For most of us, the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting self-isolation, social distancing and economic turmoil are among the most unsettling challenges we have experienced in our lifetimes. As overwhelming as those issues have been amid the relative safety and comfort of familiar surroundings, consider the multiplied trauma faced by international refugees among us. In addition to feelings of social isolation, many of them have had to grapple with such incredible tragedies as civil war, genocide, starvation, poverty, separation from loved ones, language barriers and loss of cultural identity.
Despite those hardships, countless refugees have maintained a strong faith in God and continue to trust Him to meet their day-to-day needs. Others have come to faith in Christ through involvement in English as a Second Language classes, Bible studies and other ministries provided by local churches, associations and Woman’s Missionary Union groups.
One outstanding example of a congregation committed to serving refugees and other internationals is First Baptist Church of Amarillo, Texas. Along with providing an extensive ESL ministry serving participants from 25 countries, FBC, Amarillo, hosts five language congregations on its campus, including Burundi, Congolese, Karen, Laotian and Vietnamese.
FOLLOWING GOD’S GUIDANCE
During a visit to First Baptist earlier this year, we had the privilege of hearing stirring testimonies from refugees who now serve alongside fellow internationals in Amarillo. Boon Vongsurith, pastor of the Laotian congregation affiliated with First Baptist, shared a particularly compelling reflection.
Vongsurith escaped from Laos to Thailand in 1975 after being held captive because of his Christian faith. Sensing God’s direction to flee the persecution of his home country, he carefully wrapped his Bible in a plastic bag before swimming into the freezing Mekong River dividing Laos and Thailand.
“The two river banks were closed and anything that moved, they would shoot one another. I prayed to God, one prayer, two parts,” Vongsurith recalled. “I said, ‘God, I know in my head I will be drowned or killed escaping from Laos to Thailand. If I die, I pray someone will find my dead body and know that I’m a believer because of the Bible with me. But if you spare me, I will serve you any place, any time.’”
FROM SAFETY TO SERVICE
More than 45 minutes later, he made it safely across the river and into Thailand. “This Bible is very important to me,” he said, gently holding aloft the treasured Bible he has carried with him for decades. “God spared me for a better job so I’m here to serve Him in this country with my own people.”
God clearly instructs believers throughout Scripture to show love and hospitality to strangers, foreigners, sojourners, immigrants and outsiders. That is the essence of our call to welcome, serve and befriend refugees and other internationals who make their way to our nation, state and community.
We have all grown more familiar with the impact of isolation and loneliness in recent days. Seek ways for God to use those experiences to lead you, your church or mission group to reach out and serve refugees in your midst. Perhaps God has spared you “for a better job” — just as He did for Boon Vongsurith.
By Trennis Henderson, WMU National Correspondent