While we sometimes miss the mark, we are always working with our team to think about ways to de-center ourselves as fixers or saviors in our community. Our hope is that the work and life we lean into on a daily basis would look so much more like partnership, than anything else. Using what we have to partner with new neighbors and what they have to slowly but surely lead to the flourishing of our community in whatever ways we’re invited into. In this pursuit, we want to highlight the beauty of volunteers that consider what it means to partner with new friends that have arrived here through resettlement.
The volunteers that have joined Refugee Care Collective to make this happen in real life are some of the people that constantly draw us into hope and a lasting presence. Today, we’re reflecting on a few pieces of the story our friend, Liz Bohannon, has been quietly telling with her life. When you look at Liz, it doesn’t seem like there is a lot that’s quiet. She’s an author and speaker. She has a podcast chatting with some of the most imaginative, influential people around. She and her partner lead an incredible social enterprise that provides pathways to success for countless women in East Africa and the United States. AND she’s been on SHARK TANK.
In the midst of all of these things, she has quietly shown up at the airport to say hello to brand new community members. She has rallied her community of friends to put together Restart Kits and invited a case manager into her home to pick them up and ask questions about what it means to show up well in the resettlement community. She has taken the night off without hesitation, and rallied vehicles and people to help move a large family across town when they found better housing. We see her heart, her action and her commitment to standing with the vulnerable of our community.
A few years ago in this same holiday season we find ourselves in now, Liz decided to give her birthday away. Instead of a celebration of her own life and work, she asked for money to get solid, long-lasting winter jackets for a family of ten that had just arrived in Portland a few months earlier from East Africa. Instead of getting hand-me-downs, instead of the cheapest jackets she could find, she invited the rest of her community to participate in welcome by getting new name-brand coats for this family. When you’re brand new to a city and culture, the holiday season feels a little easier to take in when you’re warm, because everything can feel cold compared to your first home. Liz and her community made this a reality.
The next year around the holiday season, Liz began dreaming up new ways to continue welcome through friendship and community. The family of ten that received new winter coats had a new baby on the way. Of course, a new baby calls for a baby shower! Being in the midst of another round of holidays, Liz gathered her people again to make this baby shower a Christmas party. Baby gifts, kid gifts, jackets for those who had worn through the year old ones, and food!
Because this community of friends didn’t limit themselves keeping this all for themselves, they also invited another newcomer family in town to join in the fun. A family of four from a war-torn part of the Middle East and their kids getting and giving, next to an East African family of over ten and twenty long-term Portlanders, all cozied up in a SE Portland 10ft x 10ft living room. The night was spent singing carols in English, songs in Swahili, introducing the kids to LaCroix (pamplemousse, of course – it wasn’t a hit), and sharing the best foods everyone could bring.
In the chaos of over a dozen kids and their parents from places around the globe, mixed into a community of mostly 30-somethings that had grown up in the United States, the holiday spirit was ALIVE. When I asked Liz to reflect on the significance of moments like these that usher in the holiday season, she thoughtfully called me into a remembrance of the ways our communities are meant to be “big, beautiful, wild, and diverse.”
Thinking back to that Christmas, Liz says that more than anything she just remembers it being an evening marked with JOY.
We’re grateful for joy. For the joy that comes with knowing and being known by our newest neighbors. For the joy that comes with looking at what we have and figuring out how to give it away for the good of others. For the joy that comes with receiving the gift of new friendship that teaches us to celebrate and live lives full of gratitude no matter the season.
May this story of a small community rallying around a spirit of joy, be a story that invites us to finding joy, new and old, this holiday season.