Why do you work with refugees?
The international refugee crisis is reaching epic proportions. Nashville, deemed “the new Ellis Island,” receives around 1,600 refugees each year. In fact, 30% of students in Metro schools live in homes where English is not the primary language and the number of foreign-born residents has grown from 2% to over 12%. More than half of Tennessee's refugee population lives in Davidson County, where we are located. Once they arrive, however, they get very little transitional support. This year, World Relief, one of the major refugee support agencies in the country, had to shut down their Nashville base due to lack of support, leaving even more refugees to be cared for.
Leviticus 19:34 says, “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.” Failing to love the foreigners in our land is failing to remember that we were once foreigners, whether in our history of faith as slaves in Egypt, or even our history as Americans in a land not our own. Hospitality and love to the foreigner is an irrevocable expectation on all individuals and communities seeking holiness.
How do you work with refugees?
Our service to refugees is multi-faceted and based upon the needs they themselves have expressed to us. Our main areas of service to refugees are drivers' training, maternal health education and support, and kid's camps.
Nashville is called a "transit hostile city” because of it's lack of widespread public transport systems. Because of this, many refugees are still in need of means to get around, whether that be to work or the grocery store or the hospital.
In 2014, then Institute student, Rebekah Davis, began offering drivers' training to a Burmese refugee after learning of his situation. He had failed the written portion of his driver's test multiple times simply because he could not speak English, which the driver's test is written in. They began their class without a translator, and initially relied on pictures, videos, and visual aides in order to communicate lessons on driving in Nashville. Eventually, they found a Burmese translator and she was then able to teach him in his own language. The translator was so grateful and impressed by the work that Davis was doing that she introduced her to a community of Burmese refugees - many of whom were in need of the same drivers' training.
As our relationship deepened with those in the Burmese community, they asked for two more things: biblical education and maternal health education - two areas we were well equipped and excited to serve them in! We have since offered periodic bible studies for them, which has been our most popular and well-attended function.
As we began working with expectant mothers, we learned of the many challenges they faced in pregnancy and delivery. An already vulnerable time in a woman's life, their experiences were compounded by being thousands of miles away from their family, language and culture. On top of that, we discovered blatant discrimination taking place in hospital rooms, with doctors and nurses failing to explain what was happening, use translators, or seek necessary consent for procedures. The experience left many mothers traumatized and created a culture of fear surrounding birth in their community. In response, we began providing childbirth education leading up to the birth, and doula support throughout. Giving these woman a hand to hold, an advocate in the hospital setting, and an encouraging presence in the family's transition has transformed their experience with birth.