by Rachel Guthall
Hey friends! Here I am, once again, with a late blog. I will try and articulate why. While I feel like my BUP experience has been so transformative, I find it really hard to write about or even process the takeaways I get from my placement. If you’ve been following me on the blog you might not know that I’m not at the Joyful Journey day camp – Jo and I have instead been working at the Baltimore Resettlement Center in Highlandtown.
Jo works upstairs, in a lot of the workforce training classes for refugees and asylees where people who have been displaced from their home countries will learn English, American culture, or even just specialized skills in being a Security officer or a warehouse laborer. I have been so encouraged by Jo and her constant interest and genuine care for the people she’s conversing with, whether they’re learning how to drive forklifts or search a car for illegal contraband.
My job is a little different, though. I essentially work in an unemployment office for those same refugees. I have filled out hundreds of job applications for people from Ethiopia, Sudan, Eritrea, Afghanistan – so many places that I hardly even knew existed, let alone that their people were hurting this much.
And while I do enjoy shaking hands and getting to know people and asking about their families and all, I started to realize after a while that it was the same people almost every day that were coming into the office. I realized that even though I listed myself as a reference on every job application, I hadn’t gotten a single call asking about my client’s qualifications. I started to realize that when people would shrug, chuckle and say “I just want to work”, there was something deeper and more desperate than that.
People wait in our reception area for hours for no other reason than that they have nowhere else to be. People who have been in the country for a decade will be back in the same position as those who moved here a month ago because their company hit hard times and had to lay them off. Clients will often have misunderstood what I said on the phone, and simply because they aren’t skilled in English, they might made a one or two-hour bus journey for nothing. Even if they brought the right papers and the right people are in the office and we are able to understand everything they’re saying – I sometimes feel like I have nothing to offer them. I can’t give them a job and I can’t tell them that things will get better, because I don’t know that they will.
I can only be empathetic. And yeah, it is sad that people who are college-educated doctors and lawyers in their home countries can’t find work as a laundry worker at any of the countless hotels in Baltimore. It is sad to see families shoved in tiny apartments in dangerous neighborhoods. It is hard knowing that many of them will be turned away because their names are of Muslim origins, or that the process of getting a screening, training and uniform for a potential job would cost them their grocery money for 2 weeks.
And in the whirlwind of pain, need, and waiting that is the Resettlement Center lobby, that empathy feels hollow and useless most of the time.
And, so I am trying to figure out what I can learn and what I can do in this situation. Carrie and Megan have told me that it’s important just witnessing this, and doing what I can – that Jesus might just be showing me the pain that he, too, feels, in his children’s struggles. It is something I am still processing, but we did an activity last night about justice that I thought I could apply.
Lament is crying out to God about the hurt that we feel from our separation from him – the crippling reality of our world. But it didn’t end there. I’m just going to leave the four steps of my prayer here, and hopefully have more updates on what the Lord teaches me as I process this more:
Systemic Confession: Lord, I confess that we as a nation, while providing these spaces and services for people who are hurt by their home countries to live, there still conscious and unconscious systems that make it hard for them to live as equals with people who are born here. I pray against people being turned away from jobs due to their country of origin, or the perceived religion and cultural barriers in the way. I pray against language barriers, and the heightened frustrations that come when someone can’t speak English. I lift up employers that treat some people like cheap labor. You have a plan through this, to work in our sin, and I entrust that to you.
Personal Confession: It is hard for me to stay calm when people are so frustrated and desperate. I confess that I begin to loathe people when they ask a lot of me, or that I hope that some people don’t come back day after day, even if I know that they need to. I confess my apathy, that I find ways to avoid dealing with people that are hard for me to recognize simply because of the intense pain they are going through and how little hope I have for them to ever get out. God, I hand over my apathy. I hand over my hopelessness and doubt that there is any way you can work in these people’s lives. I am sorry that I don’t do more to share your name with these people, or when I’m afraid to engage emotionally because of what the implications would be for what I do when they become more than just clients.
Thanksgiving: I thank you for those of my clients that are such strong people of faith, despite the intense persecution of their home countries, and the struggles that they face here – some from fellow Christians. I thank you that these systems exist for refugees, that they were able to get out of war zones and refugee camps to somewhere that is safe, if nothing else. I thank you for a hope of better lives for their children – I thank you for people Jo and I have met who actually go to our own colleges and are pursuing promising futures that their parents risked their lives for. I thank you that you love and care about the people in my office more than I ever could.
Hope: Lord, I pray that we would see more than the 10% of refugees who currently are able to leave their countries find a way out. I pray that we would see more empathetic employers and a more receptive national community to people who have nowhere else to go. I know that you have given us people who care, employers who will hire, and resources we can use to find a place for refugees and asylees alongside us as U.S. citizens. I pray that you draw my clients and friends close, and give them hope, and sustain them until they can find a job or a better home or something more promising – either economically or spiritually. I know that you have a plan for this, and I trust you to know better than I do.