One of the best ways to build friendships with refugees is by visiting their home. Many people fear making a cultural mistake and allow this fear to keep them from pursuing a deeper relationship and they ultimately miss out on great friendships. Over the years, I have made hundreds of home visits to refugees and have discovered 5 keys to a successful home visit. My hope is that these keys will help you pursue deeper relationships with refugee friends.
1. Pray as You Go
As followers of Jesus, we have His Spirit to guide, direct, and give us strength to go where He leads. As I prepare to enter a home, I ask God for wisdom and discernment in knowing when to share and when to listen. I ask for opportunities to show God’s love and that my friendship would honor and glorify Him. As I listen to friends share, I often pray quietly for them and their situation. As I sit in friends’ homes, I often ask God to fill their home with His presence, protection, and provision. I pray daily that my friends will come to know Jesus as Savior. There are also times when the Spirit leads me to ask friends if I can pray for them. I have found that most friends will share prayer requests and others will let you pray for and with them.
One afternoon, I sat with a friend who was devastated after losing her sibling unexpectedly. Unfortunately, she had recently also lost other loved ones who had not been able to flee from their home country. At that moment she didn’t want to talk, she simply wanted me to sit with her. I sat there quietly asking God to comfort and pour out His love and peace on her through this difficult time. After a while, I felt the Spirit lead me to ask if I could pray out loud for her and the family. I didn’t know exactly what to pray at that moment, but God gave me the words to say and I could sense His presence and peace on her as I prayed.
2. Observe your Surroundings
One of the best things you can do when making a home visit is observe
your surroundings. You can learn so much by simply looking around and imitating what you see. If there is a pile of shoes at the doorway, take off your shoes before walking into the home. If you notice the women sitting in one room and the men in another, do the same. You can learn a lot about what someone values by what is in their home. If you see certificates or awards on the walls, honor them by acknowledging their achievement. If you see family photos, ask about their family and where the photos were taken. If they decorate with flowers or posters of nature, ask about the landscape in their home country or if they like gardening. You can often identify their faith by observing religious symbols in the home. Give yourself grace and continue being an observant learner as you grow closer in friendship and understanding of culture.
One day after English class, a student invited me to come to her home to meet her family. I was welcomed in and told that I was the first American to ever visit their home. I started by observing my surroundings and noticed school grades and outstanding achievement awards posted on the wall in their home. Moving closer to the daughter, I asked if any of the awards belonged to her. She shared that they belonged to her younger sibling, her nephew and nieces. I learned that she was 18 years old and moved to America without having the opportunity to finish school. She shared how she spends her days caring for her younger siblings, nephews and nieces so her family members can go to work. She shared that she fears her dreams will never come true and that she will never have an education. I learned that her dream was to graduate high school and get a job taking care of elderly people. After learning this information, I was able to help enroll the kids in after-school programs so the daughter could go back to school. She eventually got her GED and is currently working her dream job. If I had not observed my surroundings, I would have never known about this need.
3. Learn to be Satisfied with Silence
Visiting friends who speak little to no English can often be challenging. When there is a long gap in conversation or the conversation goes completely silent we can sometimes feel awkward, but this silence is actually normal in many cultures. Until I started visiting refugee friends, I did not understand the value of just being present. It is good to ask questions, show pictures, and try to interact as much as you can, but there will be times when the best thing you can do is sit quietly and smile. Your presence and showing up is honoring and just as important as anything you could say.
One day I was walking in an apartment community, when I saw a newly resettled refugee family sitting in their home with the door open. I waved and noticed the wife motioning for me to come into her home. She couldn't speak a word of English but directed me to sit on a mat in her living room.
She served me milk tea and pointed to each of her kids, telling me their names. I used hand motions and pictures of my family to attempt to have a conversation until there was nothing left to talk about. All we could do was smile and sit together in silence, drinking our tea. Years later, this friend speaks fluent English and shared that some of her favorite memories of our friendship were times of sitting together in silence. She says she knew I loved her because I stayed when most people would have left and that meant more to her than I ever imagined. Since then I have shared that the love she saw in me comes from the love God has for her.
4. Accept Hospitality
As you begin making home visits, you will find there are many ways to serve and help friends navigate life in America. Although it is great to serve, there are times when friends want to serve us. In these situations, remember to humble yourself and accept their generous hospitality. It is so important to realize that friendships are mutual and when you accept hospitality, you are honoring them and allowing them to bless you. One of the most common ways I see this is through sharing meals or grocery items.
I have a friend that loves to cook! She has worked at several ethnic restaurants since she came to America and everything she makes is absolutely delicious! One day, this friend told me she was going to cook a feast for me and all of the English teachers. She explained that after the food was prepared, she would deliver the food to the classroom since there were too many teachers to fit in her home. When I heard this, I felt overwhelmed by the idea! I knew this would take her a lot of time, energy, effort and groceries. I thanked her for offering to cook, but explained all the reasons she should not go to that much effort for us. When she insisted, I tried giving her money to pay for groceries and she immediately refused. Just then, her sister stopped me and said, “You're missing the point! My sister genuinely wants to serve you because you are her friend! Can you just accept it?” She went on to explain this was her way of contributing to the friendship and showing the English teachers how thankful she was for them. Just then, I realized I was actually hurting our friendship by not accepting her generous hospitality. I was so wrapped up in thinking I needed to be the one serving that I was not allowing this friend to serve me and ultimately rejected her hospitality. I apologized and thanked her for her hospitality and friendship. That week, she cooked an amazing feast and throughout the years has cooked for our teachers on multiple occasions. I learned a valuable lesson: to humble myself and accept hospitality.
5. Share Stories
A refugee friend once told me that the best way to get to know someone is to listen to them share stories. I love listening to friends share stories about their adventures, favorite memories, hardships and life lessons. I have found that stories help us learn more about each other and ultimately lead to deeper friendships. My friends also love to hear stories about my life and sometimes even ask to hear a story multiple times. Stories often lead to deeper conversations that open up opportunities to share truth. As you get to know friends and learn their stories, begin thinking of ways to share how God has changed your life as well as God's story as it relates to their lives. Share stories about things in your everyday life. Did something funny happen in your day? Share that moment with your friend. Do you have a favorite childhood memory? Tell your friend about that. Refugee friends love to hear stories of your life and it creates a more mutual conversation of stories.
On a home visit, a friend shared about the crisis going on in her home country and how she feels like nobody cares about what's happening to her people. She shared her personal experience of loss as well as her story of fleeing for her life. She told me the story of how her family was separated and now many of them are living in separate countries. She feels hopeless and overwhelmed with depression and pain. As I listened to her story, I felt the Spirit lead me to share my story of a time I felt completely hopeless and how depression was consuming my life. I shared how I looked at the stars, crying out to God and knew that He was with me and that He cared for me even in the midst of my hardship. I shared that over time, God changed my heart and set me free from depression. He filled my life with hope, joy and purpose. I shared the story of Hagar and how God cared about her and saw her in her time of despair. I told my friend that God gave Hagar hope in the midst of her hardship and He wants to give her hope too. I explained that God sees and cares about her and her people. My friend thanked me for sharing and asked me to pray for her home country.
I’m confident these keys will help you as you begin making home visits and pursuing deeper relationships with refugee friends. Don’t worry about making mistakes! You will learn as you go. Trust the Spirit to guide you as you visit refugee friends. Remember to pray as you go, observe your surroundings, be ok with silence, accept hospitality and share stories. I am excited for you and know that you will be blessed by these friendships. My hope is that your relationships will grow deep and that God will be glorified through these friendships.