Monday, October 29, 2012


I don't even really know how to start this one.
I just really want to curl up in my bed and cry. I'm not exaggerating. It was all I could do to hold back the tears on the hour long drive home. But, if they're not crying, why should I?

Let me start at the beginning. I've been learning a lot more lately about the kind of work my refugee friends do once they get to America. It's kind of all the dirty work. Cleaning hotel rooms. Doing laundry. Working in freezing cold meat factories. The kind of work that wears your body down. The kind of work where you stand for 10+ hours for minimum wage. The kind of work that you're doomed to for the rest of your life because you have no opportunity to learn English to create something better for yourself.

So today I was able to see first hand the beginning steps in the process of brand new refugees getting a job. I don't exactly know how I ended up involved in this, one of the ladies I've gotten to know asked if I could go and help her nephew fill out a job application. I agreed, knowing that paperwork is hard to do, and anyone who can speak even a word of Burmese is useful. I arrived this morning at her house to find nine other people, ready to apply for the job. So, we split up into three cars and began the drive to Longmont.

The bread factory is always hiring. I wasn't even sure what they did there, but I knew that a lot of refugees work there, and they seem to always be hiring. I also know that people from Burma are often targeted and harassed by the other employees (mostly other refugees and immigrants from Africa and South America). Knowing this left a bad taste in my mouth, but these people had families to feed, they needed a job as soon as possible.

When we arrived, each person received an application and what followed was five hours of helping each person fill them out. Since the job is guaranteed, the company just needed their information and proof of legal right to work. As I asked each person questions, and filled out their paperwork, my heart grew heavier and heavier.
A single mom, younger than me, never been to school, with a one year old daughter at home. Has lived in America for two months.
A husband and wife, seven children, they've been looking for work for four months.
A single dad.
A middle aged woman with an elementary school education. No husband. Four children.
The list went on and on and I knew that there was so much more to each story than I was hearing. Their villages plundered. Family members killed before their eyes. Fleeing their home country in order to survive. A long stay in a refugee camp. Moved to America. Thrown into a foreign culture. Desperate.

We watched the orientation video together. The monotonous task of putting bread into a cardboard container. Icing a cake. Saran wrapping a box. Putting expiration stickers onto the plastic covers. The video made clear, "These tasks will be done for 10 hours straight." Can you imagine doing the same thing over and over and over for 10 hours? While being ridiculed by your co workers? While knowing that your children are at home alone? Their faces were blank as they stared at the screen. I knew this could not have been the future they dreamed of, but what choice did they have? At least here in America their children had the chance of a future. It was too late for them, but at least they could help their children.

On the drive home, I talked with a man who had come here via Malaysia and Mexico from Burma. He had lived in Florida for 5 years, and just two years ago was able to call his wife and their 6 children to come be with him. They just moved to Denver two months ago, hoping for more job opportunities and lower cost of living.

"Are you happy with this job?" I asked him.
"No." He replied, "But I don't have a choice. I have six children. All I need is a job that is steady, where they won't lay me off after a month."

I dropped them all off where we had started. The nine of them needed to figure out how they would get to work each day. I don't know exactly what they're going to do. They might pool their money and buy a van, or maybe try to convince one of their friends who has a car to drive for them.

I exchanged phone numbers with a lot of them, and told them to call me if they ever need anything. For the couple with six children I volunteered to go to their house a few nights a week to make sure everything is okay and help the kids with their homework. The husband and wife will be working everyday from 4 pm to 2 am. Even though the oldest is 18 years old, she is still in high school, and my heart breaks to think about those kids being home alone every night without their parents.

I wish they could just go Home.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012


My friend Ler Pway and I woke up early this morning. It was chilly outside, probably 38 degrees F. We hopped into the 15 passenger van and took off for Denver International Airport. Once we got there, we parked, and headed inside towards the ticket counter. After waiting in a ridiculously long line, we were granted escort passes and waited for another 45 minutes to get through security. We constantly checked our phones, the flight was due to land at 9:40.

Once through security, we scanned the screens for our flight. Nothing.
I checked the paperwork.
"They should be landing at 9:40"
I called the case worker.
"oh no! their flight lands in Denver at 4:15. They land in Los Angelas at 9:40" She said.

Dejected, Ler Pway and I went back through the airport and got into the empty van.

The Karen family of 8 was in America, but we were just in the wrong place to greet them.

When I got off work later this afternoon, I went straight to their house. The were kids playing in the front yard, and various Karen neighbors gathered around. I went inside and saw that their two bedroom home was spacious and freshly painted, a nice change from the dirty, cramped apartments I've seen lately. The house was empty, but luckily I recently had someone donate a lot of furniture, rugs, and towels so I was able to supply a place to sit and some other goods.

I sat with the mom and we talked a little bit in Burmese. Can you imagine a cross continental flight with six children? Going to a destination where you have no idea what will happen? The strength of the woman next to me was astounding, but she was bone tired, you could see it in her eyes. As we sat together, two or three other Karen families entered, greeting each other warmly and bringing traditional Karen food for the new family. The mother explained to me that they had all been friends in the refugee camp. They hadn't spoken for ages, but now they were all together again. The warmth and love that filled the room was overwhelming, and I felt tears coming to my eyes.

Yes. This family is in a foreign land.
Yes. They have no idea how to get around, or how to speak the language.
Yes. Life here will be difficult.
But, they have their friends who can help them. They have a Karen Church community to support them. And you can believe that I will be there to do whatever I can to encourage and love this beautiful family.

Pray for Denver. Pray for the refugees here. Pray that we Americans will open our hearts and homes to the foreigners in our land. Amen.