We asked an IDEAS Associate, who recently began working with our refugee project in Cyprus, to share how serving refugees has transformed her life.
How did you start working with refugees?
I basically started working with Syrian refugees in Turkey because I had a car with a large cargo area, free weekends, and a desire to help. I’d pick up donations from all over the city, such as food, diapers, clothing, and housewares, and distribute them to people who were in need. However, I couldn’t just drop off things on someone’s front door and leave. Arab culture required that I had to sit and drink coffee for a while. The family and I would smile at each other, share photos on our phones, and laugh about how bad Google Translate was. Our lives and perspectives are changed when we start to know a person.
As I have come alongside refugee families who have lost so much, I have been struck with the realization that the “refugee crisis” is more than a massive problem. It’s about unique individuals who, in a different time and world, played sports, picnicked, had family birthdays and weddings, went to school with Barbie backpacks, and faithfully worked at a job. I want to make sure that people felt seen, that I could help restore some of what was lost. Opportunities began to multiply for me not only to deliver donations but to also walk alongside traumatized moms and work with their children.
What will you do in Cyprus?
Last week in church, the pastor asked us to consider if we were a great leader like Moses, or if we were one of the people following behind Moses through the Red Sea, faithfully pushing a cart. I guess for now, I am a happy cart-pusher. I wish I could say my new job in Cyprus will be world-changing or glamorous or that it required special skills and education that only I possess, but it doesn’t. It's God taking my meager gifts and multiplying them like He does.
- It's hanging up and folding donated clothing so that a family can have dignity while picking out second-hand clothes.
- It's playing with a toddler in a food line so that a big sister can take a break from babysitting and be a teenager.
- It's stringing a button necklace for a five-year-old boy so that his mom can sit with the other moms and do a craft and enjoy much needed community and encouragement.
- It's teaching English so that a young person can have access to jobs or maybe even university.
- It's drinking a bottle of water from a family's rations so that they can give you something for a change.
- It's looking at a young man's photos of his life before he had to leave, and letting him show you what his home and family were like.
- It's celebrating a birthday, the first of ones forgotten.
- It's consistently showing up every day. A refugees's life is defined by loss and goodbyes. So many time's I've heard, "You came back."
- It's answering the question, "Why would you do all this for us?" by answering, "Because God wants you to know that He see you, and knows you, and loves you, and that He's for you."
People who have lived in historically oppressive places are being transplanted where there is freedom and access to hope. It's a privilege to come alongside them, even though I often feel like I have so little to offer. Sometimes our most meager and humble gifts have the greatest impact.
About the Author: Katherine has lived and worked in Turkey for the past 18 years before recently relocating to Cyprus. Her background is in education, and she enjoys working with refugees. Click here to read more about the impact of working with refugees: The Strength of Refugee Women.