by Kim Bandy,
Learn more about our contributors
Pic by Melanie Helena
Like so many of us, I have been moved by the images and stories shared with us about the refugee crisis in Europe. I grieve like you do for lost lives, for fear and death where life and freedom should be, and for the many hard years to come for these families.
There is an international refugee community in Oklahoma City. This community is rich with culture, strength and celebrations of life. Just like the journey represented in so many of the images you’ve seen on social media, our friends have walked through unimaginable hardships to become our friends and neighbors in Oklahoma City.
The process of how someone can become resettled into our city and the extremely long journey that comes before this resettlement are worth learning about, but are not the focus of this blog post. Today I’d like to reflect on the beautiful and unique ways our international neighbors enrich our city and my life. These friends are much more than statistics and each person represent a life made in the Image of God.
I’ve been privileged to share life in the most hospitable homes I’ve ever encountered. I’m talking about open-armed, treat me as close as family, give me the shirt off their back hospitality at all times. My Iraqi friends have shown me a piece of Biblical culture that I needed more than you know. I have the sense our American culture as a whole needs it, too. I’m so grateful our friends have brought this part of their heritage to our community.
I’m so grateful for this addition to the Oklahoma City community. It’s a tragedy that they were forced here to begin with. They would like to live back home in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and to never have had to be on the run. I can that say our welcoming of them into our local community is a gain for us even more than it is for them, I promise you this.
They trust Jesus. So much. When I hear their faith through stories of their lives past and present, I learn about pieces of my faith that have lain dormant. I have learned to let these pieces come alive. Pieces where the presence of God is truly what I long for, not just earthly peace and safety. Pieces where my urge to share the Gospel grows in the face of adversity, it doesn’t shrink back as I become busy taking care of myself.
I have had a real life encounter with ‘Acts 2’ sacrifice and love, a flesh and blood picture of holding everything they have in common. I’ve been challenged and encouraged over and over by the many Burmese churches in Oklahoma City, learning from my brothers and sisters who disciple me as they go. I can’t picture my corner of life without them, I can’t imagine how flat my neighborhood would be without the depth and layers of faith our Burmese friends have shared with us.
I met her when she was 14 and could barely speak English. I watched her struggle to learn in a system that was not designed for her. The perseverance that carried her on her long journey here also carried her again through her high school years. I’ve never been more proud of a graduate. I am so thankful for what she brings to my city and to my life--we could all use some more persevering spirits around us.
He risked his life over and over to keep his family safe. He led his family through the journey, discerning the next step, while never losing his joy. Just being in his presence causes me to reflect, to recognize the heart of a father. How good is the heart of my Father in Heaven. I am so grateful for the chance to have earthly glimpses of it, and grateful that my friend’s character is shining bright here in the city I call home.
What an extraordinary God who weaves tapestries of people as much as He weaves tapestries of sunsets against the mountains. I know I worship Him more fully and more completely having had the honor of learning more about Him from my friends and neighbors.
I would never want to celebrate the violence that forced them from their homes. I still grieve with them for it but I do want to celebrate the uniqueness they each hold, the reflection they offer us of our King. And I want to say on behalf of our city, thank you for trusting us with your lives. Thank you for sharing all you are and all you have. And bless you for enduring your journey with dignity and strength, with grace and truth.