Some say refugees. I say friends.

I spend nearly every day of the week hanging out at the houses of refugees or having them over my place. On weekends many of us attend church together, all weekend long. On weekdays others of us eat lunch together; I always look forward to 12:30. Several of us practice music together, all of us converse together and call out the ways we appreciate each other, and some of my acquaintances who are refugees open up their houses till midnight to share ugali and rice and greens and fish.

Just this Sunday, I visited a Congolese pastor’s house as a stranger and left with an invitation to return anytime. As I left, he made sure to point out his apartment number and floor so I could find it next time. Thank you, Pastor David.

I recently realized that I talk about my friends who are refugees differently than I talk about my native-born American friends, particularly those who are white or monocultural. Sometimes this lends context, but it can also be problematic if lending to an othering effect.

“Reaching out to” or “serving” our refugee neighbors or any marginalized population in order to feel good about ourselves hinders us from fully engaging with the group being “served.” When we do this, we are looking through a lens of power versus powerless. Although we may be doing good deeds and growing in our understanding of particular refugee populations, subconsciously thinking in terms of power dynamics blocks our hearts from receiving love.

We native-born Americans are not the saviors. But we can be good friends.

Here’s an idea: let’s develop deeper friendships so refugees become fully human in our eyes, fully capable of giving while still fully needy, like us native-born American humans. Let’s open our hearts to receive love from the strangers and soon-to-be-friends we seek to welcome.

While the humanity of refugees is not a question, it is important to note that the human experiences of refugees have been shaped by horrors like war and statelessness. Refugees have experienced things most native-born Americans have not. Their experiences will vary by age and country and contingency. The histories of the countries they have fled and lived in have shaped them in significant ways. The color of their skin will also impact their life chances once in the United States. We must consider the systems in place that affect their daily lives.

Refugees in the United States have overcome a lot: less than one percent of refugees worldwide are resettled, and it is common to spend almost two decades in camps or foreign cities before coming to the US, if granted status here.

Yet once they receive this status and move yet again, they come to a land that often treats them poorly.

Several of my Congolese-American friends have told me that Africans do not believe them when they say the United States is not heaven. (I witnessed this over
-admiring attitude firsthand in DRC myself.) But the truth is that when they come to the United States, they can barely make rent. Their living conditions are not necessarily significantly different. They start at the bottom of the workforce. Academic degrees do not always carry over to the American system. In short, life is still quite difficult.

Take pause today to consider these injustices. Do a little research. Sleep on what you discover. Wake up woke.

Now take pause to consider the ways refugees give to your community and the United States, the ways you have seen them serve. Thank them for their contributions. Be creative about it.

Today I stand with countless global citizens to celebrate world refugee day. It has been a truly splendid day full of energy and smiles and even a bit of dancing (see the InTandem – a Flashmob of Empathy video below from Denver’s World Refugee Day rally.) I particularly think of the ways my friends are bettering my life through their hospitality and friendship and food. The main ingredients I have noted are time, love, and ugali, given in generous portions. I am grateful for my friends who are refugees and am incredibly glad to be a part of their lives as they are in mine.

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Why salvation is not exclusive

Two years ago this weekend, God changed my heart and set me on the course toward racial reconciliation.

At a summer ministries retreat, in a room full of students lamenting over the ways they had been hurt, God’s Spirit convicted me to confess my racial prejudice in public and to repent. Although God rescued me from slavery to sin and brought me into his Kingdom when I was a young girl, and although he led me through various seasons of focused growth (e.g. prayer in third grade, evangelism in my senior year of high school), that weekend in 2014 marked a significant turning point in my life.

On the same weekend in 2015, God called me to the Democratic Republic of Congo, where I hope to work with refugees. This connects to my work while I’m in the States because the refugees may move here, and I want them to be safe.

While in the States, I fight for #blacklivesmatter because God’s work is holistic—he cares about both body and soul. White evangelical sermons often focus on the soul, and since eternity is unfathomably long, I’m glad these pastors are thinking ultimate. We want people to know Jesus. Yet these same pastors and churches may also be afraid to talk directly about race. About bodies. They leave out half of how Jesus interacted with people and spoke to them.

You see, Jesus raised the dead, healed the blind, and hung out with women and men from the underprivileged ethnic groups, the Gentiles and mixed-race Samaritans. The Jews of his time weren’t too fond of these folk, to put it lightly. In fact, the Jewish leaders’ speech dripped with prejudice toward them. But Jesus wanted his ethnic group, the Jews, to come alive and see that God’s Kingdom welcomes women and men of all ethnicities.

