Philippine minister urges Americans to minister to refugees scattered all across the U.S.

by Salvador Cariaga

Over the last ten years, whenever we are in the U.S., I oftentimes volunteer at Neighborhood Needs at Altamesa. My sons have seen their share of the place growing up. Peter and Luke know the drill well, and the other volunteers have watched them grow up through the years.

One of my most memorable and rewarding experiences working there is with the Vietnamese refugees. From Vietnam, they were settled in Bataan, Philippines, for several years before they were brought into the United States. They were then scattered all over the country, some ending up in Fort Worth. I remember meeting them and learning a few Vietnamese words and sharing our common food: pickled fish. To make a long story short, they came for the food and clothes for several months. Then they stopped coming. Later, one by one, they came back — with black bags full of used clothes, washed, ironed, and folded. That is when I knew they were okay, and on their own.

I went to school at Oklahoma Christian with a few Vietnamese refugees. Again, we had a lot of things in common, both culturally and because they came from the refugee camp in the Philippines before coming to the U.S. One of these students was Philip Nguyen. He could barely speak English, but by the end of the semester, he ended up with straight A’s, while I barely passed. He graduated summa cum laude and later on I found out he earned two PhD degrees at another university. I was even more impressed when I learned that he has remained faithful in the Lord and is active in the church.

I visited Western Hills Church of Christ recently and noticed a large group of Asians sitting on one side of the building. After the introductions and announcements, they retreated to their own Laotian language service. There are other Laotian churches in the metro area similar to the one at Western Hills. These are products of the brotherhood’s work with the refugees when they first came to the country a decade ago. Jack Rosebery, now an elder at Legacy, worked with the Laotians along with other area Christians for many years. He felt greatly honored when they asked him to preside over the wedding of a young Laotian couple.

I have a great interest in the refugee ministry. Maybe because of my experiences with them or that I feel like a refugee myself. Morever, I know that there is a great opportunity in working with these modern day pilgrims, if we can call them that. They are lost, hungry and receptive to our guidance and leadership. They are desperate for warmth and friendship. A little attention and generosity goes a long way with these people, and they will make the most of every opportunity to improve themselves.

There are 80 refugees from Bhutan, Nepal, Burma and Iraq arriving in Fort Worth this month alone. Hundreds more are scattered over the DFW metroplex, and thousands all over the United States. Bhutan alone has 120,000 refugees in seven camps in Nepal waiting to immigrate. Half of them may end up in the U.S., the others will go to Australia, England, Europe and other countries.

I met and welcomed a family of five from Bhutan at the DFW airport last night. They have been languishing for over ten years at a refugee camp in Nepal as a result of ethnic cleansing by their own government. They arrived with two check-in bags. Two bags for a family of five, and great hopes for a better future.

If you wish to be a part of their lives and future, research the net and find ways to connect with the hundreds of refugees arriving in your community. Call your friends. Serve as a volunteer for a refugee organization. Recruit others to join. Give the new settlers a visit. It will change their lives, and yours.

If I could be of help in any way, please let me know. Email me or call me at 817 480-1287. If you are so  inclined, please feel free to share this with your friends.

Randal and his wife Vicki have lived and worked in Brazil since Nov. 1984. They have three children, two daughters-in-law, and four grandchildren. He likes to read novels in his back-porch hammock. http://randal.us

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