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Inspiring Stories of Hope: Raising Refugee Voices

Did you know we are currently living through the greatest displacement crisis in human history? This month, the UNHCR updated Global Trends report now projects that over 120 million people have been forced to flee their homes, driven by three interconnected realities: violent conflict, climate change and extreme poverty. 

This World Refugee Day, we are recognizing what it means to be in solidarity with refugees all over the world. Part of that solidarity is highlighting stories of hope and raising refugee voices — giving space for the people most impacted to speak into what is truly happening. 

Today, you’ll meet Souzan, Willie and Farah. Our hope is that you will be inspired for change through their stories.

We Stand With Souzan From Iran

Souzan's refugee story led her from Iran to Spokane.

Souzan and her husband were the proud owners of multiple furniture stores in Iran. They were wealthy, owned two apartments and enjoyed the many comforts of having a secure future. On the surface, you’d think there wasn’t anything more Souzan and her family could possibly need, but one vital piece was missing — the freedom to openly worship and pray to God. 

“It is very dangerous for a Muslim to become a Christian. It is against the law. They can kill you.” explains Souzan. “All of my family is Christian, but we have a problem in Iran because we don’t have a church. We cannot go to the church and read the Bible. Especially in the city of Mashhad. I lived in Mashhad.”

Despite the danger, Souzan hosted a Bible study in her home for years. One year, a friend of hers brought two new people Souzan did not know. Soon after, Souzan and her husband noticed that they were being watched.  

“Those people reported us to the government. My husband was very smart, and he says, ‘Souzan, we must leave because they are going to come and catch you for teaching Bible study in our home.’”

At that moment, they had no idea that the rest of their lives would be forever changed. With only $4,000 and a suitcase of belongings, Souzan and her family fled to Indonesia on one-month visas.

What was supposed to be a temporary stop turned into twelve years — waiting for an opportunity to plead their case with UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency. In 2014, Souzan’s husband’s application was rejected, forcing them to wait another five years when Souzan and her children were accepted to be resettled without her husband.  

Souzan, William and Seti arrived in Spokane on September 26, 2023. On October 1, just five days later, they were in church. “For 12 years, I have been waiting for this moment,” recounts Souzan.

“Finally, we are able to live right,” Seti says. “We have rights. In Indonesia, we didn’t have any rights because we are refugees. We have to keep silent, but here, no, it’s not like that. Everyone helping each other.”

Souzan contrasted life in the United States with life in Iran. “My life in Iran was very good because I have everything. I live like rich people … But, we cannot go to church. We cannot pray.”

Souzan and her family were persecuted for being Christians. They chose to trade comfort for freedom. “I chose the freedom — free to pray, free to go anywhere. Especially for my children,” says Souzan.

A significant number of refugees around the world have faced religious persecution — many are persecuted because of their Christian faith. Globally, more than 360 million Christians face high levels of persecution and discrimination for their faith. There are refugees all over the world with stories of hope like Souzan and her family. They need your help.

Willie's refugee story led him from DR Congo to Kenya.

Willie was just thirteen years old when he left his home in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The oldest of four siblings, he was to inherit a large herd of cattle from his father, Samuel, according to a tradition passed down through generations. 

But the village chief, wanting to grow and secure his own wealth, demanded that Samuel hand over a portion of his cattle. When Samuel refused, the chief ordered an attack on the entire household demanding that all family and cattle be killed — including Willie. Miraculously, Willie escaped and fled the Democratic Republic of Congo. 

In 2019, Willie arrived at the Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya. “I am all by myself in this camp and I can’t tell if my family members are dead or alive. I just can’t tell if my father or mother are alive,” he says. 

Along with not knowing the fate of his family, Willie also had to navigate new challenges as a displaced child like communal living with complete strangers and poorly ventilated housing units. 

To make matters worse, in 2023, Willie was diagnosed with pulmonary tuberculosis while still at the camp. But God had already been at work in Kakuma, providing the care that would save Willie’s life.

Not only did World Relief equip the Kakuma Mission Hospital with trained staff and the proper medical treatment to help Willie, but he was also able to access support groups, health education, nutritional counseling and effective ongoing treatment at home through community health workers. 