(As a crucial aside, Jesus didn’t call everyone to be the same—the Gentiles did not have to conform to Jewish practices such as circumcision, for example. But he created all people in his image and desires for them to be reconciled to each other just as they can be reconciled to God through his sacrifice on the cross.)

The apostle Paul proclaims, “I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile” (Romans 1:16, NIV). God does not discriminate based on race, ethnicity, social class or gender. Everyone who “believe(s) in the Lord Jesus … will be saved” (Acts 16:31, NIV). God doesn’t qualify “everyone.” He says everyone, black and white, Native American and Indian immigrant, Puerto Rican and Vietnamese.

Although many black Americans are restricted to zip codes with poor housing and poor education today, if they trust Jesus, they will dance on the golden streets of Heaven. (And since black churches in the United States tend to incorporate more movement than white ones, the Lord knows these brothers and sisters will make a prettier sight than most people from my white church! 😉 )

Part of the prayer Jesus taught his disciples—which applies to all Christians today—begs for God’s Kingdom to come and will to be done on earth as it is in heaven. So why aren’t more white evangelicals engaging in social issues regarding race and public policy? Why do they hesitate to believe the real life testimonies of black brothers and sisters?

It would be horrible for a newly arrived black refugee walking out of a convenience store and down the streets of his own neighborhood to be shot by a police officer who has been socialized to fear black men. It would be atrocious for a Congolese woman, scarred from warfare in her home country, to see her young son killed in this new land of “opportunity and freedom” or to be beaten herself on the roadside. (If you weren’t following the news last year, I’m referencing Mike Brown, Tamir Rice and Marlene Pinnock.) I pray these borrowed examples will never happen to new black refugees.

In my experience, the Church has compassion for refugees. It follows that it should also act justly and lovingly toward black Americans who have lived in this country for centuries, building it from the ground up. I pray the borrowed stories will never again happen to black Americans.

Toward that end I strive.

I encourage my Christian readers to seek the Lord as you also strive for his Kingdom. All human beings have dignity, being made in God’s image. Why then do we remain complacent about the structures that keep many of our black brothers and sisters in both visible and invisible chains? I especially call Christians to open their eyes and hearts to the reality of racial injustice and inequality in this country.

Let us not grow weary in doing good.

Never forget that #blacklivesmatter.

Following the red dirt road

When I was ten-almost-eleven, I visited some missionary friends in Kenya. I still remember the vivid red dirt roads of Machakos; the oil paint that would only come off my MK friend and me with kerosene; the ugali, chicken and chapatis the ladies cooked at the Bible college; and of course the visit to the hills where a local boy noticed my bleeding knee before I did and asked if I was okay.

I’d been interested in the continent of Africa before I visited Kenya, and I’ve wanted to return to East Africa ever since that January 2007.

God has developed this passion particularly in the last two and a half years I’ve been in college. During freshman year, I took advantage of my speech, research and geography classes to study rape in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, globalization (or the lack thereof) in Ethiopia and conflict in Sudan and South Sudan respectively. By doing so, I realized that I was especially drawn to DRC. I couldn’t place any logical reason why, and thus I accredit it to God’s calling.

In summer 2014 I worked as an intern with newly arrived refugees in Denver. I befriended several case managers at that organization, including one who taught me Kinyarwanda, the language of Rwanda. (I haven’t been able to continue those studies, but I love the language and hope to learn it better someday.)

Sophomore year, I knew I was interested in DRC and Rwanda, but I spent all my time studying Rwanda via media (Gospel music on YouTube, movies, independent language studies for a while). According to the CIA world fact book, the Democratic Republic of Congo is geographically the 11th largest country on the globe, contains over 200 tribes and claims five languages commonly spoke throughout the country. I didn’t know where to start, so I decided to study Rwanda instead. I thought some of its culture might carry over the border to Congo. The countries differ, but I know my studies will not be in vain, especially if I work with Rwandan refugees in Congo.

God confirmed my call to DRC at Snow Camp in January 2015. If you follow my blog, you’ll know that I am part of an organization called Mu Kappa. Once a year all the Midwest Mu Kappas gather at a winter retreat, so last Martin Luther King Jr. weekend, I had the privilege of hanging out with Africans from Cameroon to Kenya.

After one of the speaking sessions at the retreat, I hung out with some friends in the cabin, napped to recuperate from the active weekend and then spent a half hour alone with God in the snow. While on the swings waiting for dinner, I reviewed what the speaker had said. He had pointed out four main identity questions everyone asks, two of which have stuck with me to this day.

Surrounded by a shimmering landscape of white and the chilly caress of the winter breeze, I thought through the questions: “Who am I? A beloved daughter of God. Where do I belong?” Here God filled in the blank, confirming where he had led me up to that point: “In the DRC, where I have called you.”

