International (MNN) — For the first time ever, an Olympic team of refugees is making history. We’re about a month away now from the Summer Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and 10 refugee athletes will be participating in the newly-formed Refugee Olympic Team.
The athletes will compete in swimming, track, and judo. Their countries of origin include Syria, South Sudan, Ethiopia, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
But when the Refugee Olympic Team enters the Opening Ceremony, their anthem, instead of a national song, will be the Olympian theme. Their banner will be the Olympic flag.
Their team represents to refugees worldwide that although they don’t have a country, they still have a voice.
Open Doors USA’s Emily Fuentes says it also puts faces to the refugee crisis. “I think representation truly does matter in situations like this and brings attention to this unprecedented refugee crisis that we’re having in our world right now. It’s not just Syria, it’s not just Iraq, but it’s several other countries where there’s violence against people of different faiths, of different backgrounds.”
A Sense of Belonging
Many refugees living in a new country have a sense of being a second-culture and third-culture community. You have to learn foreign customs, pick-up different social cues, and maybe speak a new language.
All of this can be even harder if nobody from that new country reaches out to you.
Fuentes reflects, “You think of those verses when Jesus is talking about being a stranger and you let me in, or even the Old Testament there’s commands to love the foreigner around you. It is such a crisis to be without your homeland; to know you’re probably never going to return to your home how it was before.”
The need for and desire to belong is strong among refugee communities. When you lose your home, it’s a very disorienting and frightening feeling.
“Many of these refugees, especially from Syria, talk about just how they miss walking down the street or going to their favorite coffee shop or bakery and knowing they’ll be able to do just simple things like that — beyond the mourning of the horrific things that have happened. Many have lost loved ones, their homes, and everything in this crisis.”
For refugees to have their own body of representation through the Refugee Olympic Team, it says they still have a place at the international table. They are still participants and active members of the world.
More Permanent Homes and Hope
Open Doors works with refugees and displaced Christians providing microloans so they can start businesses. The additional funds allow refugees to move from the camps into more stable housing like apartments.
Fuentes says, “These are either tents or maybe portable cabins that are very small. Without jobs, without really knowing what the future will be, they really feel like they’re in a state of limbo. So it’s vital to be praying for their encouragement, for God to pave a way for a future for them to get out of this limbo.”
The greatest sense of belonging one can have is knowing what it means to belong to our Heavenly Father through His Son, Jesus Christ. Open Doors along with several other Christian organizations want refugees to know, more than anything, that they can be called Sons and Daughters of God. And that is something no one can ever take away.
Pray for refugees to find true belonging in Christ and to be embraced into a Church Body.
“Just [for refugees] to know there are people who care for them and want to be the life of Christ can really be an amazing impact.”