Forty years ago today Saigon fell and an evacuation of Americans and South Vietnamese left some 177,000 refugees out at sea. A recent PBS documentary showed individuals and families jumping on boats and helicopters with little more than each other and a small suitcase. Ships for 200 had 2000. Saint Paul helped to resettle one of those families after the war.
Last Sunday we heard from Lisa Brennan, Program Manager of Services for New Americans at Ascentria Care Alliance (formerly Lutheran Social Services), that 700 refugees are welcomed to Massachusetts and New Hampshire every year. Her first point was that they are among the 70,000 slots congress approves each year for the whole country. That means Ascentria works with about 10% of all such refugees! They may feel like they won the lottery, but their government support via Ascentria only lasts 90 days and then they are on their own. Ascentria is searching for ways to support them for another 90 days and beyond. Consider trying to start a new life in a new land in six months after months or years of extreme hardship, war and political turmoil.
Last Sunday 60 Minutes aired a segment on the plight of refugees fleeing war and anarchy from around the Middle East and Northern Africa. Thousands launch from lawless Libya via cold-hearted, greedy smugglers. The Italian Coast Guard searches for and rescues as many as they can. Hundreds recently drown when their ship capsized. Imagine seeking safety, having spent your last dime, aboard a rickety boat with no life preservers and your children can't swim.
Fourteen years ago Saint Paul and LSS welcomed some 40 refugees from Sudan, most still children. We accompanied them on their journey through four years through high school and beyond. They had been languishing in a dry and dusty camp in Kenya for almost a decade. That camp had 70,000 people.
Early this morning, a boy was pulled out of the rubble in Nepal after 5 days. Somehow he lived on butter and drank from a damp rag. Given the destruction of the earthquake it might be a wonder that more did not die but it seems that almost no one can go home. The need for food and shelter will last for months. Perhaps some of them will come here to the United States.
These stories bring to mind the sheer misery of people so devastated or persecuted that they will risk everything to get out of their native countries. As I keep them in my thoughts and prayers, it makes my problems seem so small in comparison. Here are five places you can learn more.
- Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS) - one of the largest agencies in the world dedicated to resettling refugees, children and migrants: http://lirs.org/
- Ascentria Care Alliance – resettles 700 or more refugees and unaccompanied minors every year here in New England: http://www.ascentria.org/our-services/services-new-americans
- RefugePoint – a Boston based organization that does high risk extractions of those who are not able to get out via traditional agencies: http://www.refugepoint.org/
- Lutheran World Relief (LWR)--on the ground in Nepal and the place to give aid for earthquake victims: http://www.lwr.org/
- Help for our children when they see and hear about tragic events: http://www.fredrogers.org/parents/special-challenges/tragic-events.php
Fred Rogers said, "When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, 'Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.' To this day, especially in times of disaster, I remember my mother's words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers – so many caring people in this world." May we be among them. May our minds be challenged and our hearts be broken for these fellow human beings, and may our prayers, compassion and generosity bring healing, restoration and peace.