Julianne Elson Story
I moved to Dallas five years ago and I felt a calling to serve in my community, but I allowed the excuse of being busy to get in the way of committing. I had a friend who was passionate about volunteering with refugees but that seemed uncomfortable and a little scary so I continued to ignore the tug I felt in my heart. Until January of this year when I happened to run into Alysa, the founder of Refugee Resources, and I knew there was no more putting it off. No more excuses. It was a quick process, from the online background check and application to the training a couple of weeks later and the following Thursday I met my student, Asmah.
Asmah along with her parents and little sister came from Malaysia and first lived in Georgia before moving here to Dallas. I quickly learned that she is shy and does not like to be the center of attention but she’s also passionate about justice. She feels like she isn’t good enough but she has it in her to change the world.
Every week I look forward to Thursday. That’s because every Thursday I get to learn from a 12 year old what it means to perservere and what it looks like to be brave. Her smile lights up the room and her hugs brighten the hardest day. She asks difficult questions about how people who lead our country could be so hateful to others who do not look like them. She tells me stories about kids at her school who say they cannot talk to her because she is Muslim .
You may think she has plenty of reasons to give up or be discouraged. But she doesn’t let these things bring her down. She talks about how she wants to be a politician so she can help change our country and help people to be loved and cared for. She also wants to be a doctor so she can help sick people and make enough money to support her family. She doesn’t let her status or race and what other people think of her shadow the dreams she has to be a difference maker. This is why I’m so grateful I get to be a part of Refugee Resources. Every Thursday I get to show up, step out of my comfort zone and pray with a Muslim girl who teaches me a little bit more every week. I get to share with her how big our God is and how He is our hope through the darkness of this world. I get to learn alongside her that our God is just but he is also compassionate.
Through our weekly prayers I have learned that she feels a lot of pressure to be good enough. Week after week we pray that she will do well on her tests, specifically the STAAR test. I can see the shame and fear in her eyes when she reports that she did not do as well as she should have on her tests. I get to look her back in the eyes and remind her how smart and hard working she is and promise her that these tests do not define who she is and what she is capable of. I have watched her grow over seven levels in reading in just five short months. Two weeks ago she announced with the biggest smile on her face “I passed my STAAR test!”. I love getting to tell her how proud I am of her and watching her learn to be proud of herself.
You see, I signed up for Refugee Resources thinking that I was going to help these kids. I am a first grade teacher and I teach reading everyday so I thought I had a lot to bring to this organization. But God has shown me that this community and these students have way more to teach me than I can ever teach them.
If you are sitting there reading this and you too feel uncomfortable stepping out of your comfort zone to find out what it looks like to volunteer sharing God’s word and teaching reading to refugee kids, I challenge you to go to the next training session to learn more. We do not have to go overseas to serve and love others. We have a great opportunity and need right here in Dallas. Once you meet these students, you won’t be the same.