It was two years ago that we asked our supporters to pray for a movement of God’s Spirit in the refugee community in our city in South East Asia.
We had known for a while that there were 900 refugees living in official compounds here. For more than three years, we have been blessed to be able to get to know a handful of single men coming to our church.
As we got to know them, we learnt to call them ‘sojourners’, because they had been treated so badly and felt dehumanised as refugees. They had been detained in harsh, overcrowded conditions – like living in jail.
Some of them had been detained for two years before being confirmed as refugees and given their own rooms to stay in. A brother suggested we call them ‘fellow sojourners’, recognising that we also are ‘passing through’ this land on our way to our true home.
We knew there were women and children living here too, but had heard from the men that it was culturally difficult for the women to leave their compound. So we weren’t sure how we could meet them.
We felt a burden for these families and that’s why we asked our supporters to pray. For quite a while, nothing seemed to be happening. Yet because of our supporters’ faithful enquiries, we knew that God had put the sojourners as well as the local people on their hearts. So we were encouraged to persist in prayer.
Then a few months ago, a sojourner from another city arranged for a group of women from our church to meet a group of women from a compound where he and his wife used to live. I sent messages around our small church and found four other women excited to come and meet them with me.
Two children and a teenage girl greeted us at the gate of the compound. There was concrete everywhere – but their shy smiles were warm. They brought us through a courtyard, where twelve families each had a one-room living space, to a school room with chairs and a whiteboard and six more teenage girls.
We learnt each other’s names and that they had sewed the beautiful clothes they were wearing. Most of them had been in the compound for more than eight years. Many of the adults suffered from so much stress and poor mental health that they didn’t want to come out of their rooms. They remained traumatised by what they had come from and what still goes on in their home countries. They struggled being kept from work, in close confines, without respite.
As the meeting progressed, one by one women looked in and saw everyone smiling. Children peeked in and saw the snacks. More and more bodies slipped into the room. And by the time we left that day, we had shaken more than forty pairs of hands hello and goodbye.
We came home encouraged to have an invitation to return – but with hearts broken for the pain in their concerns about their children’s education and wellbeing. Our hands felt empty, but we clung on to the fact that God was leading us together.
And praise God, just as he opened the door so we can see how he has been providing. With money gifted from supporters, we were able to buy paper, pencils and paints for activities. One supporter from overseas gifted her time, teaching us to run art therapy activities in a sensitive way. It felt exactly what we needed. From the women who visited the first time, God has been slowly adding more local believers to the team.
I shared with a friend from Australia a dream for the sojourner children to have mini-libraries in the four different compounds they live in. She enthusiastically took this up as her own and arranged to send fifteen kilos of good quality storybooks, half of which have already been given out.
It is early days, but we can see signs of our sojourner friends experiencing God’s goodness, knowing that they are not forgotten or alone. Their smiles are precious as we sing together: ‘It’s good to see you here with me. I’m so glad that you came. You are precious, so am I.’ Remembering the women singing this song helped me a lot the first few weeks we were visiting.
God has used the books to open doors to meet people at the other compounds too. Women who were shy about their English are now coming regularly. Two widows who sat on the fringes have been joining in with everyone else. The oldest boy, who used to bully others, is now eager to help.
As we share our lives, it has been very special to talk with the women about our faith and to share what we are praying for them and their children. God began to move in the Spirit through our prayers, so we continue to pray in hope and to look to him for all that is needed.
Natalie and Shaun are team members in South East Asia.