When Two Cultures Embrace for the First Time

Carol Roxburgh | November 4, 2013

Beargrass Christian Church welcomes Sahra Ali and her six children, refugees from Somalia. Photo: Kentucky Refugee Ministries

Beargrass Christian Church welcomes Sahra Ali and her six children, refugees from Somalia. Photo: Kentucky Refugee Ministries

Resettlement to a third country is one of three durable solutions for refugees.  The remaining two are to return to their home country or integrate into the country where they have fled.  Church World Service works to resettle refugees in 34 local affiliates across the United States.

Having come from one of these offices to work at the CWS New York City office in February, I have come to miss the direct contact with refugees.  One of my favorite parts of my job was to meet a refugee family at the airport upon their arrival.  Meeting a family was always made more significant when there was a congregation involved who had agreed to assist.  It is such a heartwarming experience to see the family, tired from their long journey, come through the arrival gate to find a group of welcoming Americans to meet them.  Many times the church members would bring balloons, a stuffed animal, and especially a big smile and a warm handshake.  Observing these two cultures embrace for the first time really touches the heart and shows how important the initial welcome is for the ongoing resettlement experience of the family.

One of the families I recall best was a Bhutanese family of five with parents, a young adult daughter and two teenage sons. Little English was known by all except for the older daughter.  She, along with our interpreter, spoke for the family.  As we drove the family to their new apartment and they entered it for the first time we could feel the excitement (even through their exhaustion).  The congregation had outdone themselves in making the apartment an inviting home with sturdy furniture, decorative items, kitchen needs, a cupboard and fridge full of food, and the table set for a meal. They had even taken the time to coordinate the boy’s and girl’s rooms with age appropriate items, including a stereo!

As we went from room to room with the family they eagerly touched everything, eyes wide with wonder that this was their new home and amazed that everything in it was for them.  Finally, as  they set down at the table to bless their first meal in their new home and country, the family expressed so much thankfulness to the church members for all they had done to welcome them even though they were strangers.

There was not a dry eye among us as we said goodbye. We left feeling blessed that we had made a difference in the lives of this family, but more importantly they had made a difference in our lives.  If your church is in an area that resettles refugees please consider this ministry as there is no better example of Matthew 25:35…”for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me water, I was a stranger and you welcomed me.”

Carol Roxburgh, Associate Director, Local Offices, CWS