“I don’t want to go back,” Naomi* said, her voice thick with emotion. The middle-aged woman wiped away tears with the tail of her headscarf as she recounted how a Muslim group beat her husband near death over an alleged blasphemy charge.
Naomi’s youngest two sons, ages 12 and 17, sat quietly on the concrete floor. They chimed in occasionally to help their mother when certain English phrases eluded her. Floor fans churned the steamy air in a small apartment near the busy city center as Naomi told about the events that forced her family to flee their native country.
The sum of their belongings lined the walls of the cash-only, one-room residence. Naomi’s circumstances are typical among Christian asylum seekers in this Southeast Asian country. Forced out of their homes by violent persecution and pressed into hiding by harsh penalties for undocumented immigrants, asylum seekers wait in the shadows, hoping to find solace in the United Nations’ refugee resettlement program.
Naomi narrated a recent telephone conversation with her oldest son, 21, who was arrested and deported to their home country earlier this year with his father, Naomi’s husband.
“Mama, how long will we hurt?” he asked. “Trust in Jesus,” she said between sobs. “Just pray.”
Hearing the unheard
Six years ago, David and Melinda Cooper* became aware of the growing refugee crisis in their city. Former missionaries, David now serves as the pastor of a local church. Through the ministry of their church and with the help of volunteer teams, they are providing critical aid and compassionate care to this group of people.
“The refugee ministry started because God brought refugees to our church and we heard their story,” said Melinda. “It built up steam very quickly.”
The refugee ministry started because God brought refugees to our church and we heard their story.
News reports say more than 11,000 asylum seekers have fled from the same country as Naomi’s family to this country in Southeast Asia. Baptist Global Response, with the help of gifts from Global Hunger Relief, has been able to support the workers in this area in their efforts to care for the physical and spiritual needs of the refugee population.
Global Hunger Relief is a partnership of seven Southern Baptist organizations that partner together to fight the global hunger crisis. Baptist Global Response is one of those seven partners, and has prioritized meeting the needs of refugees around the world during the last few years as the refugee epidemic has grown.
With financial help from GHR and BGR, the international Baptist church has been able to purchase, organize and distribute monthly food bags and hygiene items. Teams from churches in the United States travel to Southeast Asia on short-term trips to help distribute critical resources and spend time with asylum seekers, listening to their stories about flights from affliction and the search for hope.
Those humanity-filled moments are important, asylum seekers said, because many of them rarely go out in public for fear of being reported or noticed by immigration police. The social interaction is especially enjoyable to children and teenagers. There are very few educational options available to asylum seekers, and in most cases, the peer interaction provided by classroom settings is out of reach.
Naomi’s husband and oldest son were held in immigration detention before they were deported. She’s thankful they are alive, but she knows they are now in danger. The anxiety caused by the separation of her family exaggerates Naomi’s health problems. Without access to proper medical care, high blood pressure and diabetes are a constant concern.
Naomi’s husband and oldest son cannot go back to their hometown, she said, so they currently live in another region of their native country. Her husband changed his appearance to avoid detection.
Naomi longs to see her family reunited and resettled, but she has refused to willingly take her youngest sons back due to the threat of violence against their family. According to Naomi, her family’s UNHCR refugee status determination case has been closed, and if their current appeal is unsuccessful, she and the two boys will be deported later this year.
Donate to help fund refugee food ministry at gobgr.org/projects/refugees
Churches across the nation will recognize October 8, 2017, as Global Hunger Sunday by discussing the global hunger crisis, praying for those affected and giving to Global Hunger Relief. A version of this story first appeared in the Biblical Recorder.