Here is the speech I gave at a dinner raising awareness regarding the refugee crisis. The dinner was a collaborative event with World Vision, World Relief and Gordon-Conwell.
Thank you for the invitation and the opportunity to speak here tonight. It is a great honor; I would like to say thank you to our President Dr. Hollinger for his heart and commitment to pertinent issues that confront the global church and the Seminary. Thank you to the donors present here tonight who make the Seminary what it has been and what it is today. A special thanks also to the Donors and friends from World Vision and World Relief. I would also like to thank those who were responsible specifically for me to stand before you today.
As I look back for my life, it is hard for me to believe that it has been a complete coincidence. God in his sovereign grace had a plan. All that I am experiencing today was at one point in my life, impossible to imagine. I never dreamed that I would one day live in America, I never dreamed I would ever leave my home country, I never dreamed I would serve as a positive example for so many. I thank God for the opportunity to have access to openings like this one to remind people of what it is like to be a refugee. I thank the Lord for the chance to live in the United States, to have access to higher education. None of these things I just mentioned would have been possible or even available through my wildest dreams. Because For a long time I couldn’t dream, in fact I couldn’t afford to plan more than a day ahead. The daily possibility of death was very real.
I was born in the tiny West African nation of Liberia, to an illiterate mother and a hardworking father, in a country that only a few have heard of and even fewer can find on a map. Liberia was founded by freed slaves from the United States in the mid-19th century. It was at one time a great light for African democracy. That all came crashing down as the land was ravaged by brutal civil war in the 1990’s. As so many of those conflicts are, it had both political and ethnic violence. Child soldiers roamed the streets, and more than 250,000 people were killed, in a country that had just about 3 million. I am a survivor of the Liberian civil war, but it left its scars. By the time I escaped Liberia, I was unknowingly an orphan. My mother was poisoned and died mysteriously one month before my 10 birthday, and my father had been brutally murdered by rebels a year later. We fled to the neighboring nation of Ghana as refugees on a cargo ship. I had one older brother to cling to. As we sat on the deck of that ship, we recounted family members they were dead or missing, how our personhood had been violated, our dignity trashed and how our lives forever changed.
Unable to return home because of the threat on our lives, we sought to start a new life in a different country. We came searching for a better future. We applied and were granted political asylum through the refugee resettlement program to come to the US. It was like winning the Powerball. Ask any African who comes to the States what it feels like to receive notice that they have been granted asylum to the US, and they will smile and tell you a wonderful story. In a recent Hollywood movie, the actor Will Smith who plays a Nigerian doctor living in Pittsburgh in one particular scene, says, “When I was a boy in Africa, heaven was here, and America was here." This is how most Africans see America. I stand before you today as a former refugee. I came to the United States in 1993 with just the clothes I had on. It was a steep climb for me socially, emotionally and especially academically.
Americans have a system for everything, when you are an outsider everything seems to move incredibly fast. It can be overwhelming. A simple trip to any grocery store for example is intimidating. Things like, buying furniture, clothes, or an outing to the Department of Motor Vehicles are routine to most Americans, but can be daunting for a refugee. Immigration law, trips to the Doctors office can all be frustrating and lonely. The American credit system, renting an apartment or buying a house are all experiences that most refugees need help navigating. For me, the college application process was never really explained, and I didn’t quite understood it and neither did my relatives. As a result, I didn’t leave home for college until age 21.
Over the past few years, I have seen the news stories of refugees, on boats, like I was years ago. Desperate to escape war and experience peace, freedom and love. And I began to think, what should our response be?
I am here to tell you tonight, that the Grace of God is radical! Loving our neighbor as we love ourselves is more radical than perhaps you have ever thought.
A few months ago, I was listening to Dr. Martin Luther King’s Mountain top speech he gave the night before he was killed. He was discussing the Parable of the Good Samaritan from Luke chapter 10. He boils the story down to two questions. As the priests and the Levite walked past the man beaten and robbed on the Jericho Road, they had to ask themselves a question. “If I stop to help this man what will happen to me?” But when the Samaritan came upon the same man, robbed and beaten he asked himself, “If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?” Tonight, as you leave here, I want you to consider the question, if I do not stop and help the refugees what will happen to them?” Do not only ask the question the Samaritan asked, but take the action that he took.