Speaker: ‘Do We Have the Courage to be Transformed?’

By LORETTA FULTON

As accomplished as she is, Jessica Goudeau had no intention of writing a book when she met a refugee at a church festival in Austin. She had no intention of forming a relationship with the woman and her family. And, she had no intention of starting a nonprofit to aid other refugees from the same country, Myanmar or Burma, depending on preference.

She simply met a woman with children, just like herself, at a church festival. But Goudeau started listening to the voice inside her and before she knew it she was doing all those things she had no intention of doing. 

Jessica Goudeau

In a livestreamed presentation titled “Welcoming the Stranger” presented through Abilene Christian University’s Siburt Institute, Goudeau talked about her journey and how others can respond to the refugee crisis. The program that Goudeau spoke for is called Intersections and is designed primarily for church ministers, but others can benefit too. Goudeau urged church leaders to respond to refugees in a specific way.

“We need you calling Christians to courage and to solidarity with those who suffer,” she said.

The phrase “solidarity with those who suffer” was coined by a favorite writer of Goudeau’s, Henri Nouwen. Goudeau shows her own solidarity through her writings, presentations, and her work in Austin. An ACU graduate, Goudeau is the daughter of Jeanene Reese, retired ACU associate professor of Bible and now an adjunct professor, and Jack Reese, former ACU religion professor. Goudeau holds a doctorate in literature from the University of Texas in Austin. She has written for such publications as The Atlantic, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, and Teen Vogue and is the author of “After the Last Border: Two Families and the Story of Refuge in America.” She also has produced documentaries and has spent more than a decade working with refugees in Austin, where she co-founded Hill Tribers, a nonprofit that provided supplemental income for Burmese refugee artisans for seven years.

Growing up in Abilene with ACU professors as parents, Goudeau said she was taught to be counter-cultural, something she believes Christians have lost sight of. That is especially true in talking about and working with refugees. Too many times they are treated as less than human and not worthy of compassion and care. 

“We are really going against what Christ is calling us to,” she said.

The 21st century already is and will continue to be a century of forced migration, Goudeau believes, due to wars, climate change, government policies, and other reasons. Abilene is home to an office of the International Rescue Committee, a refugee resettlement agency. Goudeau encouraged contacting the IRC or other groups who work with refugees for suggestions on how to get involved. 

Goudeau was asked to give some examples of ways that church leaders and other Christians can respond to refugees. A simple way, she said, is to contact an agency like the IRC and ask a basic question: “What is the need and how can I meet that need?”

Goudeau warned against viewing ourselves as saviors. Instead, focus on listening to another person’s story and show solidarity with those who suffer.

“That, for me,” Goudeau said, “is a most transformative work.”

Church leaders, Goudeau said, are on the front lines of a complicated “cultural schism” that is taking place in this country. How church leaders respond to the plight of refugees and to other marginalized people is critical–but that response can bring great rewards.

“Do we have the courage to be transformed,” Goudeau asked, “and to see how God will transform our communities based on his relationships?”

To see the YouTube presentation of “Welcoming the Stranger,” click here
To order Goudeau’s book, “After the Last Border: Two Families and the Story of Refuge in America,” click here

Loretta Fulton is creator and editor of Spirit of Abilene

Top photo credit: edu aguilera on Visualhunt

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