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‘You shall love the alien as yourself’

In honor of World Refugee Day on June 20, the PC(USA)’s national staff hears personal stories from five grateful refugees

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

Photo by 2 Photopots via Unsplash

LOUISVILLE — Ahead of World Refugee Day on June 20, Wednesday’s Chapel Service for the national staff of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) focused on the recorded personal stories of five refugees living and working in the United States.

Huai Pal, a Burmese refugee who came to the United States 13 years ago, recalled the challenge of her mother’s hospitalization one month following the family’s arrival. “We were lost and hopeless,” Pal recalled. After completing her studies at the University of Louisville, she landed a job as a caseworker at Kentucky Refugee Ministries, “where I can leverage my experience and language skills to help other refugees.”

“I realize my personal experiences from 13 years ago are still relevant to this day,” Pal said.

Genereuse Nodra, a Congolese refugee, praised members and staff from Second Presbyterian Church in Louisville, Kentucky, for all their support, both financial and friendship. Nodra now has a bachelor’s degree in social work. “Refugees come to this country without knowing anything,” Nodra said. “They need help from you guys.”

A refugee from Syria, Nedal Salaho, came to the United States eight days after World Refugee Day in 2019. The people at Second Presbyterian Church “made my life easy,” Salaho said. “They still give me their hand.” He and his brother had to shut down the family business during the Covid pandemic, but plan to re-open it once a petition to bring their younger brother and their parents to the U.S. is approved. “We encourage people to come to the U.S.A. and make their achievements,” Salaho said.

Susan Krehbiel

Susan Krehbiel, Associate for Migration Accompaniment Ministries in Presbyterian Disaster Assistance, read the story of Mateo, an asylum-seeker from Venezuela. A former member of that country’s national guard, Mateo refused an order directing him to attack people who were receiving aid. He sought protection in Colombia for two years, then moved to Ecuador, where his life was threatened. He worked at a water park in Mexico but was being threatened there, too, by a drug cartel.

After turning himself in to U.S. immigration authorities, Mateo often felt demoralized during his two-month detention. “I asked God, ‘why?’ every day,” Mateo said. He would rise at 2 a.m. “with a forgiving heart” to offer his prayers and was eventually released along with his brother.

Maryna Shkurto, a refugee from the war in Ukraine, now works for a U.S. health care provider. “I’m grateful for the people around me. The PC(USA) helped a lot,” Shkurto said. When her family first arrived last year, the government provided food stamps and other financial assistance.

“If you have any chance to help people from Ukraine, please help them,” Shkurto said. “I have part of every person who helped us in our apartment. I’m working as hard as I can to pay taxes and show how much I appreciate the help of all these people.”

Rabbi Beth Jacowitz Chottiner of Temple Shalom in Louisville noted it takes courage, stamina, physical and mental strength “to flee one’s homeland in search of a better life.” For many, fleeing war, persecution or possible imprisonment “is often the only way to survive.”

“Let us welcome the strangers, the refugees in our midst, and treat them with the compassion and kindness they deserve,” the rabbi said, quoting from Leviticus: “The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the native-born among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.”

At the conclusion of Wednesday’s online service, Krehbiel offered this benediction: “As you go, remember those we call last, Jesus calls first. Those we call the least of these, God calls precious. Wherever you may journey, know that God goes with you. May you be blessed with holy encounters, and may you see the face of Christ in everyone you meet. Go in peace.”

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