More than 2 million Ukrainians have become refugees in just 12 days. According to the European Union, that number could swell to as many as 7 million as a result of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The world is witnessing the largest humanitarian crisis in Europe since World War II. And more than 90% of these refugees are women and children.
Last month, Ukrainians were going to work and school, dining out, planning for their future, taking vacations, enjoying life. And within hours, families packed up what belongings they could carry on their backs and fled their homes and country. Many of them had no place to go, but going was the only choice if they wanted to survive war.
For years, I have been sharing stories of how quickly and easily someone can become a refugee. And over the past seven months, the world has been given two sobering realities of just how quickly “life as we know it” can be lost or destroyed. As we continue to help families from Afghanistan resettle after their country’s fall to the Taliban in August, now Ukraine’s unraveling is capturing the world’s sympathy and compassion.
I am following the Ukrainian refugee crisis closely, and at this point, it is still difficult to know when and how many refugees may arrive in the United States. Whenever they arrive, Gateway of Grace Ministries will be ready to show them the same love of God we have shown to refugee families from around the world for the past 12 years.
Make no mistake, Christ’s love for refugees is meant to be tangible and practical. Maybe you have seen the image of trains packed with Ukrainian refugees arriving in Poland. Before the train comes to a complete stop, arms immediately begin sticking out of windows from people who are desperate for a bottle of water. That image reminded me of when my family and I turned ourselves in at the U.S.-Mexico border. Never in my life had I been so dirty, smelly and thirsty. But when you are fleeing your country, survival is all that matters.
“Make no mistake, Christ’s love for refugees is meant to be tangible and practical.”
Just like Afghans fleeing the only life they had ever known and needing to experience the love of Christ, Ukrainian refugee families are needing help from complete strangers for the bare essentials. And like all refugees, it will take years (about five to seven years), to rebuild a life in a new country and learn a new language, while dealing with the trauma of the situations that forced them to flee.
While Ukrainians refugees have the spotlight right now, Gateway of Grace continues to welcome new Afghan families almost every week. Hundreds are still in motels around the Dallas area waiting for the resettlement agency to place them in an apartment and give them work permits.
Meanwhile, our team is stepping in whenever possible to fill some of the resettlement gaps with services such as filing documents, prepping for asylum hearings and making the right connections for legal aid. Then, we continue to meet those essential physical needs, for those who just arrived as well as those who are still trying to move from striving to thriving.
It’s hard to imagine, but some day the war in Ukraine will not dominate every news service. And just like Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Central and South America, and countries in Africa and Asia, those refugee families will still need the love of Christ in tangible and practical ways for years before their traumas are healed and their hopes for a new life are realized.
That is one of the reasons for Gateway of Grace’s holistic approach to ministry among refugees. Because when you are a stranger in a new country, feelings of not belonging and, worse, not being welcomed, dominate your thoughts. But what makes a huge difference is being included in celebrations, even if you don’t understand them. So we intentionally make sure the families we serve are included in major and not-so-big celebrations.
These are just some of the reasons I am asking you to help us or other refugee ministries in your community continue serving refugee families in the name of Christ. Please pray for God’s provisions and wisdom for our team and all those who are welcoming refugees in the name of Christ.
Samira Page serves as executive director of Gateway of Grace Ministries, an inter-church ministry to refugees in Dallas, one of the U.S. hubs for Afghan refugee resettlement. She once was a refugee herself, fleeing her home in Iran and eventually finding new life and new faith in Texas. She is a graduate of Perkins School of Theology at SMU with both master’s and doctoral degrees in theology and missions and is an ordained priest in the Episcopal Church. Gateway of Grace launched a Bible study group that since has become a mission-type church serving refugees. That congregation is called Grace Community.
Long after the news cycle fades, Afghan refugees will still need our care | Opinion by Samira Izadi Page