“it’s beautiful here”: Detroit through new eyes

Faith Changes me, so it changes how I see the world

Today in Sunday School, the Kids’ lesson was about Barnabas and Paul in Acts 9.  Most of the earliest Christians were afraid of Paul, because in his former life as “Saul” he was a lawyer who persecuted Christians and had them killed for professing Jesus as the promised Jewish Messiah.  Even though believing in Jesus had totally changed their own lives, they were too scared of Saul to believe that Jesus’ gospel message might have also changed him.


Except for Barnabas.  He advocated for Paul.  We taught the kids that we sometimes call the Holy Spirit the “advocate” because the Holy Spirit is the name of God that lives inside of us and helps us see things like God sees them.  Barnabas believed Paul’s story – believed that God could change Saul into a believer.  Barnabas stood up for Paul, and brought him to the believers, and told people he had heard Paul preaching about God.  Once the believers accepted Paul, he went on to do great things.

What you see depends on what you’ve already seen

Today’s Detroit Free Press had an amazing story called “Promised Land” about a family of 7 recently relocated in the city of Detroit.  I highly recommend reading the whole article.  In short, a family from rural Sudan ran from their village with the clothes on their backs when the warring soldiers showed up, burned their home and stole their livestock.  Years later, and after extensive screening, they arrived at a house in Detroit.  Where everything is foreign:

  • faucets, running water, washing machines, light switches, gas stove, screen doors, glass windows, sidewalks, lawn mowers, and everything else we take for granted they have literally never seen before  Someone has to teach them how to use all of it.
  • Grocery stores, banks, schools, hospitals, and offices didn’t exist in their part of Sudan.  Someone has to teach them how to get to a grocery store, pick out plastic-wrapped meat,  use a debit card to spend imaginary money, then store it in a refrigerator and cook it on a gas stove and wash the dishes with running water.
  • Arabic is their second language, and they arrived too late to enroll the 6 kids in school.  No one speaks enough English to get any kind of job.  Their caseworker, who is responsible for teaching them everything, speaks English and Arabic.

sudan detroit bunny.jpg

Despite all of this, they are so grateful to be here.  Their street has burned out houses, abandoned cars, un-mowed grass, burned out street lights, and wild dogs.  “beautiful” they call it.  They hang their laundry on rusty fences, and ride cast-off bicycles, and survive off of watermelon for days because it’s a familiar treat.  They have adopted a local bunny as a pet, and met another Sudanese refugee family with whom to play.

180 days to change your life

within 180 days, 88% of refugees in Michigan are completely independent – with no need for caseworkers or federal funding.  (Sometimes, they still qualify for state assistance, like medicaid.)  This family might take a little longer.  But their caseworker was an Iraqi refugee to Michigan 9 years ago, and is now officially welcoming newcomers.

Maybe we can be more like Barnabas.  Maybe, when our neighbors or co-workers or friends or family say, “I think we should be afraid of the refugees – they might be criminals or terrorists, or maybe they don’t really want to be here”, we can speak the truth:  “Most refugees do want to be here.  They want to be a part of our lives here.  They just might need a little help.”


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