Internationals Who Live Among Us

Neal Pirolo


If I were a refugee, I would again make the trek to the clinic at the other end of the camp. My baby, Esther, is sick. I wait my turn for a nurse to give me some medicine. I look around at the pale green walls lined with chairs. Mothers with eyes as hollow as mine, also wait, hoping they will be called before the medicine runs out. I try not to think about it, but in the emptiness of anything positive, those thoughts return again and again. My husband was a strongly opinionated man. He saw a cause he thought was worth fighting for. I tried to stop him, but I knew better. His warring spirit was overpowering.

As his wife, I was in danger. I had no choice but to flee. I left our house with nothing but our two children, three-year-old Hannah and my baby, Esther. With over 40,000 refugees in this settlement camp, services are not enough. Sanitation and hygiene are poor, so the incidence of diarrhea among children is high. The thought stalks my heart. I relive the horror of bringing my three year old to sit in this same chair last month. The nurse took her frail body wracked with fever and dehydration. She shook her head, hopelessly. I took her home to die.

As I hear my name called, my mind snaps back to the present. I look down at the peaceful face of my baby. I stand and say to the nurse, “You can give the medicine to the next mother.” My Esther is dead in my arms.



The war is “over.” Why don’t they just go home? Natural disasters are not what push most refugees out of their homes. Escape from the violence of man-made struggles is paramount. The primary causes of refugee migration are armed conflict back home, gross human rights violations and/or well-founded fear of ethnic, religious or political persecution. In most cases, it is not safe to go home!



While just over one percent return home, another one percent are able to relocate in a new country. Nearly ninety-eight percent of all refugees remain in squalid “resettlement” camps—a lifelong road to nowhere! Why can’t they just…get up and go? Why can’t they make a new start in a new country?

First, some authorities voice concern that race/color/religion may play a major part in not encouraging relocation. Selective asylum is a second factor in this knotty issue of relocation. Refugees from several countries could be fleeing from similar circumstances. However, the government grants asylum on a very unequal basis. The rapid assimilation of “desirables” and the equally quick deportation of those the government rejects as “undesirables” adds to the problem. Another question arises: Will there be enough money to care for the world’s refugee population? Yet another factor—and I believe this is most basic, even possibly encompassing all others—is the dilemma called compassion fatigue. The countries of the world capable of receiving relocating refugees are simply growing weary of being bombarded with images of gaunt, miserable-looking individuals of strange lands living in tent cities.

Cluster sites across the nation have brought a patchwork of internationals that—when the figures are known—everybody is a member of a minority! And the floodgates don’t seem to be closing. Every government promises to “do something” about the staggering numbers of people this immigration issue represents. The international hordes of refugees now streaming in embody dreams and hopes. Many have left such misery, though, that their dreams are extremely modest. They want a chance to work hard and make money. The newcomers seem almost eager to endure any adversity in pursuit of their new ideals.



The work of the sponsors consists of three essential responsibilities. The first responsibility is that of enabler, assisting the refugee with initial material needs and helping the refugee achieve economic self-sufficiency.

The second is that of friend, providing the crucial emotional support and guidance needed by the refugee to meet the challenges of overcoming great personal losses and making the major adjustments to his new society.

The third is that of advocate, insuring just and decent treatment for the newcomer in this society—without discrimination against other groups—and promoting respect for the cultural heritage and identity of the refugee.



At last week’s prayer meeting, a worship song we sang prompted me to tell a story. I asked, “May I tell a story?” That was certainly “out of character” for me and probably for that assembly. But the song so inspired my memory, I just blurted out my request. They let me tell my story and thanked me for sharing. One brother said, “That really ministered to me.” They were drawn into my life by my story. That is what stories can do.

People live their lives in stories. We don’t live in outlines or main points or rough drafts. Though the story may change in detail each time it is told (through new memory triggers or a desire to embellish the story), it is a person reliving an important moment or hour in his life.

Immigrants come to our nation with stories. They had a life and a career that they lived before coming to our country. They need to talk about those lives, which still mean so much to them. Entering their stories allows you to begin seeing the world through the eyes of their culture. A Native American adage said it this way, “To understand a man, you have to walk a mile in his moccasins.”

As you and the people in your church relate with the internationals in your neighborhood, workplace, marketplace or at the park, listen to their stories. Ask them if they would like t tell their story. Provide a forum for them to share their lives.


This article was excerpted from Internationals Who Live Among Us by Neal Pirolo. It is available on Amazon or ERI Resources.