A Refugee Mother's Heartbreak

The Welcome Network has recently had the privilege of becoming a Remote Placement Program site of the United State Refugee Program. This means that we help resettle refugees who have family here in the United States.

One of our recent cases entails the broken journey of a mother and her two sons from Yemen. Twenty years ago, this mother as forced into an arranged marriage at the young age of 13, and she had children at the age of 15 and 19. In the years to follow, her husband divorced her. In the cultural norm of her (male-dominated) society, he took the sons and moved away. She not only felt the stigma and shame of divorce and abandonment, but a crushing powerlessness of watching her sons be ripped away. 

War broke out in Yemen, and this ostracized mother did what she could to survive. She was placed into the U.S. as a refugee (traditionally, the U.S. tends to take the most vulnerable cases that the United Nations refers to us, often cases of women and children). 

Meanwhile, the father back in Yemen remarried and left his boys with a distant relative. The boys desperately wanted to reunite with their mother, and fleeing the war in Yemen, ended up in Jordan by themselves. They too were placed in the refugee system, and until today were literally days from being united with their mother abroad.

As part of our role, I visited the mother located here in Indiana. She lives in the town neighboring our office here in Northwest Indiana. She lives 10 minutes from where I grew up. Upon visiting her home, she welcomed me in with baklava and cupcakes and hospitality.

My visit was to ensure a sure environment for the boys, that the mother was capable of caring for them, and that the boys each had a private space and bedroom.  

During the visit, I told her that IOM (the U.N. Migration Agency that works with the United States to run the refugee program) was hoping to send them within two weeks. She placed her head into her hands and started bawling tears of overwhelming joy. She couldn’t believe it! She has been through hell, and felt the clouds parting with the prospect of embracing her sons again.  

The actions anticipated to be taken today in Washington D.C. -- a moratorium and restrictions on US refugee resettlement -- will likely delay this family reunion indefinitely. These actions will continue to delay family reunification and education for the two boys, and will continue to break their mother’s heart. 

When I began working in missions many years ago, I never envisioned myself founding an organization dedicated to "welcoming the stranger," to use Biblical language, but this is exactly why. Vulnerable people do not have a voice! It is up to us to be the voice of the persecuted, the weak, the defenseless. We need to speak where they cannot. Proverbs 31:11-12 commands this, "Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy."

We will continue to follow on our path, to be a voice for the voiceless and vulnerable, and to support refugees wherever they come from.

You can be a part of this by volunteering, donating items or finances, coming on trips to serve and learn, by praying, and by taking a few steps out of your way daily to welcome the stranger with your smiles, your words, and your compassion!