In mid-2015, we responded to God's call to move to Nepal. With two young boys, we knew it wouldn't be easy; we prepared ourselves as best we could to face the challenges of settling into one of the least developed countries in the world. Little did we know, however, that an even greater challenge awaited us: the challenge of being on the move.
It took several months for us to adapt to our new life in Nepal: new language and culture, new house and community, new school for the kids, new workplace and expectations. Yet, despite shortages in electricity and gas and petrol, we were finding our feet. We were starting to thrive.
Then we got the news: to comply with changing visa requirements, we, with all the expats in our organisation, would have to leave the country. There was no certainty about when we could return, though it was hoped it could be within a few months.
A few months turned into many months, and we found ourselves making makeshift homes in two different countries while we waited.
Of the two places, we spent the most time in Malaysia. There, God provided for us in an extraordinary way, organising everything we needed to set up a temporary base. Yet, we longed to return to Nepal. We wanted to go back to the home we had set up, pursue the language we had worked so hard to acquire and continue the work we were excited about. Longing turned to aching turned to despair. Being in limbo was much harder than we could have anticipated.
It was also in Malaysia that we spent time with a refugee and migrant ministry serving the needs of asylum seekers and migrant workers. Speaking and sharing with some of these asylum seekers, we realised that there were common questions we all shared about our lives. We were all in a temporary place, wondering about our and our children’s futures.
The humbling difference was, however, that we had an irrevocable Australian passport. They had no safety net. There was no guarantee they would be accepted by any country and, therefore, no certainty of safe work or education for their children. Their limbo stretched so much longer and deeper than ours. And many of them did not know the restful arms of the Saviour or the hope of His promises.
Our sense of uncertainty – with its accompanying confusion, frustration and despair – was but a tiny glimpse into their experience. As these communities continued their agonising wait upon an increasingly begrudging world to accept them, we could see they were at great risk of mental health and social problems.
When it finally came time for us to return to Nepal, we left Malaysia still uncertain of our futures. We had been able to obtain only tourist visas, our work roles were unclear, our son would be starting in only a temporary school (his fourth in 18 months) – we had little idea what 2017 would bring. In our confusion and frustration, we continued to turn to the Father, looking to His sovereignty, victory and goodness.
Bidding farewell to our new asylum-seeker friends, we wondered and worried of the even greater uncertainties that awaited them. Could they be re-settled? Where? When? Would those still waiting for their interview with the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) be granted refugee status? Could those whose families had been split be reunited?
We are grateful for those we met who are committed to walking with migrants and work hard at supporting them through this trying and lengthy limbo. Our hope for them in this uncertain and changing world is that they would find some security and stability. More so, we hope they will take up that most valuable and precious citizenship – irrevocable – in the kingdom of the unchanging and victorious Father.
Grace and Huy served with Interserve in Nepal and Malaysia.
Refugees in Malaysia
There are no refugee camps in Malaysia. Instead, refugees live in cities and towns across Malaysia in low-cost flats or houses side by side local Malaysian homes. This presents a unique opportunity to come alongside refugees to offer practical, emotional and spiritual support.
Refugees have no access to legal employment, but are allowed to work in the informal sector. They tend to work in jobs that the local population does not wish to take (the 3D jobs: dirty, dangerous and difficult) and are at risk of exploitation.
Refugee children do not have access to formal education.
Refugees are able to access healthcare facilities in Malaysia, but the cost of treatment and refugees' irregular income make healthcare unaffordable to many.
Faith-based organisations play a vital role in caring for the practical, emotional and spiritual needs of refugees and migrants throughout Asia and the Arab world. There is a great need for personnel. Would you like to be involved in Malaysia or other areas? Visit interserve.org.au/serve
For information about refugees in Malaysia, visit www.unhcr.org.my