In April I spent some time in Doro, South Sudan, in a refugee camp that is home to 135,000 displaced people. In that place, God both exposed and broke my heart, and I returned home tender, repentant, and eager to do whatever He might ask of me.
We landed back in Dallas on a Saturday, and the next morning, Alysa was in the lobby of our church, recruiting volunteers to participate in a reading program for refugee children.
I went straight to the table and signed up.
Fact: According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, there are more than 50 million refugees around the world, half of which are women and children.
Fact: Less than 1% of the 50 million people seeking refuge are selected for the UN Resettlement Program.
Fact: Texas has led the nation in refugee resettlement for the past four years.
Fact: More than 10,000 refugees have been placed in the Vickery Meadow Neighborhood in Dallas.
Fact: I also live in Dallas.
The nations are at my doorstep.
Sometimes I feel pretty good about myself. After all, I try to be kind to everyone (at least out loud), to take good care of my family, to practice hospitality, to pray for and encourage struggling, disheartened, or grieving friends. I serve my church and community in some useful and respectable ways. To be honest, sometimes I even feel a bit smug in my having-it-all-togetherness.
But then God invites me to witness what real love looks like. And I’m back at exposed and broken again.
When an expert in the law asked Jesus what he needed to do to inherit eternal life, Jesus threw the question back at him. What did the law require? And the man was ready. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.”
Good job, Jesus said. Do this and you will live.
But the man wanted clarification. He was pretty sure he was already doing enough, but he wanted Jesus to sign off on his efforts. So he asked, “Who is my neighbor?” And, as Jesus often did, He told him a story.
A man was attacked by robbers on the road and left half dead. A priest saw him, but passed by on the other side. A Levite did the same. No doubt they had their reasons — didn’t want to touch what they supposed was a dead body and become unclean? Had full agendas and no time for interruptions? But a Samaritan — a man both the priest and Levite would have despised — came upon the man, too. And he did not pass by. He saw the man and took pity.
The Samaritan went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine.
He put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he paid he innkeeper and promised to reimburse any additional expenses for the man’s care.
Jesus asked the lawyer which man was a neighbor to the wounded man. The lawyer answered, “The one who had mercy on him.” And Jesus said, “Go and do likewise.”
SEEK (short for “Seek the Peace”) is a non-profit organization operating within the refugee community in Dallas. The people who work at SEEK are like that Samaritan. They’ve heard the call to love their neighbor, and they’re willing to count the cost to follow through. They know these refugees have suffered unspeakable losses and extreme trauma, but they aren’t there to provide charity. The focus of their work is equipping the refugees to live purposeful, peaceful, reconciled lives right now, right where they are — as individuals, families, and a community.
SEEK pursues their goals through several programs, including the Reading Circle, which exists to equip refugee students for success through literacy. Three Saturday mornings a month, volunteer mentors gather the enrolled elementary-aged students from their apartments and walk them to the SEEK office, where each student receives personal instruction based on an initial assessment and his on-going progress. It’s all very organized, intentional, and a lot of fun.
The kids do improve in their reading and writing skills. But more than that, they build relationships with people who offer them presence, acceptance, encouragement, respect, and hope. And they soak it up.
So, why am I telling you all this? Because I want to encourage you in three ways.
First, I want to encourage you to live with your eyes and heart open. I could have walked past that Reading Circle sign-up table and easily justified the reasons why I didn’t have time for one more ministry in my life. And I would have missed out in a huge way. Maybe the nations are at your doorstep, too? Or the homeless, the poor, the orphan, the widow? Neighbors have many different faces.
Second, I want to encourage you to pray. Pray for the 50 million people who’ve been driven from their homes by war, persecution, natural disaster, disease, economic collapse, and other traumatic events. Pray for their healing, comfort, and thriving. Pray against the greed, pride, hatred, brokenness, and evil that is forcing many of them to flee. Pray that Jesus will meet them in their suffering and make all things new.
There’s a lie that says you can spread your heart too thin. I know, because I’ve listened to it before. But this is what I’ve learned. When you love your neighbor — with your time, your presence, your creativity, and your resources — your heart doesn’t empty. It fills. Again and again and again.
So I have one more word of encouragement. This one is only for those whose hearts move them to respond. It’s not even a request. It’s an opportunity, with absolutely no pressure. SEEK is currently trying to raise funds for the next year — operating expenses, like rent money so they can stay in their office in the refugee apartment complex. They aren’t asking for big commitments. In fact, the specific request sent to their volunteers was to give $10.00 a month for a year, and to ask ten other people to do the same. And of course, any amount is deeply appreciated.
So, some of you reading this? You’re my ten. My fellow Samaritans on this particular road. And for others, maybe this isn’t an opportunity God has for you. That’s perfectly fine. My prayer for you is the same as my prayer for me — that we’ll go through life with open eyes and hearts, willing to recognize our part, and entering joyfully when we do. Because I believe with all my heart that the gifts we find waiting for us there far surpass any giving we may do.
Fact: There are more than 50 million refugees around the world.
But facts don’t move us. Neighbors do. Here’s to loving them well.
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If you’d like to donate or learn more about SEEK the Peace, click here. Thank you!