Reflecting on his journey, Willie credits his full recovery to this holistic approach. Not only was his physical health a priority but also his mental well-being. Now, Willie is a fierce supporter of the work World Relief is doing to respond to the needs of his fellow refugee brothers and sisters at the Kakuma Mission Hospital and refugee camp. Stories of hope like Willie’s remind us that our work can make a difference.

Leaving your home country, family and everything familiar by force is harrowing. For refugees around the world, including children like Willie, it is just the beginning of a long unknown path as a displaced person. Now, more than ever, we must answer the call to love our neighbor — near and far — and be the servant hands of Jesus. 

We Unite With Farah from Afghanistan 

Farah's refugee story led her from Afghanistan to Wisconsin.

For Farah, Herat, Afghanistan was home. It’s where she grew up, found a job she loved, got married and started her own family. 

From a young age, Farah loved learning about the world. Nicknamed the “city of civilization,” Herat was a rich tapestry of history, art and culture. “I took English and [found] other resources to help me grow,” she said. 

She received a degree in education and went on to work as an English teacher at an educational and cultural center in Herat. The center was part of a partnership between the Afghan Ministry of Culture and Information and the U.S. Embassy in Kabul.

Farah and her husband loved their lives and felt safe, surrounded by family and all that Herat had to offer. 

But then, they started hearing disturbing rumors. Farah remembers sitting in her living room in August 2021 when she first heard the Taliban was coming. 

Because of their jobs, the couple became a target for the extremist group, so they made the heartbreaking decision to flee, leaving behind the home they loved. 

First, the family of three fled to Kabul, hoping to get a flight out of the country. They soon discovered, however, that the airport was no longer safe. “People died trying to get to the airport. There was shooting, noises, so many people. You can’t imagine,” she said. “I was watching on TV. Many people tried to go to the airport three or four times, but were not able to. I saw how horrible it was.” 

They needed to find another way out. The family continued east and managed to escape through Pakistan. Eventually, they made their way to the U.S. where World Relief Fox Valley in Wisconsin welcomed them.  

At first, adjusting to their new lives was difficult. “Everything was different,” Farah said. “Food, transportation. Everyone needs to have a car here.” 

Farah also felt the loss of the support system she had in Herat. “Taking care of my child, I am the only one. But in Afghanistan, I had a support system.” 

While World Relief couldn’t replace the family, friends and home Farah’s family had lost, the welcome they shared helped ease the burden of loss. It wasn’t long before Farah was using her own language and cross-cultural skills to help World Relief welcome more Afghans like her. 

Farah’s story of hope continued to grow outside of her own experience. She is now on staff at World Relief Fox Valley, leading women’s groups to help others in her community adjust and thrive in their new lives in the U.S. 

Even as she focuses on rebuilding, in her own family and in the wider Afghan community, some days are harder than others. Farah misses her home in Herat and hopes Americans can learn from the beauty of Afghan culture. 

“The people of Afghanistan are so hospitable. People care about each other a lot. Families are together, and care for each other. There is respect for elders,” she said. 

Although this is not the life Farah and her husband had imagined, they plan to invest in their Wisconsin community. “I am not originally from the U.S.,” Farah said, “but I want to be a part of the community and serve the people.”

While Souzan, Willie and Farah are all refugees with stories of hope, that’s where their similarities end. No refugee experience is the same, which is why our faith drives us to work tirelessly towards our mission of boldly engaging in the world’s greatest crises in partnership with the church. 

We envision thriving, welcoming communities where families flourish and people experience restorative relationships with God, their neighbors and all of creation.

We often talk about refugees being strong and these stories of hope show that they truly are. But we pray and look forward to the day when they no longer have to be — when millions aren’t forced to flee their homes, when global communities can flourish and there is an end to a desperate search for safety. 

*Names altered for safety.

Jessica Galván is a Content Writer at World Relief. She is passionate about storytelling and amplifying diverse voices to reveal the beauty of God’s creation. She is also the Editorial Director for Chasing Justice and prior to World Relief, she was a freelance writer and editor for a variety of clients in publishing, most recently Penguin Random House. When she isn’t wordsmithing for the pursuit of faith and justice, she is spending time with her husband and their 3 children in the Houston, TX area.

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