Have you hugged your immigrant today?

Aren't they cute?
God loves me a lot. I put up a status update on Facebook yesterday about how a spoonful of Nutella improved my quality of life, and then yesterday afternoon my supervisor's wife got a little Nutella sampler package in the mail, right after she had read that post. God knows where I'm at.

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I hope you'll bear with me a little for today's post. I'm trying to draw together a couple of different situations I've encountered here, and I'm figuring out how to write this as I go. It may be a tad disjointed (which is really nothing new).

 Last Tuesday we had a memorial service for our director's mother. Some of his friends who live in California came up to be with him, and I had a conversation with his friend's wife, who works with immigrants and refugees. We talked about the importance of having a place to come where people know your name and your language, where you are recognized and appreciated, where you can have community. She has found the same problems in California that we have found here. Life is so expensive and fast-paced that people are killing themselves just to be able to afford their lives. They don't have time to make friends, and they are desperately lonely. This is doubly true for immigrants and refugees, who often have limited English, are forced to take minimum-wage jobs, and who feel completely isolated and un-cared-for in these hectic western cultural contexts. This lady quoted someone she had worked with: "In Iraq, we may not have had freedom, or food to eat, or safety. We lived in fear. But I tell you, we never had to drink coffee alone." As a westerner who lives alone and spends significant amounts of time alone, I have no idea what it feels like to be transplanted out of the warmth of living with immediate and extended family and a constant stream of visiting friends and dropped into a cold and alien isolation, away from everything familiar. I have to assume that it amounts to some kind of trauma.

Add to this another encounter: on Saturday, I was chilling at the Centre, about to go eat lunch (in the back, by myself--such a westerner), when a group of people came in. One of them was a lady from Kenya who has been in Canada since 2003, in BC for the last five years. I helped her with an essay for her English class, then she started asking about what the purpose of the Centre is. I told her how the director had come to Canada 14 years ago, with his wife and four small children, how they had landed in Winnipeg in the winter with nearly no English and no knowledge of the culture. It was hard. It built a desire in his heart to create a place where people could come and hear their language and find community and love in this alien land. As I talked with the lady, she started crying, then broke down and shared her story of raising money to come here for a conference, missing the conference because she got here too late, and then getting stuck here because she didn't have the money to go back. She lived with a family for a while, until they kicked her out and dropped her off in the middle of downtown Calgary. She lived in shelters for several months, where she couldn't enter the rooms until 9 at night and had to vacate at 3 in the morning. She went to several churches, expecting them to be like churches in Africa, but she found them deserted when there were no actual services going on. She got some help from people and made her way to BC, spending a night on the street before she got here. Now she's trying to build up her English skills so she can get a better job and hopefully help other women in similar situations. Her thoughts: "I slept on the street, can you believe it? I lived in shelters... in this wealthy country, Canada! I thought that people in Canada would welcome people from other parts of the world."

My third story actually happened last year. I was riding the SkyTrain late one night and ended up in conversation with a lady from Mexico City. We talked about how she was finding life in Canada, and she expressed her loneliness: "I read that you need twelve hugs a day to be happy. No one hugs anyone here." We talked about that for a while, and then it was her stop, so we hugged each other and said goodbye. I've never seen her again, but I do remember the hug.

I guess I want to offer a personal challenge, me to you:
1. If you don't know any immigrants or refugees, I challenge you to ask the Lord to bring some your way. Take time to hear their stories and to love them. There's a lot in the Bible about how we should treat aliens and strangers. Maybe it's time we got proactive about it.
2. If you know an immigrant or refugee, take an opportunity to invite that person over to your home or out to eat. Be intentional about being a friend.

Hug an immigrant or refugee today. It will cost you nothing, and you have no idea what it may do for him or her.

  • God has given me several neat opportunities to talk to people recently, and some neat new connections with people.
  • The memorial service at the Centre included several people of different faith backgrounds, and, as I understand it, they got to hear the good news.
  • We had a break-in at the Centre last Monday night. It looks like God is providing for us in some neat ways in answer to that.
  • I have a car for a few weeks, which is a massive blessing.
  • My brother and one of his friends visited me for a week, which was a huge encouragement and a joy.
Prayer requests
  • God has been answering a lot of my prayers regarding personal growth recently, and it's been painful. He's letting me see some things in myself that I've cheerfully hidden from over the years, and while I'm glad He doesn't give up on us, it's hard to see my sinfulness so clearly. Pray for continued growth and a submissive, humble spirit. Pray against discouragement and self-pity.
  • Please pray for wisdom in my friendships and that I'd have eternal purposes in mind as I interact with people.
  • I'm going to be helping at a conference this week, helping with the youth. Pray for wisdom for the leaders and the speaker. Pray that God would bring us closer to Him through the things that happen this week. Pray for the conference, that we would truly meet God as healer (the theme is Jesus: Healer of the Nations). Pray for the team from Mississippi helping with the children. Pray for eternal results.

Again, thank you so much for your prayers.


J. Guy said...

How true, that none of us truly knows what others go through if we have not gone through similar circumstances. That is part of our individual ministries. If we don't show love to others, who will? I loved your article emphasizing the necessity of loving, hugging and caring for each other. I love and am proud of you Jen. Mamaw

Cassaundra Harris said...

One can never have too much nutella, my friend.

I sorely appreciate this post...I haven't had a hug in almost 6 weeks.