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From Neighbor to Friend to Family: Part 2 of a 3 Part Series


What does it mean to be a refugee’s friend?

Friendship is a bond between two people, commonly developed through shared interests or experiences. Sometimes, friendship develops purely out of kindness, perhaps a completely random act. One of the distinct components of a friendship is support. Friends care for each other in times of need, mutually celebrate life’s victories when they come, and hold each other up when the soul grows weak. Friends can even be teachers to one another, sharing their knowledge of information, skills, traditions, etc. Each of these things are extremely valuable to a refugee, and carry deep meaning. It feels great to be loved, supported, celebrated, and cared for, especially in the unfamiliar territory that refugees often find themselves in. However, being a refugee’s friend does not only serve the refugee. Befriending someone with a background such as theirs provides perspective, wisdom, and often brings extreme loyalty to one’s life. The friendship will be life-giving and rewarding to both. 

How do I grow from neighbor to friend?

As mentioned in part one of this series, GoTEN has several ministries (ESL, Kids, Sewing, International Students) that provide local Christians the opportunity to connect organically with refugees as they serve in each outreach. The most common connections are made in ESL classes, as encouragers (volunteers) sit alongside refugee students and assist as they work through their lesson (the supportive aspect of friendship is already at work in just a few easy steps). From there, the goal is to initiate small conversation to establish shared interests or experiences. Depending on the severity of the language barrier, this may take time, but with patience and understanding, almost always leads to a connection. Because many refugees come from countries with hospitality deeply woven into their values and personalities, an invitation to tea or a meal at the student’s home may follow quickly. Naturally, it may take time for trust to build, and again, patience is key. Encouragers may also take the first step toward initiating friendship with an invitation of their own to tea or a meal in their home, or perhaps coffee at a nearby shop. Once the connection has grown past the classroom and trust continues to build, more opportunities to be supportive often arise. Assistance filling out complicated forms and documents, providing company on visits to the doctor and other errands, and helping move furniture are just a few of the many ways our staff has seen connections grow into supportive friendships over the years. From this point, trust your instinct and let the friendship grow naturally!

I don’t fully understand cultural differences. What if I say or do the wrong thing?

Cultural differences and fear of the unknown combine to present one of the greatest barriers to developing a friendship out of a connection. Opportunities are so often missed simply because of these fears. The most important key is to be yourself and simply be kind. More often than not, this will not steer you wrong. However, some cultural awareness can be helpful and GoTEN works to ensure that each of its volunteers has at least some training in this area. If you haven’t already, consider attending FirstServe. The event will allow you an opportunity to connect with a student during a class, but also includes training that will answer most questions. If a question goes unanswered, the event also has a Q&A component toward the end. Additionally, GoTEN has some excellent training modules available online, so check those out and stay tuned for the next part in this series as we go from friend to family!