April 19, 2016
A year ago when I heard that Resurrection was forming a Good Neighbor Team to serve a local refugee family, I decided I really ought to join. I had in mind the dozens of Scripture verses that talk about welcoming the stranger and sojourner. I also thought that I really should take a step out of the comfortable cocoon of my social network, which was full of people who shared my cultural, ethnic, and economic background. I dutifully attended team trainings and prepared to visit the family with my teammate Tim for an ESL lesson.
But when I stepped inside the family's apartment in West Chicago for the first time and met William and Thian-Kung and their three teenage children Daisy, Flora, and Junior, something began to change inside of me. As Tim and I kept returning for ESL lessons from week to week, I realized that I wasn't thinking about serving this family as a moral duty anymore; my friendship with them had become a source of joy. I wanted to go back and hear Thian-Kung's infectious laugh and see William's reserved smile. I wanted to listen as Daisy, Flora, and Junior told stories about playing soccer, getting to know their neighbors, and mastering geometry and geography at school.
William and Thian-Kung's own peace in the midst of their international transition also moved me. As devout Baptists, they fled persecution in Burma and spent several years in a refugee settlement in Malaysia before coming to the United States. Despite these challenges, they stayed connected to Jesus and his church throughout their journey. Daisy and Flora were baptized while they were in Malaysia, and they quickly became youth leaders at the Burmese congregation in Wheaton that their family is now attending. Through it all, the family has not lost their joy. Tim and I often reflect that Thian-Kung seems to face the challenges of life in the United States, from taxes to transportation to time management, with less anxiety than we do! Seeing her joy has given me the freedom to release some of my own anxiety to the Lord.
The same experience of finding joy through refugee ministry has proved true for other team members. Joy O'Reagan shares:
"On the evening before the Thang family arrived from Maylaysia last August, our team set up their new apartment–we cleaned the kitchen, assembled furniture and bedding, and arranged flowers so the apartment would feel as welcoming as possible. I was so glad to play a small part in welcoming their family into a new home and a new land.
"Over the past year, I have loved visiting the Thangs' Falam church in Wheaton, helping the girls with homework, and introducing them to the area. One of my most memorable Good Neighbor Team experiences was the morning that Tim Gulsvig and I drove the family to the West Chicago Library on the day of the first heavy winter snow. It was the first time they had seen snow! They thought it was beautiful but extremely cold!"
Jack and Angie Herklotz write:
"We started our relationship with the Thang family by picking them up at the airport when they arrived from Malaysia. Over the next few months, we made many visits to their apartment in West Chicago to help with many details of getting established here. One day, we learned that William and Thian-Kung had both failed their written driver's test. We had fun trying to explain the correct answers with minimal words and hand gestures. They both passed the next time they took the test and we rejoiced with them.
"We took them to Cantigny one beautiful day. They were so excited to see so much beauty and the diversity of flowers. When we got to the rose garden, Daisy and Flora were jumping up and down with joy exclaiming 'rose garden, rose garden'! We were blessed as we watched them enjoying the park.
"The children now refer to us as 'Uncle Jack' and 'Aunt Angie,' which makes us feel accepted. We look forward to continuing to build our friendship with them."
Like my teammates, this year of refugee ministry has been full of unexpected moments of delight. Far from being a chore, I've found that the opportunity to be in friendship with this family is nothing less than opportunity to meet Jesus himself. I went looking for a way to fulfill a moral obligation, and instead was surprised by the joyful presence of God.