A stranger’s friend: The refugee

A young Syrian refugee flashes the victory sign near the Jaber border crossing. © UNHCR/Jared J.Kohler

A young Syrian refugee flashes the victory sign near the Jaber border crossing. © UNHCR/Jared J.Kohler


It’s a seven-letter word that conjures a wide variety of feelings and associations for those who hear it. Try it.


What do you think or feel? For some, there are feelings of uncertainty. What exactly is a refugee? In what ways are refugees different from immigrants?

Refugee = Foreigner:

Someone from the outside, someone different and unknown. For others, there are feelings of anger. Why should we allow these foreigners into our country? They drain our welfare resources or take our jobs.

Refugee = Leech:

Someone who sucks the life-blood out of a nation. And for others still, there are feelings of fear. What if we let in the wrong person? What if they are not who they say they are? Will our safety and security be compromised?

Refugee = Terrorist:

Someone who wreaked havoc in their own country and has come to do the same in ours. For others, there are feelings of compassion, a sense of injustice. No one should lose their livelihood because of their ethnic origin. It’s not right that women and children suffer as people fight for political power. Something must be done to protect those in constant fear for their lives.

Refugee = Victim:

Those who have been oppressed, poverty-stricken and denied their human rights.


For me, when I hear the word I feel guilt. I live a comfortable lifestyle. Refugees don’t. Add to the mix a sneaking suspicion my comfortable lifestyle is established and secured at the expense of some of these refugees. 

I feel fear. What would have to change in my life for me to create a positive change in the refugee cause? Am I willing to step beyond my comfort-zone, to make a sacrifice?

I feel doubt. Even if I’m willing to try, what significance would come of my efforts? Can I navigate the political systems? Can I make a difference?

I feel overwhelmed. There’s too much injustice in this world, please don’t talk to me about yet another social concern!

So what’s a person like me doing on the board of directors of Journey Home Community, an organization that assists refugee families and advocates on their behalf? Well . . .

My feelings of fear, guilt, and doubt certainly fail to motivate, but I’m called to action by what I know and believe.

I believe in a Creator, an Artist who designs with care and attention the deepest and most detailed aspects of a person’s being; and I believe in the inherent worth of every created being – of every man, woman and child.

For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. Psalm 139:13-14

I know my history. Once, my own people, my ancestors, were foreigners in a strange land.

Do not mistreat or oppress a foreigner, for you were foreigners in Egypt.’ Exodus 22:21

When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the Lord your God.’ Leviticus 19:33-34

I believe the following is music to the ears; a song to sing today and tomorrow as in yesterdays come and gone.

Defend the weak and the fatherless; uphold the cause of the poor and the oppressed. Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked. Psalm 82:3-4

I know what the Lord says.

This is what the Lord says: Do what is just and right. Rescue from the hand of the oppressor the one who has been robbed. Do no wrong or violence to the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow, and do not shed innocent blood in this place. Jeremiah 22:3

believe there are some things that can make God both sad and mad.

The people of the land practice extortion and commit robbery; they oppress the poor and needy and mistreat the foreigner, denying them justice. Ezekiel 22:29

I know Jesus was a refugee.

After the wise men had gone, an angel from the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up! Hurry and take the child and his mother to Egypt! Stay there until I tell you to return, because Herod is looking for the child and wants to kill him.” That night, Joseph got up and took his wife and the child to Egypt, where they stayed until Herod died.  Matthew 2:13-15

I believe Jesus fulfills these words:

The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free,” Luke 4:18

I know a question to ask him.

Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and show you hospitality or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

believe his response.

Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these you did for me.’ Matthew 25: 37-40


She smiles often. It’s a beautiful smile and I wish to seem as joyful as she. We talk as our sons play ninja, running up and down the hall. Two hours now and they show no signs of slowing down. Sweat-soaked and laughing, they kick and jump. Boys. We laugh at their antics. She talks of her husband. We share about the kids at school.

But when she mentions her home country, sorrow steals the smile. There is pain. There is danger. There is no going back. And I hope she won’t have to.

It’s a whole different feeling when Refugee = Friend.

Kelly Dycavinu is a board member of Journey Home Community and attends New Life Community Church in Burnaby with her family.

The Journey Home Thrift store on Edmonds near Kingsway was recently named ‘Burnaby’s Favourite Second Hand Store’ for the second year in a row.

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