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Seeing, Valuing, and Empowering the Refugee

Life can be hard enough, but when you live in a foreign country, everything becomes much more difficult. How do you navigate daily logistics in a foreign language? How do you know if someone is ripping you off? When you don’t have any connections, who do you ask for help?

During JoEllen’s six years in Germany, God opened her eyes to the struggles faced by foreigners. Not only did she experience life as a foreigner for herself, but she also worked with refugees who faced those same hardships on top of the traumas that forced them out of their home countries. After years of pouring herself out for those refugees, God brought JoEllen back home to the States to get some rest and to recover. Even though she feels like she’s coming back drained, God has filled her up with so much compassion and wisdom we can learn from.

During her first two years in Germany, JoEllen worked on learning the culture and language full-time, which quickly made her fluent. That gave her a huge advantage that refugees don’t typically have because they can’t dedicate that amount of time to language studies. During that season, she met with many Arab, Kurd, Afghan, and Irani refugees to practice German with them and expose them to a Jesus-follower. 

She found out that Germany and Europe both have many internationals and refugees—yet she saw very few people pursuing the refugee women. “Most of these refugee women get no sense of worth or value from their family or cultures,” she said. JoEllen could see gifts and talents that God had given each of them, yet their cultures were pushing them down or setting them aside. JoEllen said, “These women were starving to be loved,” so she always looked for ways to love on them and pull their talents out.

Wanting to introduce them to the love and dignity God offers them, JoEllen started a women’s fitness group so they could have somewhere to go that was fun and safe. At these twice-a-week fitness sessions, she would ask them to share their “highs” and “lows,” and then have a believer in the group pray for whatever was going on in each woman’s life. 

JoEllen said, “As a foreigner, you are alone a lot and don’t get invited to many social events,” so in her third year of ministry she started hosting “ladies’ nights” where the women could come share a meal, do Henna, and dance together. Can you imagine how nice it must have been for them to have a space where they could take off their head coverings and let their hair down? For what might have been the first time in years, these women finally had someone who saw them, listened to their needs, and celebrated them. JoEllen said, “Once they could tell I truly cared about them, they became so open to hearing whatever I had to share.”

JoEllen didn’t just tell these women about God’s love—she showed it to them. We celebrate her six fruitful years on the field with Encompass and pray she is able to find rest and continue impacting God’s Kingdom in what God calls her to next. 

Coming back from her experience, JoEllen has new insights she wants to share. She says, “The refugee/foreigner can bring such a richness to your family or church family. Don’t just look out for them—value them, recognize their gifts, and start putting these men and women into leadership roles. Give them dignity, and empower them—you might just be surprised how it will empower everyone else around you.”