Those were his exact words to me, and he couldn’t have chosen a better place to make his call known than when I was surrounded by students who understood such a calling and would celebrate it with me!

Since then, God has also made it “click” that I should also be a missionary. He let me know this one June morning when I was preparing for church and praying for Jesus Christ, my God, to draw a dear Muslim friend into His Kingdom.

So what do I want to do after all my schooling? The succinct answer I tell people is that I want to do journalism and work with refugees in Congo (as a missionary).

At this point, I’m looking into opportunities to visit eastern Congo in summer 2016. God said “okay,” and I long to make this happen! My basic goal this summer would be to visit the area in which I hope to spend my life, to get a feel for it. However, I would absolutely love to work with refugees this summer as well, as that is what I hope to do in the future.

I’m thrilled to be going to Congo. If you have any leads on how to make this happen, I’d love to hear from you! I also appreciate your fervent prayers as I follow God. May we all seek His face and proclaim His glory!!

As a final note for those of you who are already thinking it won’t be easy, I know; I’ve heard it before. But God doesn’t call us to lives of comfort or pleasure! He gives joy through His Spirit when we’re in tune with Him, whatever the circumstances. He also created Congo as a beautiful place full of valuable people like you and I, so I hope to break down some negative stereotypes or associations with “Africa” and DRC on my journey there. I’ll share this Pharrell cover from eastern Congo with you as a start. 😉 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lsC23izciN4

Merry Christmas, and thanks for your prayers!

Are Syrian refugees safe?

(published in the Wheaton Record on 03 December 2015; edited and updated here on 06 December 2015)

I’m not surprised that well over half of the United States is essentially barring Syrian refugees, despite the illegality of officially doing so and the human rights violations any de facto or de jure laws induce. This country has a history of creating contradictory laws to allow “desirable” immigrants and keep out the “undesirable.”

Perhaps you’ve noticed that we welcome Mexican workers to our underpaid fields when times are good but blame the seasonal immigrants when the economy is bad. This occurs with other ethnic groups today, and the United States has been enforcing similar, seemingly subtle practices for centuries.

Take the Chinese for example. During the Gold Rush, we welcomed this group. But when the gold wasn’t shining from the mines anymore, we essentially stopped Chinese immigration via the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act. The U.S. picked and chose who was most desirable to immigrate, and the Chinese were no longer “it.” Ironically, we created the Chinese Exclusion Act the same year as the Treaty of Amity and Commerce, allowing goods to enter Korea from the West. Around the same time, Japanese inflows increased, only to be stifled 15 years later with the so-called “gentleman’s agreement.” Discriminatory laws later restricted land ownership as well.

To demonstrate more contradictory and unjust immigration laws, the United States upheld the Bracero Program from 1942 to 1964, allowing Mexican citizens to work here, while simultaneously enforcing Operation Wetback from 1953-58, deporting them on the spot if they didn’t have legal documents on their persons when stopped. Does anyone smell racial profiling? Or are you thinking of South African Apartheid?

The contingent manner with which this country creates and enforces certain immigration laws seems ridiculous to me. Now our issue is with Syrian people who are running for safety. We’re afraid because ISIS originated from the same country, but aren’t many Syrians fleeing their homes for the same reason?

Moreover, when we fear that the refugees are terrorists set on destroying this land of “freedom,” we demonstrate our ignorance at the processes refugees go through to leave the camps. My friend from Burundi spent about fourteen years in refugee camps in Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo before coming to the States, where he received his green card in the first year and waited five years for citizenship. His wife and children had to wait eleven years before they were allowed to enter the States as refugees. And that hassle was for East African refugees, people not from a place of alleged terrorism.

For all refugees, the paperwork required of refugees entering another country is consuming, and the screenings are intense. Whether immigration is rushed or prolonged, we can be sure that Syrian refugees are not out to harm America. They’re fleeing the terror, after all. Whether they wish they could return to their old home or long for a new one, the camps are not homes. They are meant to provide temporary refuge only. Some of these refugees are well educated, and some are not, but all are displaced and hurting.

As Christians, God commands us to show hospitality to the stranger. He commanded Israel to welcome the stranger, since Israel had once dwelt in a land not their own. Israel had fled terror. Israel was a refugee state.

Are we Egypt, fearing and terrorizing meek refugees, trying to keep their numbers down and mistreating those already here through “protection” laws, unhospitable interpersonal interactions and Facebook posts? Or are we Israel at its best, when they welcomed the stranger because they knew what it meant to need a home?

As Americans, we are a nation of immigrants. As Christians, we are told to love and not fear, to serve and not be anxious. How will we interact with Syrian and Iraqi refugees and with our state and national governments as a result?