My mom was born in Havana, Cuba. My uncle who turned 12 right at the beginning of the Castro regime was one of the ‘Pedro Pan kids’ whose story was full of heartache and loss as he was sent alone to foster care in Florida to help flee the communist regime. My grandparents and mom waited a long 8 months for their time to leave which culminated in a moment of stepping on a plane with the clothes on their backs and two diapers. The government took everything. Their house, their money, and savings, cars, even their wedding bands. They left everything they knew to start a new life void of oppression and full of hope.
My grandparents, Alberto and Sofia Ravelo, were the first Cuban refugees brought to Dallas by the Home Mission Board (Now NAMB) and a small Baptist church on the East side of Dallas. They were given a home, a job, clothes, everything they needed to start a new life in this strange yet free country.
Growing up they were just my Mawmaw and Pawpaw. They would talk to me through very broken English and give brief Spanish lessons. They taught me a love for good Cuban coffee and to wrap all your ‘nice’ things in plastic, and most importantly I remember Pawpaw’s thick-rimmed glasses over his Bible on end table. They loved me like any grandparent loves a grandchild; the best they could with the little they had.
It wouldn’t be until I stepped into adulthood and motherhood myself that I would look back and learn some of life’s biggest lessons from them. The faith they exhibited in the moments of knowing they may not see their son again, and the prayers they must have prayed being oceans away. The hope that they clung to as they stepped into a new world with a different language, system, and people.
I wouldn’t be here today if it weren’t for the church, both locally and collectively, who “loved the foreigner.” As I look at the heritage that my grandparents left for us I see a young couple who exhibited such grit and perseverance, and because of their faith I am typing this today as a daughter of God, a pastor’s wife, minister, and in a few shorts weeks I will get to see my own son follow in believer’s baptism. It is a heritage of faith being passed down through generations because of the faithful pursuit of God going after all people through His Bride.
There is no easy answer to fixing our immigration problems as a country, but as a church, there is a wide open field of opportunity to come alongside the hurting, displaced, broken, yet hopeful souls that are coming into our country. This is a mission field that we can not ignore!
How Can We Practically Love Refugees?
1) Help Make Their Home. As I mentioned, my grandparents didn’t get to bring all of their belongings with them. Simple items like a mattress (even an air mattress) furniture, clothes, cooking utensils, and baby supplies.
2) Become their advocate. From learning English, to writing a resume, to clothes for an interview and help finding jobs become a friend and advocate for them. The stories that come out of newly placed refugees in our cities are full of them being taken advantage of both financially and physically. You being someone who knows the language, systems, currency, and process can be a huge help in making sure that the little they do have is stewarded well.
3) Listen. Learn. Love. The very definition of ‘refugee’ is a person who has been forced to leave their country in order to escape war, persecution, or natural disaster. They have experienced incredible loss, heartbreak, and trauma. I once lived next to a Sudanese family who had fled because of their homeland being ripped apart by war. The mom had been raped multiple times, their 4 children getting to eat sporadically from scraps from the garbage. They still had family there, all of their belongings left behind in the middle of the night, yet that is what she described with tear-filled eyes as “home.” I learned so much from her story and as we shared tears, and hugs there were sweet opportunities for showing and sharing the Gospel message of a God who chases us down in our sorrow and brokenness.
We can not just allow this to be a talking point for the politicians. People from all over the world are landing on our soil and as the Church, we have got to take the opportunity to welcome, love, and share the Gospel of Jesus to the nations.
You have no idea how a lineage of faith that might be birthed from the efforts of giving a cup of water and telling someone about Jesus. My hope and prayer is that in a year, ten years, twenty decades from now, the testimonies of men and women from all different backgrounds, cultures, and beliefs will be the stories of those whose parents or grandparents landed in an unknown place and found the very thing they needed in the name of Jesus Christ.