Written by: Hannah Bemis (Wife of World Relief Spokane Case Manager, Jordan Bemis)
Our family encounters refugees everywhere we go. My husband Jordan is a resettlement specialist for World Relief, and as a result, we run into people – friends – from all over the world in our city of Spokane. The grocery store, the YMCA, the library, the gas station, the park, Target, McDonalds, everywhere! Recently, our family was on vacation and had an excruciating seven-hour layover in the Phoenix airport. With a four-year-old and twin two-year-olds, you can imagine how much fun was had. As we strolled down the terminal for the 812th time, my husband’s eyes zeroed in on a large Asian family that looked lost and was trying to communicate with a well-meaning but confused American traveler.
“See the white “I.O.M.” bags they’re carrying? They’re refugees,” Jordan whispered to me, and then made his way over to the group. By asking a few simple questions, he was able to find out where the family was traveling from (Bangkok) and where they were headed (“Des Moines,” which was the only English word they had trained themselves to clearly enunciate). Jordan let them know (mostly by smiling and gesturing) that our family would walk them to their gate. Their gate was all the way across the airport, so I had a lot of time to observe the family as we walked. There was an older woman and one younger woman, three sons very close in age, and a tiny daughter, being carried in the arms of the younger woman. No father. Each member of the family had on matching navy blue slip-on sneakers, and matching bright smiles.
I noticed as we walked that the young mother’s shoes were only half-on, and that she was stepping on the backs of them as she walked. I could imagine the scene: it was time to depart the aircraft, and she had helped all the kids gather their bags, get their shoes and coats on, had made sure they had their boarding passes, passports, and everything else important. She had slung her own bag over her shoulder, put her sleeping baby girl’s backpack on her back, and eased the sleeping girl into her arms. Her shoes were an afterthought. I’d just done it all myself a few hours ago. We were the same, she and I, except for the fact that she was from a country across the world with any number of life experiences that I couldn’t begin to identify with. But she was a mom, and so was I. In that way, we were exactly the same, and I think she realized it too as she shyly smiled at me.
Refugees are all around us. You might notice them if they have on clothes from their native country, or speak with an accent. But chances are, you won’t notice them. You won’t notice them because in so many ways, they are just like you. They are parents, siblings, sons, daughters, friends, students, co-workers. They fill all the same roles, do all the same things you and I do, and yet they have stories to tell that would floor us. They have experienced war zones, all types of abuse, religious and ethnic persecution, and separation from family. They have seen violent, hate-filled acts that would give us nightmares, yet so many of them still choose love, and that is astounding. It is nothing less than a glimpse of God.
So, pay attention when you’re at the grocery store, or the library, or even the Phoenix airport. It may not always be easy to spot a refugee, but if you are fortunate enough to befriend one, it could forever change you.
Below is a picture of Hannah, Jordan and their 3 children in the World Relief Office!
To read more from Hannah Bemis, we encourage you to follow her blog: http://threebelowthree.blogspot.com/