Refugees are people too!

by Sporadiwriter

Culture clash is so interesting, isn’t it? What happens when a refugee client completely defies all your expectations and hopes? This is what happened to me the other day. Boy was I in for a shocker!

Quite recently, I had taken a refugee client out for help at the social services building between the hours of 10:00 and 15:00 (10am to 3pm, for those of you who don’t have any clue what the heck I’m talkin’ about =P ). Among our various conversations, I had the opportunity to discuss faith with this particular individual. She asked if I went to church and whether or not I was a Christian. After telling her the name of my church and that it was a Chinese church, she sought further clarification as to whether or not it was a Buddhist church or a Christian church (I suppose she assumed that since I am Chinese, we are mostly Buddhist…which is NOT AT ALL true…we are mostly Atheist and Muslim). I was blatantly asked to explain what I believe. Taken aback, I asked her if she wasn’t already a Christian. Still, she insisted that I explain. So, with great hesitancy I shared my beliefs:

I believe in the Trinity: Father God, Jesus Christ the Son and the Holy Spirit.
Father God created everything.
He came down to earth as Jesus Christ.
Mary, his mother, was a virgin when she conceived.
Jesus Christ died after being crucified.
He rose again on the third day, bearing the sins of the whole world, and providing salvation for anyone who would believe in him.

Afterwards, I was told that Jesus Christ is the only God. The Trinity is a man-made fabrication and Jesus Christ is the only God that is, was, and will ever be. He is the Creator, came down to earth, and is the Holy Spirit. She kept explaining it over and over again at least 3 times. I continued to try to clarify my understandings of the Trinity as three representations of one God, just as she had believe they were all manifestations of Jesus Christ. Yet, it was all to no avail. In the end, I had to concede to the fact that I believed that she and I had the same beliefs but that it was ok if she disagreed that we shared the same faith. To this, she turned in the opposite direction and sighed. Feeling uncomfortable and threatened, I just sat there in silence and shock, trying to figure out what to do and say next that would lighten the mood of this heavy topic.

With refugees, there are many different factors contributing to misunderstandings on either side: language barrier, lack of knowledge and different understandings. Because of the language barrier, it is unclear how much can be understood, how much is assumed or from knowledge prior to entry into the United States. I cannot fault her for her ways for is it not similar to the ways in which many Christians in North America evangelize to others? Unfortunately, I have never been one such Christian nor did we have the same base of meanings from which to begin a discussion. I also was unsure how to communicate with this individual, as I am unsure what her cultural context is or what type of communication might offend her (high/low context communication), as this is a very sensitive topic even within cultures. Suffice it to say, this experience in culture, theology, and communication clash was a definite eye-opener for me in accepting that reality is not always as I see it.

Refugees should not always receive the esteem and reverence on my pedestal of prevailing.
They are people, too.

  1. I see where you're going with this. You're saying that through your volunteering, you've learned that refugees are "people, too" in the sense that they are not perfect and do have faults, as anyone else on this planet does. Too often we think of refugees as victims of socio-political crime and thus do not have a bad bone in their body. However, I don't see how the story connects with your conclusion. In my view, I don't think the woman was being racist or offensive. She was asking a quite reasonable question,in fact, trying not to assume that you were of a particular religion. She probably has had enough education to know that most South East/East Asians are Buddhist, and therefore wanted clarification. I just don't see a link between that and how there is the idea that she thought you were Chinese.Good thoughts, though. I agree with your conclusion.

  2. It is one thing to ask for clarification of an Asian person's religion if they had said that they go to church, etc. However, if I have already provided a detailed picture of my beliefs in Christ as the salvation of the world, I can in no way be Buddhist. To seek further clarification, to me, seems discriminatory as well as lacking in basic understandings of Buddhist beliefs in re-incarnation and the afterlife. It was simply because I looked like someone from the Far East, a place, in her mind, that is predominantly Buddhist. She did not seem to be able to wrap her mind around the idea that I could be a Protestant Christian.

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