What does Christmas mean for you? For many it’s a time of joy with friends, family, and loved ones … an opportunity to give gifts and celebrate another year together … or even just a chance to relax and take a break!
But Christmastime often looks very different for those whose lives have been pulled apart by war, violence, or natural disasters, and who have only just arrived on our shores … feeling a long way from home.
For refugees and immigrants, the holiday season can be a lonely and isolated time. But your support is helping make it a time of joy! And for those like Phuong Schuetz and her family, Christmas has become an annual celebration of the freedom they received through the support of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service.
Phuong arrived in Erie, Pennsylvania, in 1980, after a long journey from Vietnam. She remembers escaping the country with her parents, grandmother, and four siblings. Their journey was long and dangerous, including 11 days on the Pacific Ocean in a tiny wooden fishing boat.
After surviving the perils of the sea, Phuong and her family spent a lonely Christmas in a refugee camp, not knowing what the future held, or where they would eventually call home. However, through the support of friends like you and God’s provision, LIRS found a new home for Phuong. And, only a few months later, she enjoyed a “dream-like” first Christmas in the United States, surrounded by presents, snow, and a Christmas tree. Phuong says the experience gave her hope for the future, where there was previously only despair.
In fact, she was so impacted by the generosity of LIRS supporters, she and her family decided to give a “special Christmas” to others in need last year. Instead of giving gifts to each other, Phuong and her family gave to other refugee families who had recently arrived in the States. Phuong knows firsthand the overwhelming experience of culture shock and the loneliness refugees feel when they arrive in a new country, but she says Christmas should be “a time of relief and peace, in a place you can call home.”
She says Christmas is all about hope, adding, “The whole reason my parents decided to leave Vietnam was so they could have a future and hope. And now, I want to pass that hope on to others in need. Moving to another country was scary at first, but after being supported by LIRS, I have had the freedom to pursue a college education and go on to have a fulfilling career. But more than that, I have found the freedom to learn about God.”
Thanks to your gifts and prayers, this Christmas will be a time of fresh hope for many more families like Phuong’s. And the impact of your support will be felt for many years to come. Thank you so much for being a friend to those who are looking for love and hope this holiday season!