By Dan Peterson
All around us at World Relief stories are coming together and creating a new fabric of human experience. The stories of the people we serve here reflect the hardest realities of living in our world, but in the midst of their pain, they still hold a great vision for the future.
I have met many such people. Too many to count. And a great tragedy is that their voices, when they are needed the most, can be heard the least. Their voices call me to see something greater on the horizon. They speak to me about a vision that sees beyond a typical understanding of success to a vision of transformative community.
I sat in the living room of a recent refugee from Sudan. She is a wife and a mother of four. Her family had been in the U.S. for eight days and I was meeting with them to talk about how they envisioned this new life before them. We worked through my usual questions and became acquainted. Finally, we landed on the most challenging question: “What are your goals now that you are here in America?” She paused for a moment, looked into my eyes, and through an interpreter said, “I will reach a point where I can give back to the community. I will help those who have allowed me to come here.”
I didn’t know how to respond. Here was a woman who had lost everything when she was forced to run for her life, and yet even before she was able to provide for her own needs she was seeing far beyond what would occupy my mind. Her American dream was for a community, lifted up through the efforts of its members, and she was determined to be part of that movement.
We often have assumptions about the immigrant journey. Even people like myself, who are working directly with our new neighbors, hold these assumptions. It is easy to assume that an immigrant’s primary focus must be to improve their own life. When immigrants enter a country that will provide them with better opportunities, we expect them to be thinking only of their own family. Yet, this often isn’t the case. Many of the immigrants I have worked with express a larger vision that sees beyond what is ‘normal’ and into what is communal.
Another man speaking about his efforts to start and maintain various businesses both here and in his home country in Africa told me, “We have received so much from this community, so we have to reinvest in the community. We cannot only see for us, but beyond—for others. This is my vision. We can see beyond and have generational and community impact through our business and work effort.”
The stories of these new Americans will continue to evolve and shape the larger story around them. I am thankful for the great vision of my new neighbors who inspire me to lift my eyes to see beyond what is ‘normal’ and to see the ways that I too can give to my community.
Their stories can challenge each of us to shift our vision beyond our own personal circumstances. These immigrant voices can remind us of the great American experiment that has propelled our country for the past two centuries. This is the dream that our communities can rise to greater heights as we acknowledge our interdependence regardless of race, ethnicity or creed— that all people can belong and contribute. If you find yourself caught by this vision of seeing beyond, find out how you can join this movement by partnering with World Relief.