My unexpected journey working with refugees begins three years when I moved to San Diego. Back when I made my decision to pack up everything I owned and move to a city I knew nothing about, many people, including myself, weren’t really sure what I was doing. I had just returned home to Seattle from a six-month apprenticeship in Kaffrine, Senegal, and the only thing I really knew for sure after returning home was that I wanted to continue to serve and love people like Jesus has so graciously loved me. I’ve learned that being in a place in life where you’re uncertain of what’s coming next, can actually be the best spot for your heart to be in. When you do not fully know what you are doing, but have a strong desire and calling that God has placed on your heart, you can be content in your uncertainty. Trusting God in uncertainty gives Him the opportunity to lead you according to His purpose and plan instead of your own. For my wife, Christina, and I, this constant state of uncertainty of what God is doing next has become our new normal. Since arriving in San Diego we’ve often battled losing sight and have had to fight to guard our hearts from frustration and despair of the unknown. Yet, we are always reminded of the goodness of God and we learn to rest in thankfulness and awe of where His hand has brought us. We have come to understand our journey into uncertainty as one that is teaching us to trust God more everyday with our lives. He has directed our path in a direction we would not have chosen or foresaw, in order to lovingly produce lasting change in our hearts and ultimately our community that wouldn’t happen otherwise.
Although we’ve always had a love for people and learning about culture, we didn’t realize when we moved to San Diego it’s a city with over 150,000 refugees from all over the world. As soon as we began to learn about the large numbers of refugees being resettled in the neighborhood of City Heights, we started spending time there without really knowing what we were doing or how we could get involved to meet families and build friendships. We volunteered with a few different organizations and started to meet new friends in the neighborhood who had also been on a journey to grow friendships with refugees. Through these new friendships, we were connected with multiple refugee families from various countries who were very recently resettled. We couldn’t believe the amount of heart wrenching stories we heard from many of these families of what they had endured on their journeys before arriving in San Diego. At this point, I really didn’t even know where to begin or how to go about being a friend to these families that had been through so much. So we just started visiting these families in their homes, and offering to take them to run errands to grocery store, to find furniture, get immunizations, set-up cell phones, help to register their kids at school, or in ESL classes. These things that are seemingly simple in daily life can become complicated for our friends who are transitioning their families into a new life in a new country with very little resources. We never knew what the details of refugee resettlement looked like and the amount that refugee families endure upon first arriving to the U.S. In the time spent with our refugee friends and wanting to learn and know who they are, Christina and I have been amazed at how much joy, gentleness, and hospitality they show. Something shifted in our hearts throughout this time. Instead of just helping these families, we started looking forward to going on picnics with them, going to the beach, going to the zoo, having each other over for tea, sharing traditions and food, and just living life together. These families were not just people that we were helping; they had become great friends that we so greatly enjoy spending time with. We look forward to the life long friendships that we will have with these families and are excited to continue to make new ones!
Throughout this time of building friendships with refugees, I have wanted to find more ways to build community within City Heights. While talking with friends and walking around the neighborhood, I started to see that just about EVERYONE plays soccer in this area. I mean, it’s like being in another part of the world! As it hits late afternoon in City Heights, when people start to get off of work and school, parking lots and local parks are filled with people ready to put together small games of soccer with whoever wants to join. Growing up and playing soccer myself, I often find myself joining in on these games and playing on an almost dirt field, using extra shoes or bags as goals, and having about 20 people on each team. Through desiring to build more community, experiencing playing soccer like this, and talking with several local leaders in the community, we came up with the idea of starting a refugee soccer league. This would allow for more friendships to be built with players and their families as well. It would also provide a fun and organized environment for people of all skill level to compete in. We have lots of ideas to not only create a league, but to also have kids be coached and trained, create competitions, and hopefully get connections with clubs and other sports programs so that we can give kids opportunities to gain experience with a hope to offer college scholarship opportunities. This soccer league will also provide another way for our Kaleo Missions teams to help serve the community and build relationships. With our teams we could do special games, trainings, coaching, camps, etc. We are so excited for this opportunity to work with local leaders in City heights to create this league and involved our teams in it as they come to San Diego!