Editor’s Note: Emily Spencer grew up in South Lake Wales Church of God and is a graduate of Warner University. She is currently participating in World Race, which is a unique gap year missions program consisting of “an 11 country, 11 month mission trip to share the love of Jesus and serve others around the world.” Recently, in the summer of 2017, by providence, Emily and her team ended up working with a refugee ministry in Paris, France, led by Samir Salibi, a young Church of God pastor and church planter. This piece was originally published on Emily’s blog and is republished by permission.
June 25, South Lake Wales Church of God, Florida
“You’re starting in Paris?” My pastor asked, “I just met a couple who does ministry there. I will try to connect you.”
I had just gotten home the night before from my year of missions work in South America, and Jesus was already laying the groundwork for my second year on the World Race.
Later that week, I get an email with the couple’s information and reach out to them explaining what I would be doing. They tell me they are connected with a man who works with the refugees in Paris. This was exactly what I was looking for, but after not hearing back from them for a couple weeks I didn’t think much of it. Once we got to Paris I reached out again and asked for his contact information. Still I didn’t hear back, so we did other things, finding ministry through word of mouth, evangelizing and working with an organization called Eutopia doing relief work with the refugees.
In God’s perfect timing I finally receive an email with a name, Samir.
I quickly write a message telling him I have a team of people in Paris and we want to partner with him in his ministry with the refugees. Before sending it, I feel a prompting to add, “Please let me know if you feel the Spirit speaking to you and would like to work together.”
August 12, @home Church, Paris
In the midst of his countless projects, Samir feels an idea planted in his heart to open a brand-new refugee center at a university. He will have one week to pull it all together, and although it seems impossible, he has no doubt God will provide. He decides to go ahead and watches as everything starts falling into place. He is ready to go with supplies, food, beds, shelter, law enforcement, even the refugees have been selected.
However, there is one major thing missing, MANPOWER.
Four days before the refugees will arrive, he receives an email from a complete stranger and one thing stands out to him, “if you feel the Spirit speaking to you…” He looks at his list and his recent email. He says to himself ,“I need volunteers, a group of missionaries want work…yes, I feel the Spirit!” He writes back immediately, and just like that God provides.
August 18, Refugee Camp, Paris (location confidential)
We spent the evening filling the rooms with supplies, setting up appliances, and laminating signs. Some prayed over the area; others stocked refrigerators.
Everything surely fell into place, and the refugees were delayed over an hour the next morning, giving us the time we needed to finish. After standing on the grounds praying for safety and for the school to be a place filled with the love of Jesus, over 500 refugees were escorted to their new safe place.
Not only was this one of the many #classicjesus stories from this month, it was such a beautiful way to close our chapter in Paris. From walking the streets and meeting refugees, to leading them to safety and second chances was beyond humbling.
It was an incredible experience for sure, but not the point of my story.
I have a confession to make…
I came into this race confident and prideful and excited to continue sharing all of the good things Jesus has done.
I received a humiliating slap in the face by one of the Syrian refugees I met our first week in Paris. After asking him questions about his life and how he got there he suddenly became upset. “I don’t want to talk about this anymore, it makes me sad.”
“Ok,” I say, taken by surprise, “we can talk about something else.”
But he continues, his heart clearly heavy and needing to unburden himself.
“You want to know how I am? I’m hungry. I smell bad. I walk down the streets and people know I don’t belong. I want to go in and have a cup of coffee like a normal person, but I don’t even have a dollar for that. I don’t want to go into the city because of the way people stare at me. I’m embarrassed by the way I’m dressed. I don’t have any friends here. I’m alone.”
I look down at my shoes, feeling so ashamed… an imposter, a fake. Here I am, trying to understand and relate, but the reality is that I have no clue. Even my backpack of essentials is more than these refugees have. I say I’ve left everything behind?! No.
They have no money, no passport, no clothes, no sleeping bag. They literally have NOTHING.
I REFUSE to give them false hope to glorify myself and tell others back home what a good missionary I’m being.
I WILL tell them the truth. That I am sorry, that I am clueless, that it sucks and I have no idea the loss they must feel. That I know when I feel hopeless and fearful, I am confident and at peace with the knowledge that I worship a God who will never leave me nor forsake me, no matter how broken this world becomes.
Because I only have one job here, and it’s not to convert. I am here…
Guys. There are so many misconceptions about refugees that I want to speak against once and for all. These people are:
- Most of them have degrees and can speak multiple languages.
- They have left their homes and everything they’ve ever known behind. They refused to be a part of the war and destruction their government has forced upon them.
- They have traveled across land and sea, witnessed some traveling with them die in the process of pursuing a better life.
- They have nothing to their names, not even a toothbrush. But they value good hygiene and do their best to make themselves presentable with the hoses on the streets.
- They will give you the shirt off their back if you ask…and they don’t have thirty more in their closet. They will share their food with you just to enjoy some laughter for a few minutes.
- These men, women, and children don’t want to settle for imprisonment. They have dreams and desires for a better life, a free life.
Here’s the thing, they may look different from us, but they aren’t.
We are ALL refugees.
We are ALL broken people looking for a safe place, searching for family and a home and freedom.
Remember the refugees when you pray—the ones who line the streets of Paris AND those in your neighborhood, those in your workplace, and yes even those in your church.
To learn more and/or give to Samir’s incredible mission and provide relief for the refugees fighting for their freedom, click here.
Thank you, Samir, @home, Church of God Ministries, and everyone in Paris who has played a part in our month here. We have learned, we have been broken, we have made mistakes, and we have loved harder than ever before.