“God has grown my heart for refugees”

Last summer, Lissy Velez, an InterVarsity student at McDaniel College in Westminster Maryland, participated in our InterVarsity Baltimore Urban Program, an intensive 6-week summer missions trip to Baltimore city.  She spent her summer serving refugees at the International Rescue Committee in downtown Baltimore. Since last summer she’s continued to volunteer at the IRC, making the hour trek to Baltimore twice a week to invest deeply in the lives of refugees in Baltimore city.

Recently I interviewed Lissy to hear how her perspective has changed through working with refugees over the past year:

  1. What’s one thing that you’ve learned through interning at the IRC?

The most important thing that I have learned through interning at the IRC is that regardless of religion or nationality, refugees are just people like us. Before last summer, my idea of “refugees” was only an abstract/factual concept describing people in need, escaping war. My internship at the IRC served to humanize these people. They are people in need, overcoming incredible challenges, but mostly, they are willing to work hard and succeed. They are loving, hardworking parents and resilient children, extremely grateful and appreciative of the work that we do for them.

  1. How has God grown your heart for refugees through interning at the IRC?

By interning at the IRC, I have been educated on the challenges that refugees face, and more importantly, I have witnessed these challenges. I have seen parents struggle to start a new life and children be terrified of loud noises because they are associated with bombs. I have had the chance to work alongside a group of people that are passionate about our work and relentlessly love and care for our clients. Lastly, I have had the opportunity to work with refugees that constantly demonstrate their never-ending appreciation for the new chance at life that they have been given in this country. Through these experiences God has grown my heart for refugees.

  1. Could you share about a refugee or family that you’ve worked with? 

Last semester, I was helping a very kind man search for work. He had a college degree in Engineering, if I remember correctly, and he was also proficient in English. However, the job search process was very challenging for him. Regardless of education, the types of jobs availed for our clients are usually low paying, blue collar jobs. First, we found him a job at a factory, but he got an allergic reaction to the materials, and after three days, he could not continue working there. After a few weeks, a position opened up at a different factory that manufactures aircraft pieces. This was an office position. I assisted him with the interview, and he was hired. However, after a few days, they let him go because his accent was too strong for his coworkers. This client has three children, and his only goal was to provide for them. It was weeks before he finally landed a job at a warehouse. During one of our meetings, this extremely happy, polite, grateful and hardworking man told me his story. He had to flee his country because the government was murdering his people, and when he contacted the UN about the human right violations, he became a target. His journey in the U.S has been challenging, and like him, there are many refugees and families that I have worked with.

  1. What are some experiences in your life that God used to equip or prepare you to work at the IRC?

I cannot begin to imagine what it must be like to flee your country as a refugee due to war or persecution; however, I am an immigrant, and I have experienced and witnessed the challenges that come with moving to this country with limited English skills and cultural knowledge. I know what it is like to be in a position in which you have to relearn everything and your previous experiences and accomplishments are suddenly meaningless. I believe that through those experiences God equipped me with the grace and compassion needed to work with refugees and the knowledge to understand their needs.

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