I first became involved in refugee resettlement during the Vietnam war. As the war was concluding, it became obvious to my husband and I that we needed to take the necessary measures to make possible an exit for a Vietnamese family that had become part of our family by love and choice. Working under guidance of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, we assembled the necessary paperwork. We provided a way for two families to contact us through people in other countries to keep our Vietnamese friends safe. We watched as helicopters landed on the embassy roof and had no idea the destiny of these two families. The wife in the family with which we were particularly close (our children bear her and her husband’s names) had worked in the finance department for the American forces. The husband in the other family had served as an interpreter for the Americans.
We heard from the second family first as he contacted us through my husband’s Hong Kong tailor. He and his family had escaped on a fishing boat as Vietnam fell. That boat began to sink in the China Sea. They were rescued by another ship and ended up in a refugee camp in Hong Kong. Eventually they were part of the resettlement program for Vietnamese refugees. After a brief time in one of the American refugee camps, they made it to San Jose. There they found help and support through a local Presbyterian Church then pastored by someone who had been our pastor in Panama. I am so grateful to have this family in our life.
It took almost five years before we heard from the other Vietnamese family. The daughter had been able to get out of the country through one of those for-profit relocation services that spring up in such times. She too made it to San Jose where she has carved out a wonderful life. Her mother eventually left Vietnam once her daughter had American citizenship. Her father was killed in action toward the end of the war. They are my family.
I was also involved in refugee resettlement while I served a church in Baltimore. First and St. Stephen’s UCC worked with Church World Service to sponsor a refugee family from Bosnia and another from Sierra Leone.
The subject of refugee resettlement came up at this month’s Greenbelt Interfaith Leadership Alliance (GILA). We began a conversation about refugee resettlement in this area. We will be inviting a representative from a local organization involved in refugee resettlement to speak to GILA members. We want to see if there are places where the religious traditions of Greenbelt can become helpful in their work. There is also conversation about a possible Walk in the fall at Buddy Attick Park to raise funds for refugee resettlement. Stay tuned!
When an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien. The alien who resides with you shall be to you as a citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God. Leviticus 19:33.