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How do you have any hope?

Refugee ministry in Sarajevo

Eyal's Surprising Question

"How do you have any hope in the world that you live in?" Eyal, the older Jewish man sitting next to me, asked.

Evidence of War and Welcome

I had just come from facilitating an IAFR training in Bosnia and was going to Greece to facilitate a second. As our plane took off, Eyal asked about my life work, and I shared that I work with an organization that serves the displaced.

I talked about the evidence I'd seen all around me of the lasting pain and hatred left by the Bosnian war in Sarajevo, where my IAFR colleagues work to welcome the more newly displaced from the wars and ongoing violence in the Middle East and Africa.

I shared the story of redemptive unity unfolding in the small churches in Sarajevo, with people from different sides of that divided city coming together in fellowship. Some of these, together with Christians from all over the world – Europe and North and South America – have joined local Christians now in service to the displaced foreigners in Bosnia.

Horrors of Auschwitz

"What drives your strength of belief in hospitality to strangers?" Eyal asked curiously.

"I believe that God deeply loves forcibly displaced people," I said simply.

"I find it hard to believe in God," Eyal admitted. His dark eyes took on a faraway look. "My parents both survived the holocaust and the horrors of Auschwitz. My parents were really open about their suffering as I was growing up. When I think about their stories of pain and the evil that caused it..." I could hear the pain in his voice, and my heart broke for his family's history of fracturing displacement.

We talked about the scars that displacement can leave for generations.

If I didn't believe in a day...

And then, as the plane landed, Eyal asked his startling question about hope.

"If I didn't believe in a day when everything will be set right, I wouldn't have hope," I told him. "But I believe God is actively engaged in our world and has promised evil, suffering, and death are not going to have the last word. Have you read the prophecies in Isaiah?"

"The Messianic ones?" He nodded.

"Yes, I believe those are real," I said.

The Church as a Community of Hope

"You have both devastated and fascinated me today." Eyal smiled. "You've given me a lot to ponder."

As I deplaned, I prayed God would use our conversation to draw Eyal to God's hope, just as he'd been drawn to the church's story as a community of hope and welcome among the displaced.

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- Rachel Uthmann with Rachael Lofgren

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Finding family at Jonathan House

Salana at the Minnesota State Capital Building

Like a Father and a Mother

"I had nowhere to sleep at night. I was having a hard time."

Salana was referred to Jonathan House through a connection to the Center for Victims of Torture. Like many asylum seekers, he had been unable to find stable housing since he wasn't allowed a work permit for the first year in the US while he waited for his asylum hearing to be decided.

"Jonathan House carried me through."

In the last four years at Jonathan House, Salana shares that it was Jonathan House "who helped me with my food, my shelter, my clothes, all my needs… It was Jonathan House who helped support me, the one who carried me through this time."

At Jonathan House, he was also connected to legal services through the Advocates for Human Rights. After waiting for over five years, Salana recently had his final asylum hearing. Before the hearing, he invited Jonathan House staff to pray with him for a favorable outcome. Staff accompanied Salana to court, waiting and praying in expectation with him. But the court-appointed interpreter didn't show up, and after waiting for over an hour, the judge decided to reschedule.

Something Incredible Happened

Five days later, Salana again waited with his lawyer in the courtroom for the interpreter to arrive and help him answer the judge and defense's questions. But the interpreter didn't come. Instead, something incredible happened. The judge accepted the lawyer's appeal to decide the case then and there without an interpreter present. The judge agreed that there was credible fear of persecution based on the information submitted by the lawyer and in his asylum application. He told Salana, "My denial rate is 92%. Congratulations, and I hope you use this privilege to do good things in the United States."

It all happened so quickly that Salana was confused when everyone came up to congratulate him. Only when his friend, who spoke his language, explained did he realize he was granted asylum. Like always, he joked with his broad smile when recounting the story that God made it easy for him. His face glowed the rest of the afternoon as he celebrated with staff over a meal.

I will never forget.

He was excited to tell his family about the victory but had to wait because it was night on the other side of the world where they lived. Receiving asylum is the first major obstacle removed from their path toward reunification. To Salana, having asylum in the US means "a place where you can have a home and be safe from danger, and your family is safe from danger." His hope for the future is to be with his family and to live in peace. Peace is one of the most important things to him.

And while he waits for reunification with his family, Salana compares Jonathan House to family.

"They have been like a father and a mother to me. As long as I live, I will never forget what Jonathan House has done for me."

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Photo credit: ©MegHuff Photography. Used with permission.

- Ella Skiens with Rachael Lofgren

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