, in tangible and non-tangible ways. It's to hurt with her. It's to have my heart broken by that which is breaking her heart for her family, her country, and her people. Thanks be to God, I've never had to walk in the shoes of a refugee. But that makes it all the more important for us to walk alongside them in kindness, compassion, and love rather than in fear, distrust, and judgment.