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Refugees are a blessing, not a burden

Refugees bring blessings to Grand Rapids
Irish dancing

Irish dancing /Barbara J. Hampton

African dance (Jerusalema)

African dance (Jerusalema) /Barbara Hampton

If you don’t want to live a boring life – if you want to live a full, rich life – you should get involved with refugees. That’s what I have found through my work in Grand Rapids.

After my retirement, I began teaching English as a Second Language (ESL) classes. I was immediately plunged into a whirlwind of colorful Sri Lankan birthday parties and equally colorful Burmese weddings. I’ve laughed over ESL mistakes and English language mysteries with students from many countries, exchanged exuberant hugs, and experienced challenges to my limited ability to swallow spicy food.

I’ve had deep, respectful discussions over the line of Qur’anic prophets and other matters of faith with Somalis and Iraqis, prayed over Sudanese newborns, snuggled on the couch to read a picture book to eager Rwandan and Nepalese children. I’ve cheered over drivers’ licenses and new jobs for Congolese friends. I’ve attended a citizenship ceremony with an Iraqi friend. I’ve danced to “Jerusalema” with refugees from many countries. For people who become involved, t “refugees are a blessing, not a burden” rings true.

But sharing life’s burdens – burdens to which none of us is immune – is also part of the deep richness of my relationships with refugees. Whether it’s going to a Hindu funeral service for a still-born child, going to the police station to help a mom figure out why her son is in trouble, going to court to hold the hand of a friend whose husband has been wrongly accused, worrying about schooling for a pregnant teen, sitting with a friend coping with the trauma of genocide and resettlement, or crying out to God with another friend for mercy for her family back home – our friendships have become stronger during difficult times.

Three months ago my beloved daughter was killed in a tragic car accident. The worst imaginable thing happened to my family. My refugee friends, to whom the worst imaginable things have already happened – torn from their homes and families, waiting years in refugee camps – blessed me by coming to me in my moment of deepest grief. They brought me and my husband flowers, food, more flowers, more food, their prayers, and particularly their presence. They sat with us. They still sit with us. They will be sitting with us in the months ahead. They have blessed us in more ways than we can count.

Because “refugees are a blessing, not a burden,” the United States needs more of them. Michigan needs more of them. Grand Rapids need more of them. That is why I am asking you to join with others to urge the Biden administration to meet its refugee admissions goal of 62,500 this fiscal year, up from the historic low of 15,000 of the Trump era. The Biden administration delayed its new goal for three months, causing serious harm to thousands of refugees who were approved for resettlement in the United States but who had been waiting to enter, sometimes for years.

Therefore, the Biden administration must act immediately to settle as many refugees as possible this year. Meeting this year’s goal of resettling 62,500 refugees makes it more possible to meet next year’s goal of 125,000 and every year’s goals after that. You can urge the President and Congress to take action here.

On this World Refugee Day, consider all of the ways in which refugees can enrich your life and the lives of your neighbors. They might become your new friends. They might make long-lasting, positive contributions to your community. They might help you in your darkest moment.

Refugees are a blessing for us all. But we must make sure America remains a country of welcome.


Barbara Hampton is a graduate of the University of Michigan and teaches ESL and facilitates both an ESL Bible study for international women and story-based oral Trauma Healing sessions for refugees through Church of the Servant in Grand Rapids.

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