It's a strange word—one I'd only ever associated with faraway, war-torn countries. I had never considered the difference between an immigrant and a refugee. I had never internalized that coming to America was more than just a physical journey.
I spend my Sunday nights hanging out with high school girls at Edge—loving them through the challenges of maturing into incredible, God-fearing women. I wouldn’t have necessarily skipped out on that to attend a talk on refugees, but since we decided to take all of the Edge students to In Justice on Sunday, I didn’t think anything of it.
I didn’t think anything of it as the First Impressions volunteer handed me the tiny study book with "Refugees" on the cover. I didn’t think anything of it as Lead Pastor John Parker introduced the topic and the speakers. I didn’t think anything of it until Matthew Soerens, U.S. Director of Church Mobilization for World Relief, defined what a refugee is.
A refugee is someone who has been forced to flee his or her country because of persecution, war, or violence and has well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group.
I opened the tiny study book with "Refugees" on the cover. I ran my finger along the definition of the word refugee; then I underlined the word religion. Next, I fell down a google-induced rabbit hole.
My search history now includes:
Cuban refugees in the 60’s and 70’s
Castro persecution of christians
I have lived a privileged life. I went to private school. I traveled. I went to college—twice! Despite (or maybe because of) this I had never thought of my parents as refugees.
My maternal grandfather was a Baptist preacher in Cuba when Castro came to power. I knew they left because Castro was jailing— and even killing— Christians, but it’s not exactly something we talk about around the dinner table. While it feels distant and foreign to me, this didn’t happen a half dozen generations ago. My grandfather fled with my grandmother, my aunts, my uncle and my mother to escape persecution.
My father’s family has a similar story.
The people who brought me into this world were victims of persecution because of their religious and political beliefs.
I emerged from my google-induced rabbit hole to hear how hard life is for refugees. As a Sudanese refugee told our congregation the challenges of his life when he first got to this country, the room laughed along with him at the bus story he shared. It is comical to think of a group of foreigners following a bus for miles on end just to figure out how to get to work. Even he thought it was funny.
But I imagine it wasn’t quite as funny at the time. I’m sure it was hard.
I am a child of two refugees and it wasn’t until this past Sunday night at Summit that I realized this. More importantly, it wasn’t until last Sunday that I realized life was hard for them.
They don’t talk about how hard it was, because they focus on everything that there is to be grateful for. They don't talk about how hard it was, because no one aspires to take a hand out. They don't talk about how hard it was, because it's not so hard anymore.
But because they don't talk about how hard it was, it's easy for me to forget. It’s easy to forget that my family came to the U.S. with nothing. It’s easy to forget they didn’t always speak English. They didn’t always own cars and homes and retirement accounts.
And because they don’t talk about how hard it was, I am wildly grateful that Summit does.
I am grateful for the reminder that people who are joyful and appreciative can also be scared and lonely and hurting. I am grateful for the reminder that I am called to actively love everyone, including those coming into our country as refugees, just like Jesus does. I am grateful that because of this night—and the conversations it spurred— our high schoolers will make an effort to sit down for lunch with the new kid at school who doesn’t speak English.
I’m most grateful for the reminder that, once upon a time, my parents were the new kids at lunch and I’m only here—openly talking about my faith—because they were refugees.
Our In Justice speaker series wraps up this Sunday, March 26th at 6 p.m. If you've missed any of the weeks, you can catch up right here.
Laura Diaz has been attending Summit for a little over a year and is the CEO and Senior Strategist at Kiss Me Creative. In addition to volunteering and leading students at Edge, she helps with writing and editing alongside our communications team. She enjoys long sips of coffee and short lines at Starbucks.