Lisa longs to equip women with biblical truth. Through Arise Ministries Collective she has seen women empowered to love God, love others, and live in radical and beautiful ways for Christ. Her heart has always been to live out what biblical justice looks like in her life and help women discover it for themselves.
But in the last few months, she found herself scared to tell parts of her story, not sure how others in her community might respond. She came across a Women of Welcome post on Instagram. It was a map showing how people all over the country had opened their homes and lives to Afghan refugees fleeing violence in their country. She messaged us at Women of Welcome and said, “I want to add Vancouver, WA to this map. I’m ready to tell my story.” We sat down to talk with Lisa and hear her beautiful story of how God has helped her take steps deeper into what biblical welcome can look like in her community.
Proximity to Refugee Families
When Lisa’s family moved to the Pacific Northwest thirteen years ago, they discovered immediate proximity to refugee families. They had natural connections with immigrants and refugees in their community. Her son became best friends with a boy whose family were refugees from Eritrea and he began playing soccer with several refugees and an Unaccompanied Minor from Central America. “The Lord gave us these relationships,” she says.
In November 2021 a friend who is a social worker reached out to Lisa, knowing how she had taken small steps to welcome refugees in the past like helping make welcome kits for Syrian refugees. She asked her to take a much bigger step this time. She told her the very first family of evacuees from Afghanistan would be arriving in their area from a military base in just a few days. She asked if her family would help to welcome them.
The Request to Move Closer
She didn’t know what to expect when she asked others to join her to be the pilot members of a good neighbor team, a group of people to come alongside one arriving family. She reached out to a few people she thought might be on board—a couple of people from church, her son’s soccer team, and a retired couple looking for a way to serve the community. She told them, ‘I don’t know what it will look like. I can’t tell you what to expect but I know it will be inconvenient and financially burdensome.” They took the leap with her and said ‘yes.’
The Chance to Be Good Neighbors
“We had the honor and privilege to be the first faces they saw upon arriving in the community,” she says. Their little group started with a few and quickly became a family. She and her husband had recently renovated a studio apartment at their home for family to use when visiting. When they were asked if the family could live with them until finding a permanent space, they weren’t even in town. While they were away visiting family, the good neighbor team rallied to fill the fridge and ready the space for the family. They only knew it was a husband, wife, and young daughter.
“It was a beautiful story of coming together from the beginning,” Lisa says of the team. “Everyone had different gifts and availability. Everyone just did what they could.” When Saad and Taara arrived they discovered the family would soon be a family of four; Taara was 8 months pregnant.
Lisa’s friend Lee Ann DeRoos, a respiratory therapist who is great with babies, developed a quick friendship with Taara, despite the language barrier. Lee Ann joined Taara at her prenatal appointments and agreed to be her labor and delivery support person. It was a tough and long labor, but Lee Ann was there for every moment. She got to be there as her new friend welcomed a beautiful little girl into the world.
Finding a New Family
The family of four now lives in a 650 foot one-bedroom apartment as they rebuild their lives in the United States. Lisa says her family misses them being right there at home. Her family misses the visits and meals they so often had together, but is happy that they are becoming more settled. “They no longer have to message me and ask someone to come do something for them,” she says. “They have a community of people around them. Last week Saad said, ‘When I left my family in Kabul, I didn’t know that I would find another one here.” Saad and Taara’s extended family arrived in the U.S. several weeks ago and are trying to settle into the community as well. Their lives were in danger in Afghanistan because they assisted the U.S military.
Lisa said her friendship with Saad and Taara hasn’t changed the way she sees her responsibility to her neighbors. “The gospel response to the refugee is that we come alongside and we welcome and we meet needs just as Christ meets needs,” she says. “What it has shown me is that it’s not easy. The nitty-gritty is messy; it’s inconvenient. And yet, it is our calling, and there is blessing in that. I have new friends that I wouldn’t have had before. We were simply asked to step into a need, but I can’t imagine my life without them.”
What Kind of Neighbor Do You Want to Be?
Since November over 150 refugees have been welcomed into the Vancouver area. Good neighbor teams continue to welcome, provide transportation, help new arrivals find jobs, and learn how life in an unfamiliar country even works. “Not one person who has done this says, ‘I regret the time this has cost me,’’’ says Lisa.
She wants others out there to know her story because there are other parts of the country just like Vancouver. There are people in need showing up in communities all across the nation. “They are already our neighbors,” Lisa says of the immigrants and refugees in our communities. “The question isn’t should they be here or not. The question is: what kind of neighbor do you want to be? One that represents Christ? We, as Christ-followers cannot turn a blind eye.”
*names of refugees changed