Zechariah 7:10 “Do not oppress widows, orphans, foreigners, and the poor. And do not scheme against each other.”
This theme keeps repeating itself many places in the Bible as we can witness just in this Lenten blog series. Zechariah is a minor prophet and God gives this message to him to speak to the Israelites who have returned to Jerusalem following their exile in Babylon. These words were spoken around 2150 years ago and yet we are still wrestling with these issues today. God must get very frustrated with us. In many ways I seem so removed from the suffering in this world. I try to do my part, but is it enough? Am I afraid of getting too involved? In years past I have gotten involved, so why am I holding back now? But let me tell you about when I was involved and the rewards that came from that experience. The main thing I learned was compassion—seeing the struggles to survive in a foreign land. In 1979 our country was helping resettle Vietnamese refugees. Our family lived in a suburb of Cleveland, Ohio and we had just moved into a larger home with extra space. We felt blessed and needed to share that blessing with others. Ed and i made a commitment to use that new home to help others. Not long after moving in a plea was made on television for people to sponsor the “Boat People”, so we volunteered. Our family arrived in the middle of January with the temperatures hovering around zero. Instead of getting a family unit with a mother, father, and children, we only got the children. Four siblings ranging in age from 10 to 21, the older two being girls. Their parents had tried to escape with them, but were forced back. Our four had been in a refugee camp in Malaysia for eleven months and ﬂew directly to Cleveland, going from a warm climate to a frigid one. They were dressed in chemise type clothing, had a sweater, socks on their feet and ﬂip ﬂops. They not only got culture shock, but also climate shock!
Our ﬁrst order of business was to get them proper clothing. We went to thrift shops where I quickly saw prejudice. The locals who frequented these shops did not want any foreigners coming into their space. I learned how to stand in long lines with them to get the government assistance that was to be provided. I experienced resistance when I tried to get the 16 year-old enrolled in our local high school and eventually settled for English as a 2nd Language classes at the public library in downtown Cleveland. I had to teach them how to take busses to get to their classes. Being able to communicate with them was difﬁcult at ﬁrst, but they had taken some English classes in the refugee camp and could write some words, pronunciation was a big hurdle. I have so many stories to tell about the four months they stayed with us, but this blog would become an epistle. If you are interested, we could chat sometime. I want to dwell on the good that came from that experience. Halfway through the time spent with us, their parents and a 6 year-old brother were able to escape Viet Nam and come to the Cleveland area to be sponsored by another family. Also an older brother who was married and had a baby son, Tai Lan, named for the refugee camp where he was born, also came to our area. There were now ten members of their family relocated to Cleveland. We helped them ﬁnd a place to rent to all ten of them, which is another story. They were very frugal and four of the ten were able to get jobs. Fast forward, they now live in Stanton, CA, and each have jobs and own their own homes. The youngest son graduated from Cal State Fullerton. Our family beneﬁted too. Our sons were 5 and 7 and they quickly accepted the addition to our family. There was no jealousy. The 10 year-old went to school with our sons. They learned what it means to share, especially when others have nothing. I learned that when you take risks and allow yourself to become vulnerable, God provides. I learned that neighbors, family, and friends would step in an help when I got swamped. I learned that with the help we provided, four foreigners became self-sufﬁcient and productive members of their new country. I learned how grateful they were for our hospitality. The oldest girl even took my name when she became a citizen.
That experience was very positive and we volunteered again the next year and had a family of three, a mother and two sons, 19 and 21. However, that time we asked our church to help sponsor them. We housed them, but volunteers from our church took the rest of the responsibilities, i.e. teaching them transportation, getting them into classes, getting them clothing, ﬁnding an apartment to rent, taking them shopping for furniture, etc. Would I do it again? Yes, when God calls. I believe God wants us to show compassion for our fellow man and to trust Him when he calls us to action.
Pray with me: Lord, help us to be open to your call on our lives. Help us to befriend the widows, orphans, foreigners, and the poor. Help us to trust that you will walk with us on this journey. Help us to learn what it really means to befriend one of the least of these. In Christ’s name we pray. Amen.