Updated: Jun 1, 2021
Refuge...a place of safety and shelter from the storm. A place of protection from war and violence. A place of retreat from the battles around us. A place of security, and a sense that our lives are valuable and worth defending. A place of peace. Where can we find refuge from the storms, battles, and wars in our own lives?
Across the world, there are over 80 million people that are seeking refuge in places other than their homes, having been forced out by war, violence, and fear. In the United States alone, over 3 million of those who are seeking refuge have found a place of protection from violence here. But even here in the United States, those who are seeking refuge from violence do not always find a place of complete security. There is violence in the communities in which they have settled. There is violence within their families. There is violence against them because they are from another country. There is the struggle to begin again in a new country in which they are not familiar with the culture, the language, or the systems. There is the struggle to raise their families and to get jobs that support their families. And then, in this past year, there were the challenges of a world-wide pandemic that caused every country to go into crisis management mode, which affected every community, family and individual.
Throughout this past year, we have dealt with the lockdowns of nations, cities, and neighborhoods. We have dealt with fear, whether our own of the virus, or the fear of those around us. We have faced the challenges of jobs either being terminated, moved to a virtual environment, or continuing on with the limitations of precautions in the work place. Those of us who have children have faced the challenges of schooling our children at home, as very few schools were open this past year, on top of everything else. Even obtaining food was a challenge, with shortages of key items, limits placed on what could be purchased at one time, and mask mandates that made it challenging to simply breathe.
But the challenges went so much deeper than even the groceries, school, job and lockdown situations. For so many families, their lives were thrust into crisis due to the stress of the fear, the financial hardships, the economic crisis, and even the marital and family issues from having work, school, and stress issues all under one roof all of the time. Fear and stress, and even at times severe sickness, permeated every decision of every day for so many families.
Stress built up.
Decisions were difficult.
Single parents and individuals were isolated.
Churches wrestled with their calling.
Communities were overwhelmed with the challenges.
Society as a whole seethed with emotions and turmoil.
During this time, we continued to sense that God was asking us an ongoing question....
His question to us has been simple. "WHERE are you going to find your refuge?"
It is a challenging question. Are we going to find our refuge in our homes, in the safety of the medical world, or in our carefully planned decisions to protect ourselves and our families? Are we going to put our trust in those in political power, or in the ability of the government to protect us? Where are we going to run for refuge?
It has become so apparent that if we put all of our trust and our hope for security in any one of these things, there is both risk of failure to find refuge, as well as the risk of animosity in our own hearts towards all who threaten our refuge and security.
Our cry has been, "I cry to you, O LORD; I say, 'You are my refuge...Attend to my cry, for I am brought very low! Deliver me...that I may give thanks to your name!"
As we have spoken with friends and clients from other nations who have come to the United States to find refuge, only to be confronted with violence and turmoil here, it has in turn spoken volumes to us about where we should be finding our refuge not only during this time, but at all times.
We want to share one story from a client who has come to the United States for refuge, but has discovered that the only place to truly find refuge as a sojourner is in God.
One sojourner’s journey seeking refuge...
A woman with whom we started working this past year in the immigration world has a story that has been speaking volumes to us regarding what it means to find refuge in God. When we first spoke with her, she recounted her story, and how it all started in a Latin American country where gangs and crime were out of control, so she had fled to the neighboring country. In that country, she had suffered violence, and managed to get a visa to come to the U.S. to be reunited with her mother and brother. Having grown up in a Christian home, she had always waited to be married until she met a follower of Jesus, and several years after moving to the U.S., she married a man whom she and her family all thought was an outstanding Christian man. Not too long into their marriage, he began to threaten her, physically abuse her, emotionally manipulate her, and eventually, began to threaten to kill her if she did not do exactly what he wanted when he wanted. She fled one night while he was asleep, taking only what she could carry in a small bag, and ran to her mother's house in another state to find refuge from what had become a nightmare. He would call her mother's house and her phone, and threaten to hunt her down. When she came to us, she was seeking to apply for a change of status, as she could no longer remain in the U.S. as the spouse of a U.S. citizen, and was still desperately seeking refuge.
