In December 2010, some friends and I got to know a refugee named Dilan* through our church in Bangkok. He was part of the ethnic majority in and used this status to protect ethnic minorities.
He also got involved in politics and journalism, and became a Christian, a choice that carries great risk in a nation where churches are often burned and Christians are killed for their faith.
As you can imagine, our buddy wasn’t a very popular guy. He had been bullied by the government, followed by police, and anonymously threatened. After a while, it was too much; the bullying increased, the harassment got worse, and the death threats mounted, so to protect his family, he fled to Thailand with his wife, mother-in-law, and infant daughter.
Despite finally escaping imminent danger, Thailand presented a new set of problems. Dilan didn’t speak the language, hardly knew anyone, and was forbidden from getting a job. After about a month, his visa expired. This meant that if he was found, the police could detain him and his family in cages at the International Detention Center, where the water is bad, the food is rotten, and disease runs rampant. They would be forced to stay indefinitely, or until he died or was deported to the country where he was wanted dead.
Despite these challenges, Dilan and his family survived their first few months in Thailand. But one day, I found out that he and his wife were going to pawn their wedding rings to pay the rent. Friends don’t let friends pawn their wedding rings, so I helped him out a little bit financially, and was able to get some friends to chip in some as well.
After taking care of him for a few months, I returned to America. I left him in the hands of an American friend of mine, Michael, who took care of Dilan and his family until they were granted asylum in another country in March.
The important thing about this story is that neither Michael nor I are rich. We both had about the equivalent of the poverty level wage in the States, but everything is so cheap in Thailand that we managed to have enough to help my friend survive . The only special thing about Michael and I was that we were willing to step outside of our comfort zones, cross the cultural divide, and befriend a man who really needed friends, and that friendship may have saved his life.
So we decided to expand. We know we’re not the only people in the world who care about refugees, so we’re applying what we learned from helping Dilan by introducing more people to refugees just as desperate as him. We believe that creating these relationships will transform lives on both sides of the globe. Dilan inspired us with his generosity, compassion, and courage, and we hope others can experience the same joy that we found by helping him and his family.
*Not his real name