Recently, Deputy Secretary of State, Brian McKeon, and other officials traveled to Clarkston, Georgia to meet at Refuge Coffee Co., a charity founded by NCF giver, Kitti Murray. Read her account of this historic visit and how this humble ministry of welcome helped inform the decisions our country will make about refugee resettlement.
Recognition is a fickle gift, and, while sweet when it comes, it’s rather flimsy as an ambition. In fact, for followers of Christ, our calling is the opposite of recognition. Giving, particularly, is an exercise in fending off recognition rather than garnering it. If my right hand gives, my left hand shouldn’t even notice!
But this does not mean recognition, especially the kind that comes unbidden, can’t serve to encourage us from time to time. A little recognition can go a long way toward cheering us on at just the right moment.
With that in mind, I’d like to tell you about a little recognition Refuge Coffee received lately. At first I was hesitant to share, but as I read the news this morning and, per usual, took note of what gets recognized most – crime, fraud, climate disasters, horrible stuff mostly – it dawned on me that recognition of a place of refuge for the displaced, opportunity for the newcomer, and welcome for everyone is news we shouldn’t keep to ourselves.
Last month, Brian McKeon, deputy secretary of state for management and resources and Nancy Izzo Jackson, senior bureau official of the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration, visited Refuge Coffee. Jackson and McKeon arrived in big, black SUVs and held meetings with local leaders and refugee residents of Clarkston. And they drank coffee, of course, (lattes to be precise).
This was a historic visit. The State Department typically travels to refugee camps and other places where refugees are awaiting resettlement, not to domestic sites. They were here to discuss “the welcoming process for new refugee arrivals, the resources necessary to rebuild the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program, the role local communities play in ensuring the successful integration of refugees, and the valuable contributions refugees make to their new communities and economies.”
What better place is there than Clarkston, Georgia – a small-town refugee resettlement site that is home to thousands of refugees from more than 40 countries – to highlight the “valuable contributions of refugees” to those who inform the decisions our country makes about refugee resettlement? And what better place to drink coffee and discuss hopeful plans for welcoming refugees in the future than at Refuge Coffee?
To be clear, we were not at the center of any of this. We simply did what we do best: We hosted. We welcomed. We served great coffee.
Welcoming, in this case, involved federal agents “checking us out” the day before (it’s way more low-key than you’d think), being vigilant to follow an intense, five-minute-increment schedule, and staying ready to serve when needed. It meant navigating all of this in a very busy week of other events in Clarkston, downtown at Sweet Auburn, and catering out and about town.
When the last of the big black SUVs left our parking lot, I remember thinking that we were the invisible partners in a day full of visibility for everyone else. And I was okay with that. In fact, invisibility, for many of our baristas who are refugees, is preferable for their safety. I was so proud of our team for being available, patient, and, above all, the paragon of welcome. I felt we did our part to show these large-scale influencers what small-scale influence can do to inspire others to “go and do likewise” in other cities.
Maybe that’s what it takes to move geopolitical mountains, to convince those mountains to pay attention to the value of those yet to be welcomed. To work for their recognition.
I think you would have felt the same if you’d been here. Recognition is a gift, not one God gives for us to hoard, but one that is meant to be passed on.