Editor’s Note: The world tells refugees they are not wanted, but we serve a God who desires a relationship with displaced people. He beckons each one of them to their eternal home and offers a gospel that knows no bounds. For more information about WMU’s Project HELP: Refugees, visit wmu.com/projecthelp.
In many cities along the borders of the United States, there are over 30,000 refugees entering the country each year. Refugees are people who have to leave their country because it is at war or struggling with famine, or even because the people are persecuted. Families, even children, will travel long distances to find a better place to live. It’s difficult when you realize that thousands of people are suffering and you think you have no way to help them. It may feel that way, but you have a role to play. You can raise awareness in your community just by simply letting people know these problems are real, people are hurting, and we can make a difference in refugees’ lives by physically helping them and making sure they have an opportunity to know about Christ.
Several years ago, in Dallas, Texas, I had the opportunity to participate in a refugee simulation. It was a representation of how refugees are treated and what they go through in a refugee camp, just on a much smaller scale. I was with a group of people I didn’t know, and we were rudely commanded to take off our shoes. We were assigned numbers and shoved into rooms, separated from the people we were with. I learned that refugees are often separated from their families, parents, and children, never to see them again or even know if they will survive. Men in uniforms carrying clubs angrily shouted at us in an unfamiliar language, and the atmosphere was fear and chaos. I went anxiously wherever they sent me and watched as people were pulled from the same room I was in, and I never saw them again. At the end of the simulation, the men explained to us (in our own language) that this is similar to what refugees face: fear, confusion, anger, and anxiety. Some women near me were so shaken they had tears in their eyes. I was so ready to just get out of there, back to normalcy and back to my group. Even though I knew going in that it wasn’t real, I was still very emotionally moved and influenced by the experience. They were able to allow us to feel things, and from our emotional experience, we hurt for refugees. We wanted to help.
I have also participated in a different refugee simulation, and this is something you can try too. Participants wrote down on cards words that defined them, such as mom, sister, son, or daughter. They also included favorite activities, items, and the most important people in their lives, like a mom, dad, or sibling. As the instructor came around, she said that refugees have to make heartbreaking decisions when they flee their homes, and we had 30 seconds to choose a card to give up and tear it up into small pieces. She counted down urgently, and shouted, “Ten seconds left. Hurry!” (It was similar to the angry men in the first simulation.) This represented the anxiety, fear, and confusion refugees face every day.
Next, she came around and chose a few random cards and tore them up; we had no choice! This was to simulate the loss of control in these situations. One story, especially, stuck with me about a little boy from Iraq who was fleeing home with his family. They packed the car with everything they wanted to keep and set out to drive across a desert road, which would take 2 days. They soon arrived at a checkpoint where armed soldiers forced them to stop their car and get out. The soldiers went through everything, picking and choosing the items they wanted to keep before letting the family continue. Over the course of their two-day journey, the family arrived at checkpoint after checkpoint, just to have the same thing happen each time. They finally reached the last checkpoint, but they had nothing left to give up. The soldiers became angry when they realized they had nothing to take from the family. They held them at gunpoint, ordering the father and daughter to stand aside, while the mother and son got back into the car. Everyone began shouting and crying. The father spoke loudly, telling everyone to be quiet. He begged the soldiers to allow his daughter to leave, but they refused. He told his young son to take care of his mother. Distraught and fearing for their lives, they left. They eventually came to the United States, and 20 years later, still have heard nothing of the rest of their family. All they hope is that they didn’t suffer before their lives were ended.
After hearing this story, I was in tears and had goosebumps all over my arms. My heart ached for them, and I was troubled. But it opened my eyes to world issues I didn’t fully understand. It doesn’t take much to reach so many hearts, aching for the hurting, with just a little information; just that heartbreaking story can open eyes and raise awareness.
I challenge you to find your own unique way to raise awareness about refugees and their need to hear about the love God has for them. Maybe you’re like me and don’t live near an affected area, but the possibilities are endless to the difference you can make. You see, just by raising awareness about something, you can make a huge impact for Christ.
Kayla Moore is a 2021 National Acteens Panelist from Lewiston, Missouri.