I’m no camper, nor am I a fan of dirt. Truth be told, I’m more of a Hampton Inn girl. I’m also not the rough-and-tumble type. ROTC was the only class I ever dropped in college—turning my pants into a life raft while treading water proved impossible for me. And, though I once swam in a lake with an alligator, I hadn’t done it on purpose. I was no danger-seeker. In fact, things frightened me that shouldn’t have. Even so, in the aftermath of 9/11, when God broke my heart for Afghanistan, I found myself trekking across the planet, standing off with scorpions, and jumping over sewage ditches, sometimes with IEDs exploding around the city. The love God had deposited in my heart for Afghan women and girls proved powerful enough to sweep me out of my element—away from all that was familiar, comfortable or even safe—and deliver me to where they lived.
In Afghanistan, I shed tears with women who had survived six years of Taliban rule, lost their life savings, and buried children, husbands, and others, sometimes with their own dreams. Isaiah 58—God’s call to His people to loose the chains of injustice—had long moved me to tears, but the suffering of Afghan women called me to action. Ultimately, I relocated to the war-torn country and launched a jewelry making business that became a lifeline for women in poverty and their families, and a few teenagers who wanted to stay in school rather than be married off to the highest bidder. I had found my calling — scorpions and the Taliban were just part of the package.
In Afghanistan, I was the foreigner, a stranger. Stripped of the support systems I had relied on in America and unable to speak the local language well, navigate the transportation systems, or even buy my own groceries, I felt vulnerable, helpless, and lonely. I needed the kind people who came along and taught me how to survive in a land not my own.
Afghans right here in Columbia have fled the dangers of their homeland for America and now find themselves strangers in a foreign land. These Afghans are among the 120-130 refugees Lutheran Services Carolinas resettles in Columbia, South Carolina every year, including from Iraq, Burma, Eritrea, and Somalia and represent only a tiny fraction of the nearly ten million refugees in the world seeking safety. In Afghanistan, the Taliban targeted some of them for helping the U.S. military. When they left for work in the morning, they did not know whether they would return to their families that evening alive. In a land where the Taliban burns down schools with teachers and female students locked inside and throws acid in the faces of girls making their way to school, parents fear sending their daughters outside even for an education.
“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, the tempest–tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!” These words, penned by Emma Lazarus in 1883, grace our Statue of Liberty. The people of whom she speaks are the same people the Bible calls “strangers,” or immigrants or foreigners in modern language. Widows, the fatherless, the poor, and strangers are people for whom we, God’s people, are to establish justice. The special provisions to be made for these vulnerable people at that time are outlined in Deuteronomy 24.
The feelings I experienced as a stranger in Afghanistan — helplessness, loneliness, and frustration — are common to refugees around the world. But refugees arrive in America often having suffered trauma, scarcity, exposure to the elements, abuse or sexual assault, fear, stress, prejudice, and hostility, even by their own governments. By definition, refugees are people who flee their home countries based on “a well – founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.”
Once when walking the streets of Geneva, Switzerland, I noticed the top floor of older homes was separated from the lower floors by an awkward line. I later learned why: Swiss Christians had added on stories to receive the Huguenots, religiously persecuted people fleeing neighboring France for their lives. That astonishing act of kindness to strangers moved me. It perfectly embodies God’s command: And if a stranger dwells with you in your land, you shall not mistreat him. The stranger who dwells among you shall be to you as one born among you, and you shall love him as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Eygpt: I am the LORD your God. (Leviticus 19:33-34 NKJV)
Free her from poverty, she’ll free her children.
Amazingly, in America, many refugees haven’t even met a Christian, much less entered their homes. To be fair, many Christians simply don’t know refugees live in Columbia or how easy it is to help meet their needs. Lutheran Services, a resettlement agency in Columbia, provides a myriad of opportunities for us to show kindness to strangers. You don’t have to fly across the world or risk your life. It’s as simple as picking families up from the airport, enrolling their children in school, shuttling them to the doctor, babysitting, furnishing their apartments, or helping them move. As a volunteer, no doubt you’ll find yourself sipping tea with your new friends and having them in your home, your life enriched by the relationships, cross-cultural experiences, and the fruits of your own labors of love.
OneMaker, the nonprofit organization I founded and direct, helps vulnerable women and girls around the world by teaching them jewelry-making skills, including refugees here in Columbia. You can make a donation or purchase their handcrafted jewelry at www.OneMaker.com or at The Haven Coffee House or at the 210 Shoppe + Studio in Lexington. To volunteer with Lutheran Services Carolinas, contact Lindsey Seawell at Lseawell@lscarolinas.net. •LR•
Jana Dean is the founder and director of OneMaker, a 501(c)3, nonprofit organization that helps vulnerable women and girls around the world by launching and developing business ventures around the world and by providing educational sponsorships for vulnerable girls. Find us on Facebook or Twitter: @OneMaker.