Setting the record straight on what it's really like to host a refugee family.

Last October, in response to the worldwide refugee crisis and general encouragement from my church, my family and I signed on as volunteers with the Refugee Services of Texas. We were assigned to furnish an apartment for a refugee family of four, pick them up at the airport, bring them to their new home, provide them their first meal, and stay in contact with them.

These are 10 things I learned from the experience so far.


1. Helping people is rarely glamorous.

It’s very easy to imagine a romanticized meeting at the airport, something you’d see in a movie. The family walks out into the reception area. They see us holding our "Welcome to Texas!" sign and smile brightly. We shake hands. Then embrace. Everyone’s eyes are misty.

But the truth is they trudged through the security doors. They were tired, hungry, and confused. They were concerned about their little boys wandering off and didn’t know where their luggage would be. Their English is about as good as my Arabic. Which is to say, not. Our drive to their apartment was mostly silent due to the language barrier, jet lag, and the general awkwardness of being in a car with complete strangers.

2. Helping people is rarely convenient.

It’s nice to be helpful. Charitable. Magnanimous, even. It’s another thing to give up a couple of perfectly good weekends to spend sweating in an apartment where the air conditioning hasn’t been turned on, assembling book shelves and bed frames with Allen wrenches and hex keys.

It’s not the Peace Corps, but it’s also not writing a check to charity and getting a feel-good bumper sticker in return.

3. Most Americans can’t begin imagine what most refugees have been through.

A Syrian family waits after being escorted into the harbor by the Greek Coastguard, who found them drifting offshore in June 2015. Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images.

The family we were assigned to help was coming from Syria. Actually, they were coming from a Jordanian refugee camp, where they’d been living for two years. Two years. In a tent.

Originally, they're from Homs, Syria. I’d never heard of this city, so I googled it. Homs is a 4,000-year-old city that until recently had a population of more than half a million and was a major industrial center. In 2011, it became a stronghold of the opposition forces in the country’s civil war. Homs was under siege for three years. It has since been almost completely destroyed, with thousands dead. The population is a third of what it was a decade ago. This is the equivalent of Austin, Memphis, Baltimore, or Charlotte being reduced to rubble, the population decimated by our own military.

I found myself asking, "Where would you go? Where could you take your children?"

4. Most Americans are incredibly generous.

The Refugee Service of Texas gave us a list of what this family would need upon arrival. It included everything from mattresses and chairs to cleaning supplies and deodorant. My wife created a registry at Walmart, and we posted it on Facebook. Within a day, 80% of the items were purchased by generous friends from across the United States and even a handful from overseas. By the end of the week, everything had been purchased, and friends were asking if they could continue to make donations in other ways. Most are good people who want to help. They just need to know how.

Our front room, loaded with donations from generous friends around the world. Photo via Greg Christensen.

5. Most Americans don’t know the difference between refugees and immigrants.

In our current political climate, refugees and immigrants are frequently confused or lumped together for expediency. More often, both are simply labeled "foreigners." And not in a good way.

Here’s a simple truth to keep in mind: Immigrants come to this country of their own accord hoping to make a better life for themselves. Refugees flee from their homelands to any country that will take them because their lives are in danger for religious or political reasons. An immigrant hopes to move into your home. A refugee shows up on your doorstep bleeding.

6. Technology is amazing.

Although the wife and mother of the family is fairly conversant in English, her husband and I communicate with Google Translate. I type in an English sentence, the app renders it in Arabic, and I show him my screen. He types in something in Arabic, it’s rendered in English, and he shows his screen to me. It’s very "Star Trek."

7. This is about their kids.

The father, admittedly, would return to Syria if he could. It’s his home. It’s his culture. His people. But he knows his family has nothing to return to, and he knows his children can thrive in the United States. He’s willing to make that sacrifice for them.

8. This is about my kids.

My children helped assemble furniture in their apartment. They were there when the family arrived bleary-eyed and hungry at the airport. My kids have seen their gratitude and sensed their anxiety. Most importantly, my kids know what it’s like to extend a hand to another human being in need.

9. The refugee crisis is real.

A refugee family walks through a field toward the Greek-Macedonia border. Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images.

Today, we tend to equate refugees with Syria because of the civil war — because we’re told ISIS will exploit the refugee camps. But leave theory and politics aside for a second, and consider the fact that there are persecuted Christians in the Democratic Republic of Congo currently seeking refuge. There are hundreds of thousands of refugees from countries nowhere near the seven listed on the president’s current travel ban. While many refugees come from Afghanistan and Somalia, there are also refugees from places like Vietnam, Eritrea, and China who are tired, poor, and yearning to breathe free.

