Rebecca West


We entrust our lives to others daily. Hourly really. Well, no, actually every minute of the day. To bus driver, teachers, parents, electricians, other drivers on the road, friends, bank tellers, siblings, the Food and Drug Administration, doctors.

Most of the time we do not even think about it. Our lives—our safety and our well-being—are dependent upon others, just as others’ lives are dependent upon us. We trust, mostly without much thought or awareness, that they will keep us safe.

Of course, we must be cautious, paying attention to other cars, heeding warning signs when something doesn’t feel right, and telling others about dangerous situations. But these cautious actions are generally background noise in our otherwise smoothly-functioning days. We know many of the people we trust and believe that the ones we do not know will follow the rules and laws of the area.

Alexas_Fotos-war2 -929109_1280 copyIn the world of a refugee—not only a politically recognized refugee but any person seeking asylum or refuge—trust is never just background noise. Refugees every day must consciously place trust in people, cultures, and institutions that they have never before encountered and for which they have no personal reference or accountability. With every person and place, they must decide if what they are told is true, whether they are safe, and how they should proceed.

The stakes are high. A violation of trust can mean the difference between finding asylum and becoming a victim of human trafficking. Yet, most of the time, these asylum seekers have little choice but to trust.

Politically designated refugees have no choice but to trust. People with refugee status, referred to here as “politically designated,” have been granted refugee status by the government. They have arrived to internally displaced persons (IDP) camps within their home country, refugee camps outside of their country, or, on occasion, have applied directly to foreign governments for refugee status in order to flee war, persecution, or natural disaster. They wait, sometimes for years or even decades, to be granted “refugee status” by a foreign government.

These refugees have no say about the country to which they will be sent or about any details of the trip. One day they are told, after years of waiting, that in two weeks the family will be sent to another country. They may not know the country, language, or expectations. They may have family members who have left to find work but have no way of reaching them to talk about what is happening. Regardless, that family has to make an immediate decision about whether to go and, if so, to pack one bag per person and to leave without any idea of what lies ahead. They must trust that the United Nations staff will follow through, that the airplane will take them somewhere safe, that the person picking them up at the airport is the correct person and is trustworthy, that every person to whom they hand their documents will give the documents back, will use their documents for the right purpose, and will keep their information safe.

MichaelGaida-barbed-wire2-1670222_1920 copyYet, individuals with “refugee status” have entered a system. They have seen family and friends receive refugee status. They have seen U.N. and other professionals over time. Nevertheless, they place their lives in the hands of each person along the way.

Refugees who have not yet or who never will receive “refugee status” have even less to reference in order to make a decision. These refugees must make decisions about whom to trust without the help of international institutions. They must take leaps of faith; and unfortunately, too often evil creeps in to prey upon the most vulnerable. At any point in their journey, they could be mislead, manipulated, or stolen. Yes, they—people—could be stolen, kidnapped, trapped.

Trust is the foundation of our families, communities, and lives. We place our trust in God every day—and have to remind ourselves to do so when we feel overwhelmed. We must trust.

But we must not trust every person and every situation. We must trust God and ourselves. We must trust ourselves to know when a situation doesn’t feel right and to follow that guide. That feeling—that discomfort or concern—may be God talking to us. Keeping us safe. If something does not look right, for yourself or others, take that seriously. Be active. Be attentive. Do something.


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Take some time with God and with friends to reflect upon a situation that felt uncomfortable or inappropriate. What did you do? How did you react? Then create an action plan for a time when you encounter another situation that feels wrong to you. Prepare yourself to take action so that if a situation ever does arise, you are ready to trust that nudge from God and to respond.


Rebecca West served as the Director for Community Development and Operations for the Center for Refugees and Immigrants of Tennessee. She worked with people from around the world who had arrived in Nashville for many different reasons.

—from devozine (January/February 2017). Copyright © 2017 by The Upper Room®. All rights reserved.

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