In her own words...
"I had seven marriage proposals in my life and I said ‘No,’ and broke an engagement; all while living in the shadows without a green card in the U.S. I promised God that I will only get married to the right person. My mother who is a U.S. citizen filed for me in 2008, but filing for a single child over 21 years took a very long time before a visa became available. After many years, we finally submitted my I-485 papers to USCIS for Green Cards, when I met a wonderful man who was a US Citizen; I’ll call him ‘John.’
I wanted to wait until my USCIS papers were finalized, but we were soon talking about marriage. I told John about my status and waiting for USCIS to respond. He assured me that everything will be OK since he was a citizen, and if my request was not approved that he will file, or sponsor me as my husband, and that we should proceed with the marriage – I agreed. We had a wonderful wedding. People from around the country and my family from London came to our wedding – over 200 guests.
However, 52 days after we got married, my husband physically assaulted me...I was shocked that this kind and caring man I married, not even two months ago would hurt me; or that he didn’t trust me. I tried to fix us; after all, I waited a long time to married a loving Christian man – and I thought he was a really good guy who just needs help; but no matter how hard I tried, he continued hurting me.
A few months later USCIS responded and denied my mother’s petition for me, and because I was now married and no longer an un-married child we couldn’t continue with that petition. When I told John this, the abuse intensified. He now also threatened me that if I don’t do as he says, he wouldn’t file my papers. He continued abusing me physically and emotionally.
I finally ran away, just as the COVID 19 shutdown began. I felt so lost and hopeless; I didn’t know what to do and where to go for help with my USCIS issues or the emotional turmoil I was going through; until I was introduced to the attorney Ryan Driscoll and his wife Monica, who prayed with me, walked me through every step of my USCIS self-petition filing under the VAWA, and helped me find a Christian counselor near me. I’m still in counseling, but I’m learning how to trust God again. I have truly found refuge, safety and security in God – I am a sojourner – thank you, Ryan and Monica, of Sojourner Law, for walking with me through this very difficult process - I couldn’t do this without you."
Her questions and fears were real. "Why didn't God protect me from this man when I had been waiting my whole life for a godly man? How can I find refuge in this country now that this man has divorced me? How can I be sure he won't find me and hurt me? How can I trust God to lead me going forward? How can God use the life of someone so broken and tossed to the side for His glory?" Her life is becoming a beautiful demonstration of how God is able to rescue, redeem, remove shame, and restore honor as she finds her refuge in Him alone.
Finding refuge in God means finding all of our safety and security in Him, but it also means not allowing our fears, our perceived failures, and our trauma from what we have experienced to keep us from forging forward into the plans He has for our lives and families.
God calls us and invites us to find refuge in Him...as it says in the proverbs of Solomon, "Every word of God proves true; He is a shield to those who take refuge in Him." Proverbs 30:5
When you are afraid, run to Him.
When you do not know which decision to make, run to Him.
When your children are struggling, run to Him.
When your marriage seems beyond rescue, run to Him.
When your finances are unstable, run to Him.
When you cannot change situations that are desperate, run to Him.
When no country in the world is able to offer true security, run to Him.
When the world is in upheaval, run to Him.
And in that place of refuge, He will do what we cannot, which is give us security that is eternal and without failure. He will answer prayers that we thought impossible. He will give wisdom for decisions that seemed to have no answer. He will rescue beyond what we think is credible. He will make the way, because He is the Way.
God has been asking us, "Where are you going to find your refuge?" Our answer is "Where else can I go, LORD? You have the words of eternal life..." John 6:68
"But my eyes are toward You, O God, my LORD; in you I seek refuge; leave me not defenseless!" Psalm 141:8