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When Your Neighbors Are Refugees

In the most recent volume of Nations Journal, we published an interview with Eric and Lisa So. After reading their story in the Washington Post we knew we wanted to hear more, and the Sos graciously agreed to be featured in Volume 3. Eric is a pastor and church planter. In 2014 he and Lisa moved their family from the Maryland suburbs to PG Apartments: an apartment complex known for resettling refugees. In this community on the fringes they’ve found friendship, solidarity, and glimpses of the kingdom. Since we couldn’t print the full interview, we wanted to share some bonus excerpts with you today. Enjoy!

 

Nations: What are a few of the hurdles you’ve encountered since moving into this community?

 

Eric: What I have to wrestle with each day is whether or not I believe that it will be worth it to follow Jesus.

We look around and see a lot of things that give us joy and pleasure. In Scripture, we’re told that the true source of everlasting joy is in Christ—trusting him, following him—and trusting that when he returns, eternity is our greatest reward. And I have to come back to that again and again, especially when I’m envying and discontent. Do I actually believe I can give up my life here, and follow Jesus (which will look different for everyone)—do I believe it will be worth it?

People need to wrestle with that question. I still struggle with love of comfort and the pleasures that this life offers.

 

Lisa: For me, the hurdle was getting over my own sin. Growing up, my parents were upper middle class, so I never really needed anything. Comfort as an idol was a big blind spot for me, and moving here pushed me to give up comfort. On top of that, envy—seeing my peers getting houses—I have to give that up.

When you have kids, it can be easy to make them an idol. We do have to sacrifice for our kids, but as we think about where they are going to school, we’ve had to think through what the goal of our parenting even is. For both of us, we hope that they become Jesus followers and kind individuals. We don’t need a prestigious school system for that to happen—they will learn math eventually!

We had another couple from our church move in, and that was huge for us as a community. We grew in friendship—it just helps when you have a team of people with you. We were here and wanted to be a Gospel presence, but it was amazing to have our Gospel presence doubled. Because we were on mission together, we were and are so aware of how we need God in this, and we come together in prayer.

 

Nations: Considering you live a short drive from Capitol Hill, what would you want a Member of Congress or Congressional Staff to know about refugees?

 

Lisa: First, I’d want them to know that they are a vibrant community of people who want to live here. They want to do their part. One of our neighbors recently got his W-2 and called us to make sure he was filing it correctly.

They are assets to the American life. They bring a different kind of hospitality and generosity that is different from the typical American life. And anti-Muslim rhetoric isn’t true and it’s not helpful.

I also think that the resettlement process should include more counseling. People have escaped the danger, but they’ve come through severe trauma. Now they are struggling to pay rent and survive. They don’t necessarily know how to handle the trauma now that they are in a safe place. A lot of them struggle with borderline PTSD, depression, or anxiety. I wish there were more mental health support for refugees.

 

Eric: [Refugees] are eager to be here. They’re thankful. They’re excited to be in the U.S. I recall a conversation I had with an Afghan man—he said he was so excited to be here, to live and work with Americans, but as soon as he got here, he realized there were no Americans in his life and community, and there was a sense of sadness in his voice in acknowledging that.

But whatever the number of refugees that we accept is—what do we do personally? I think the government is limited in their power. I think the church has a big role in this to show the way. That’s where I put my hope. I’d like to see the church take a more active role. Whatever your stance on immigration and national security is, let Congress figure that out. What are we doing right here?

These families are eager to come. Are we going to reject them and perpetuate this divide to the next generation? What are we teaching them? In these cultures, there is beauty to behold, and we lose out on knowing God more by distancing ourselves from refugees. Lisa and I see beauty here, and we’re learning to see it more and more.

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    A bi-annual, museum quality, print magazine that focuses on the stories of radical, Gospel-centered reformers.