Tonight I want to tell you about our friend Isak. It does not deal directly with our adoption, but it is related and I think it’s very interesting. And I apologize because this is long.
A few months ago I had been thinking about how we are called to give. Many Christians think about giving 10% of their money, but what about time? I had more free time than ever before, and I did not think watching The Bachelor counted as a good use of that free time. This thought had been on my mind and then our church talked about becoming a refugee mentor. Sometimes I get a little trigger-happy on these things, so I signed myself right up.
To be clear on what refugees are, they are people who are living outside of their home country because they have a well-founded fear of being persecuted in their home countries for religion, race, political affiliation, etc. A quick Google search says there are anywhere from 6 million to 62 million refugees across the world. The goal is for refugees to settle in their home countries; roughly 1% ultimately end up settling in a different country. When they settle in the US, they are 100% legal. After a year they can get a green card and after five years they can apply for citizenship provided they meet all the requirements and stay out of trouble.
Refugees have it about as rough as any person on earth. Refugee camps are vastly overpopulated; some of them have hundreds of thousands of people. These are people that have a hard time getting ahead no matter how ambitious, resourceful, or smart they are because of circumstances that are totally out of their control. The ones the settle in the US are the lucky ones, but they are not what we would consider lucky. Financially it is very rough. They have to reimburse the government for their plane ticket over here. They do not have it easy in any sense of the word.
So when our church encouraged people to get involved in this ministry, of course I was a sucker. When I had the first meeting at Jewish Vocational Services (JVS), the non-profit that handles resettlement in Kansas City, I left feeling like Oh Sh*t, what the heck have I gotten myself into?!!!! Sometimes I get over my head but this was WAY over my head. I mean WAY over my head. I felt completely, 100% overwhelmed and unqualified.
But it was too late to back out.
Our match very well may have been another act of fate. Most refugees that settle in KC are from Burma, Somalia, or Iraq. Guess where our match Isak is from? Eritrea, a little country that borders Ethiopia. He had spent time in a refugee camp in Ethiopia. He has family in Ethiopia; he’s actually half Ethiopian. I did not ask for this, that’s just what we got. I saw potential.
Like most things I get involved with, Mark gets involved at some point whether he wants to or not. We hang out with Isak every week now, for just a few hours. Isak is about our age. He works 12 hour shifts 5-6 days a week at a meat processing plant. He has a 45 minute commute each way. The job pays well but the working conditions are awful. I’m from the town the plant is in. The locals hate the plant because of smell that surrounds it. During our first meeting he said he wants to start school soon. I said “Isak, when are you going to have time to go to school?!” His response was “Sacrifice now. Sleep later.”
Why am I telling you this? I’ve wanted to tell you for a long time because it is something that I’ve become very passionate about. My intention is not to pay myself on the back, please don’t comment and say how great it is. I want to bring attention to this because I do not think many people know about what great service opportunities there are in our own communities. I didn’t. People pay thousands of dollars to do overseas missions. I’m not against that at all, but you can really make a big impact at home. Before I started, my contact at JVS told me that he can’t think of a way someone can make a bigger impact in somebody’s life in the least amount of time. I have found that to be totally true.
Imagine coming from nothing and moving to a country where you don’t know anybody. You don’t know the language. You don’t know the culture or the customs. You aren’t qualified to do the work that you did in your own country. You don’t have a job. You don’t have a friend. You don’t know how to work the telephones or the computers or the televisions, if you even have access to these things. You don’t know how to get around town. You don’t know anything. Now imagine how helpful it could be to have a trusted mentor show you around and talk through confusing things with you.
It is tough, I’m not going to lie. Isak speaks English but it is very broken. There have been lots of miscommunications. When we told him we were adopting, I’m pretty sure he thought we wanted to move to Ethiopia. He tried to discourage that. One time he told us he loved us. After that, I called him a day later than I usually call him. The next time we hung out, he said he was very worried he had offended Mark by telling me he loved me and thought we did not want to talk to him anymore! We don’t understand everything he says and he doesn’t understand everything we say. We use simple words and lots of hand gestures. But we get our points across. He is teaching us as much as we are teaching him. And we are watching him change his life!!! Mark drove him to get fingerprinted for his green card. We watched as he saved up enough cash to buy a computer, and then bought it online with him. We have taken him to apply for new jobs. He is starting school in January. He is going to do great things.
I think Isak will be in our lives for a long time, and I think someday he will be a mentor to our children. I think it will be great for them to be able to talk to someone who spent a significant amount of time in their country.
If you have been wanting to get involved with something but weren’t sure what, I would strongly urge you to consider this. The commitment is about 3 hours a week for 6 months. Mark or I would be happy to answer any questions you have. It is hard, it is scary, but it is so worth it.