10. Fear and ignorance breed apathy and inaction.

After posting updates on Facebook about our refugee family, I’ve received comments about the need for our country to be safe, for our borders to be secure. I don’t argue that, but these are stock answers. I’ve perceived a swelling refugee villainization birthed from understandings that are over-simplistic at best and ignorant of facts at worst.

When we can rationalize not helping others because of a platitude, it gives us permission to do nothing. When we hastily claim we are for safety, we should ask ourselves if we aren’t really saying we are in favor of not leaving our comfort zones and doing the hard work of being useful.

Refugees are human beings. Treating them as such is a necessity.

Syrian refugees have their portrait taken in the basement of a community center in Hamburg, Germany, where they are living. Photo by Astrid Riecken/Getty Images.

When we took the family to their new apartment, they had friends waiting for them. They were other families they’d known from the Jordanian refugee camp where they’d spent the past two years. They were former denizens of a crippled and shattered city. The women kissed each other. The men kissed hugged each other before kneeling to hug the kids. We got to see their children literally jump for joy.

We didn’t understand their language, but we understood a little better what it meant for people to have hope.

This story first appeared on Medium and is reprinted here with permission.

Photo by Louis Hansel on Unsplash
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This story was originally shared on Capital One.

Inside the walls of her kitchen at her childhood home in Guatemala, Evelyn Klohr, the founder of a Washington, D.C.-area bakery called Kakeshionista, was taught a lesson that remains central to her business operations today.

"Baking cakes gave me the confidence to believe in my own brand and now I put my heart into giving my customers something they'll enjoy eating," Klohr said.

While driven to launch her own baking business, pursuing a dream in the culinary arts was economically challenging for Klohr. In the United States, culinary schools can open doors to future careers, but the cost of entry can be upwards of $36,000 a year.

Through a friend, Klohr learned about La Cocina VA, a nonprofit dedicated to providing job training and entrepreneurship development services at a training facility in the Washington, D.C-area.

La Cocina VA's, which translates to "the kitchen" in Spanish, offers its Bilingual Culinary Training program to prepare low-and moderate-income individuals from diverse backgrounds to launch careers in the food industry.

That program gave Klohr the ability to fully immerse herself in the baking industry within a professional kitchen facility and receive training in an array of subjects including culinary skills, food safety, career development and English language classes.

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This article originally appeared on 12.02.19


Just imagine being an 11-year-old boy who's been shuffled through the foster care system. No forever home. No forever family. No idea where you'll be living or who will take care of you in the near future.

Then, a loving couple takes you under their care and chooses to love you forever.

What could one be more thankful for?

That's why when a fifth grader at Deerfield Elementary School in Cedar Hills, Utah was asked by his substitute teacher what he's thankful for this Thanksgiving, he said finally being adopted by his two dads.

via OD Action / Twitter

To the child's shock, the teacher replied, "that's nothing to be thankful for," and then went on a rant in front of 30 students saying that "two men living together is a sin" and "homosexuality is wrong."

While the boy sat there embarrassed, three girls in the class stood up for him by walking out of the room to tell the principal. Shortly after, the substitute was then escorted out of the building.

While on her way out she scolded the boy, saying it was his fault she was removed.

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One of the boy's parents-to-be is Louis van Amstel, is a former dancer on ABC's "Dancing with the Stars." "It's absolutely ridiculous and horrible what she did," he told The Salt Lake Tribune. "We were livid. It's 2019 and this is a public school."

The boy told his parents-to-be he didn't speak up in the classroom because their final adoption hearing is December 19 and he didn't want to do anything that would interfere.

He had already been through two failed adoptions and didn't want it to happen again.

via Loren Javier / Flickr

A spokesperson for the Alpine School District didn't go into detail about the situation but praised the students who spoke out.

"Fellow students saw a need, and they were able to offer support," David Stephenson said. "It's awesome what happened as far as those girls coming forward."

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He also said that "appropriate action has been taken" with the substitute teacher.

"We are concerned about any reports of inappropriate behavior and take these matters very seriously," Kelly Services, the school the contracts out substitute teachers for the district, said in a statement. "We conduct business based on the highest standards of integrity, quality, and professional excellence. We're looking into this situation."

After the incident made the news, the soon-to-be adoptive parents' home was covered in paper hearts that said, "We love you" and "We support you."

Religion is supposed to make us better people.

But what have here is clearly a situation where a woman's judgement about what is good and right was clouded by bigoted dogma. She was more bothered by the idea of two men loving each other than the act of pure love they committed when choosing to adopt a child.