Christmas and the Gift of Refugees
Samira Izadi Page is the founder and executive director of Gateway of Grace, the largest refugee outreach in North Texas. A refugee herself, Izadi Page delights in reaching out to people who need more than political asylum—they need a place to belong, a spiritual community. And one of the most festive approaches Gateway of Grace takes toward building that community is their annual "Christmas Party for Refugees: Peace on Earth and Goodwill Toward Mankind."
Now in its fifth year, this party turns the tables on conventional outreach approaches. Instead of local churches serving meals to refugees, the refugees serve their favorite traditional dishes to North Texans.
This Friday, as in years past, 200+ refugees, their families, and volunteers will gather for a potluck lunch of native food from around the world—Burma, Bhutan, Eritrea, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Senegal, Sudan, Congo, Syria, and more. Dishes will range from African rice to Uzbek stew. Each refugee family will receive a gift card, and as live Christmas songs are performed, Santa Claus will share the story of St. Nicholas with children and tell the story of Jesus' birth.
"The negative portrayal of refugees these days causes them to feel unwanted, to feel shame, insecurity, anxiety and fear," says Izadi Page. "With all that is going on in the world, this year, more than any other time, the message of Christmas is relevant in imparting dignity and worth to refugees. To share the joy of Christmas with refugees who have never experienced Christmas is a great way of removing some of the fear and anxiety and bringing healing into their lives."
The Christmas Party for Refugees will be Friday, Dec. 18, 2015, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., at Wilshire Baptist Church, 4316 Abrams Road, Dallas 75214. The event welcomes volunteers to provide transportation and gift cards as well as donations of necessary items for the refugee families, including winter coats, baby formula, and diapers. To learn more or to volunteer, call Gateway of Grace at 469-324-8825.
We reached out to Samira Izadi Page to find out more about this delightful event and how Christians across the nation can help welcome refugees.
What are some of the most memorable moments you've observed during these events?
When St. Nicholas arrives in his costume, all children, Christian and non-Christian, run to him and overwhelm him with their hugs. All families, regardless of their religion, take pictures with St. Nicholas. At one occasion, one of our Hispanic pastors was playing his guitar and singing hymns in Spanish. A male Muslim refugee from Iraq told me that even though he could not understand the words, those "songs" (he didn't know they were hymns) gave him peace.
What do you see as the greatest gifts refugees have to offer the American church? In other words, what do we miss out on when we shun, avoid, or ignore refugees?
The greatest gift refugees provide us is being our "neighbor" and allowing us to love them and thus give us the opportunity to be obedient to the "greatest commandment" and to be witnesses of Christ's love for the world.
What is the most important thing (or things) that any church can do to welcome refugees?
It starts with praying for refugees, learning whether there are refugees in your area and if so, how you can connect with them and serve them. In North Texas, Gateway of Grace provides training and opportunities for serving refugees to churches across denominations.
When you consider the American church today, what gives you hope? What worries you?
The faithfulness of so many people to the message of the Gospel, to loving their neighbor and to sharing Christ's love with all—these give me hope. What worries me is the leadership of some churches, whether their silence on an issue that is so central to the Scripture or their harsh and inaccurate rhetoric that can become a stumbling block to the church members in fulfilling the Gospel's commandments.
How has your own story informed your ministry?
When my family and I came to the US as asylum seekers, a church adopted us, and through their love for us, my family became Christian. I went on to seminary and was empowered to fulfill my calling by founding Gateway of Grace Ministries, which mobilizes the church to share Christ's love and the Gospel with refugees. My story of transformation is an example of the power of the Gospel for transforming lives through the faithfulness of a church. God is at work in the lives of the refugees, and He has a plan and purpose for them. God has given His church the opportunity to be a part of the fulfillment of His plans in the lives of refugees. In this season of joy, what can be more joyous than that?