In this 3-part story, Timothy Paulson, Arrive Ministries’ Immigration Counselor introduces us to the in-depth story of a Somali man, Musa, who Arrive Ministries resettled, assisted in applying for his green card, and helped him and his family become U.S. citizens.
This story is a rare look into Musa’s life story from his difficult childhood due to extreme tribalism in his homeland of Somalia (part 1), to finding himself separated from his family as a person with refugee status in Thailand (part 2), to his harrowing journey to the United States, as well as his hopes for this nation (part 3).
I had just asked Musa about adapting to life in the U.S. and how he feels about where he and his family are now?
Musa thought for a moment and then replied, “I felt like I adjusted well, because after all the difficulties before, anything else did not seem like a big thing. I still faced hard things here, but now these things happened where I could get help.”
Musa has indeed acclimated well to life in the US. He now works as a freelance interpreter and tax preparer, while taking university classes. In his work, he assists people from various backgrounds; it is often a surprise for a client to meet a Somali interpreter who speaks Thai language! Now that he has this new life, Musa seems to do everything with a sense of joy because of the opportunity that he has been given in this new place.
At this point, I shifted the focus to the future. “When you look ahead, what do you see for yourself and your family?”
I faced a lot of hardships, and I don’t want my kids to have that. I want them to have opportunities to live their lives as Americans.“I feel like my family and I belong here. I like to think of how we can build our lives and take advantage of the opportunities that we have been given. We think about how we can express our thanks to this country,” Musa said. “I faced a lot of hardships, and I don’t want my kids to have that. I want them to have opportunities to live their lives as Americans.”
As we neared the end of the conversation, I wanted to get Musa’s insight on current events. I guessed that Musa would have a unique perspective on the hot-button issues of refugees and security. “There is a lot of talk in the media and from politicians that reflects a certain sentiment about refugees; it seems to suggest that it isn’t safe for us to bring refugees here. What are your thoughts about all this?”
Musa answered in a way that told me he had been thinking over this very thing for some time. “Sometimes I look around, and it seems like people don’t understand about each other. And it is because they don’t know each other. They have heard things, and they generalize about all immigrants, and there are stereotypes. When I was back home, I had ideas like this too. I had thoughts about America and how it was causing problems in the world. But when I met Father Dan, it changed how I felt about Americans.”
…it seems like people don’t understand about each other. And it is because they don’t know each other
While neighbors of various backgrounds may be quite different from one another, Musa believes that everyone basically has the same goals, dreams, and aspirations. He believes everyone wants to live in peace, regardless of differences of faith or culture. “People should challenge themselves to know each other. Even if I hear you are a bad man, I need to get to know you myself to see how you are before I decide,” he added.
Musa then told me that Americans are unique among all the people that he has met on his journey. They have always been helpful—ready to assist and eager to answer questions or to give of their time to help. He believes that what sets these Americans apart is that they don’t make distinctions according to where people are from.
As we spoke about this, Musa brought it back around to the topic of clans and the tribalism that he grew up with in Somalia.
“Tribalism is the most important thing in Somalia, and I blame the tribalism for our problems. The refugees are running from Somalia because of the tribalism. But I am still hopeful.”
The way Musa described tribalism gave me a picture of a tradition that largely thrives on judgment, assumptions, and insular thinking; and as we talked I recognized that there are aspects of these characteristics in the American ethos, even though our culture is not explicitly based on principles of tribalism. I found it interesting that a conversation on what to do about refugees naturally led to the topic of tribal identity. It was a direction that I was not expecting the conversation to lead.
Musa also made a connection to current events with his observations on tribalism: “We can’t just assume that ‘these people’ are my enemy, but we have to look at it from the neutral side. We need to digest and think before we judge.”
I decided to wrap up the interview with this question: “What message would you give to an American person who thought refugees should not be allowed here?”
Even if there is someone who is against me as a refugee, I want to meet them and know them, and I want them to know me.His reply was not so much a directive as it was an invitation. “Even if there is someone who is against me as a refugee, I want to meet them and know them,” he said. “And I want them to know me.”
This led me to ask him if he thought that someone like the President would take him up on such an invitation.
In response, Musa mused, “Maybe God is using Trump to prompt people to get to know refugees. They will get curious, and they will learn to love refugees.”
After the interview was over, I thought over all that Musa had said. His insight about tribalism especially hit home for me. Perhaps it is easy to imagine that in the West, we are far removed from tribal thinking, but I found that I recognized this dynamic at work all around me. It is especially obvious in these times where the middle ground is easily lost in any given debate.
It would be easy for me to take part in our cultural tribalism. For example, as someone who loves refugees, I must confess it is difficult for me to see why others might be motivated to keep out families that are seeking refuge from the horrors of war and chaos. My best guess is that the many people who support a ban on refugees are fearful for the safety of our nation. So, rather than dismissing this concern, I can acknowledge that the safety of everyday Americans is an important issue; at the same time, I can point out to anyone who supports a ban that safety and compassion are not mutually exclusive concepts. We can safely bring people like Musa and his family to the United States, as we have been doing for years; this will enrich our society even as we give new opportunities to people fleeing conflict.
All of that being said, perhaps the best way to take down walls of suspicion and fear is to take Musa’s advice to heart: we must have the courage to form a relationship with one of our refugee neighbors. I truly believe that if any American sat down and got to know someone like Musa, it would be impossible to walk away without a new friend.