Why do we listen?
Listening reminds us that we don’t have the answers. When we are helping people learn the ropes for living in the United States, we can subconsciously slip into acting like we are smarter than they are or know more than they do. We do the teaching; they do the learning. Even when we know that’s not true, we can adopt that attitude in how we act. To stop ourselves from assuming we know their stories, we need to take care to listen.
Listening also helps us avoid stereotyping our refugee friends. Even if we’ve known other refugees or travelled to their native country, we don’t know this person—their story, their experiences, their personality. Listening puts us in a position of humility to love and appreciate refugees for who they are as individuals.
How do we listen well?
Listening to our refugee friends is not the same as demanding to hear their stories. Many refugees have experienced significant trauma and loss, and parts of their stories may be too painful to share. Try to avoid asking questions that involve specific answers about why they fled their homes, what they may have seen, or what their flight was like.
Instead, listen to them like you’d listen to another friend or neighbor. Ask about their day-to-day life as they adjust to life in the U.S. Ask about how their kids are doing or how their English classes are going or what they think of all the snow you got last week. As you get to know them, ask them what they are celebrating in a religious or cultural festival or what they think of God.
Let them lead the conversation from what is on their mind. They might eventually choose to share parts of their stories, or they might not. But by listening to their concerns and excitements and thoughts, you are demonstrating the love of our God who cares deeply about our individual lives and meets us in our daily circumstances.