There was a day in the summer when I just couldn’t watch clips of the agony in Syria any longer without finding out how to get even just one family out of Syria. I saw clips on TV of families walking and walking and imagined if it were me in that situation, would I have the courage to put some of my things in a bag, and head away from my life to escape bombs and destruction? My children would be my motivation, I am sure. Would my children be brave enough to make that hike with us, experiencing fear of the unknown? That was the day, when the TV shots got to me, that I promised myself I would find out how people get refugees to come to their town.
An active and dedicated group, the Blacksburg Refugee Partnership (BRP), is my answer to knowing that I am involved. The group has grown, and the generous folks of Blacksburg have spent hours planning, hours volunteering, and the New River Valley people have helped us with funds. The first family, a mother and father, and six children, arrived in October 2016. Amazing. In two weeks, the father had a job, the kids were in school, and the family were our friends. But their life had been so different. Both the refugees and the Blacksburg folks had to adjust to differing ways of doing and seeing things. We found translators who have dedicated themselves to enabling us all to communicate. At first it was hard. But we knew without saying it or needing to be told, that we were close to the least of them, close to the Spirit at every turn.
We now have two Syrian refugee families and four Afghan refugee families living in Blacksburg. We are getting to know their stories, and the stories are not easy. They include stories of relatives still struggling in their homes in Syria, still in camps in Jordan, and bombings that have killed members of their families since they arrived here. Every night I give thanks that they are here. They are safe, their children are in school, the men are working, and all are taking ESL. They are so grateful, with the words of thank you on their lips whenever we see them. It is not an easy thing to come to a new country.
BRP finds that at every turn there is someone to help fulfill a need. We are grateful for how loving and kind people are in our town. People from Blacksburg Presbyterian Church are involved as friends of the families, as organizers, as funders. We thank each and every one! But we need more volunteers.
This Sunday right after church some of us from Blacksburg Refugee Partnership will be giving a 30 minute presentation to update you on the families. There will be a short PowerPoint presentation, to familiarize you with the families and the program and two women who are leading the volunteer work with three of the Afghan families will be with us to describe what they do and how you can help. We have photos to share, and I think you will see in their faces what we are feeling. We hope to see you there.
Janne Mathes, Serving on the Community Ministry Team
Palms: Matthew 21:1-11; Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29.
Passion: Isaiah 50:4-9a; Psalm 31:9-16; Philippians 2:5-11; Matthew 26:14-27.
The prayer list can be found here.