Refugees: A Family’s Search for Freedom

Refugees!“Just a few lines to let you know I found your ‘Refugees’ book on the new book shelves at the community library.  I read it with great interest and was amazed, inspired, and certainly informed. Well done! Today, when immigrants are not valued, this true story lights a candle in the darkness. Thank you, Jeanne.”

– Nancy F.

“At precisely 6:00 p.m., like frozen angels out for an evening stroll, a host of church people flooded the Nguyens’ apartment….

“A few minutes later, Herb and Verle dragged the tree inside and sat it on the floor to assemble it. As the tree built its way toward the ceiling, it showcased garlands of tinsel and a string of colored bulbs. . . for what is Christmas to a child without the Light to reflect the wonder in his eyes?  . . .

“Soon, music quelled the atmosphere:  ‘Silent night, holy night . . . round yon virgin, mother and child,’ only to be replaced with another carol as the previous one faded.  Across the room, separated by a dozen shadows,  little Tuan’s wondering eyes waved around our circle of friends, then up to his Mother who cozied him in her lap. Looking back in Time, I saw another Mother cradling a Refugee Child of long ago, and I remembered the angels singing just for them.”

-p. 163 of Refugees! A Family’s Search for Freedom and the Church that Helped them Find It

What would you do if soldiers broke into your home and held your family hostage? How would you react if your children were screaming, “Mama, Papa, help me!”? Where would you hide if you wended your way through the forest, only to find hucksters nestled in the bush, ready to rob and kill you?

In March of 2014, Antonio Guterres, the United Nations’ High Commissioner of Refugees, stunned the world with his bold statement: That 60 million people, the greatest number in human history, were fleeing the lands of their birth and crying out for a country to call home. Thus, history echoes the refugees’ stories in every generation.

The 21st century is no exception.

Opposition to Influx of German Jews
The US has a long history of welcoming refugees despite anti-immigrant sentiment

In this spirit, Refugees! A Family’s Search for Freedom and a Church That Helped Them Find Itrecounts the story of ‘every refugee’ down through the ages. Cases, in point:

  • Moses leading the children of Israel across the Red Sea to the Promised Land.
  • Mary and Joseph fleeing with Jesus to escape King Herod’s henchmen.
  • When Hitler’s thunder reigned down upon Europe, refugees by the millions fled to receiving countries.

“Refugees! A Family’s Search for Freedom. . .” is a day-by-day account of our church’s experience resettling refugees in America. From meeting the family at the airport to setting up an apartment, from teaching them English to finding the head of the household a job, this book recounts one church’s story of successfully orchestrating a resettlement in America.

In the months that followed, as our refugees became fluent in English, we learned their story of escape. It burst our schema beyond imagination. Afloat on the South China Sea for many days, they were salvaged by the United Nations.

By the time their resettlement drew to a close, not only their lives were restored, but our church was transformed, as well. The refugees’ presence among us opened our members’ hearts to the plight of ‘the other’. When they met us at the airport, we were strangers who babbled a language they couldn’t comprehend. By the time our sponsorship drew to a close, they were one with our church family.

As this book goes to press in 2016, the numbers of forcibly displaced persons worldwide has soared to 60 million. Half of these are children. The need for sponsors today is greater than at any time in recorded history.

It is my deepest desire that our church’s story will inspire your house of worship to open its doors to ‘the least of these’, the refugees, who are crying out for a country.

— Jeanne Jacoby Smith, Ed.D., April 12, 2016

 The Perfect Day

by Jeanne Jacoby Smith

This day, this incredulous day, the first free day after weeks of toil,
Comes as a welcome legacy after summer’s reprieve.
With Sun at its zenith, mercury tiptoes through crisp fall air;
This day is perfect.
A degree less or more so, it would not be.

The lawn, lush with verdant hues cleansed of dusty summer
By a deluge of angels’ tears last week,
Enriches my hungry soul and makes me glad –
Glad to be alive.

Moments ago, while pondering my students’ assignments,
Migrating birds lighted upon the trees outside my window,
Beckoning my thirsty soul to drink deeply
From this, the delicate font of nature’s handiwork.

Thousands of leaves danced against
The backdrop of the sky in lacelike hues
While their avian neighbors, more wise perhaps,
Propositioned heaven for another
Perfect day just like this one.

Though wresting on the wing, my redbreast friends rested not their voices.
No, not they! In quickened time an opus sweet
Chorused its roundel heavenward
Rejoicing in the beauty of the day.
Surely they heard me listening for
Moments into my reverie, though I nary saw a bird,
Their shadows rose and lit across the bushes
As they sailed past my window toward the sky.

Their numbers undiminished, strings of scattered pearls, a lone one here and there,
Continued their ascent in their quest for the Eternal,
Chanting songs and singing, lighting up toward heaven,
Thanking Deus Avis
For this, the Perfect Day.

Featured in the News

Refugees! featured by Elizabethtown College Alumni Association, the author’s alma mater.

Author signing at The Bookends, Hutchinson, Kansas (4:30 pm, Thursday, March, 16, 2017)

Featured in the Pratt Tribune! (March 6, 2017)

Featured in the Salina Journal! (March 6, 2017)

Featured on Mid-Kansas Radio! (March 2, 2017)

Further Thoughts on Refugees

Many refugees of war, once they’ve escaped with their lives, prefer to look to the future rather than dwell on the past. However, their past haunts them, often to the point of terror. The pain is embedded in their DNA.

If we are willing to listen, refugees need to talk. They must share the weight of their burdens. When they have a listening audience, talking is akin to therapy. Whether on the written page or person-to-person, there is healing in the listening.

Perhaps the saddest thing we do, often inadvertently, is to change the topic when they are talking. Suddenly, matters of life and death are treated as incidental. Once again, the refugee is left alone to harbor the burden.

Reasons are multifaceted: Either the listener isn’t interested, or the listener can’t bear to hear their tragedy.

When one survives the horrors of war, i.e., bombings, cross-fire, unjust incarceration, the victims witness evil incarnate. I think of  Dietrich Bonhoeffer,the Lutheran pastor and author of “Letters and Papers from Prison”.  He was put to death by Hitler. He did not live to tell his story, but Bonhoeffer’s voice lives on in his witness, for he spent three years in London working with refugees from Hitler’s Germany. Later, Princeton University created a teaching post to protect him, but his conscience would not allow it. Thus, he returned to Germany, only to be incarcerated by Hitler. (“Dietrich Bonhoeffer on Belonging: A Christian Perspective” by Jacob Phillips. The Pastoral Review, July/August, 2016).

When refugees share their stories of life, death, and escape, LISTEN. It might be one of the most difficult tasks you’ll ever encounter, but there is healing in the listening. Consider yourself blessed that the refugees entrusted their story with you.

As this book goes to press, 60 million refugees, asylum seekers, and internally displaced persons, the greatest number in recorded history, are swarming camps in receiving countries. Though free countries of the world are ‘vetting’ them to assure they’re safe to enter, the greatest tragedy occurs when we ignore their voices.

Today, in 2016, once again, refugees’ cries are echoing around the globe. They, too, need a voice in the modern era.

In the spirit of hope, it is my deepest desire that “Refugees! A Family’s Search for Freedom …,” will help to bring about ‘Peace on Earth’ and cross-cultural understandings.

– Jeanne Jacoby Smith, the author, September 20, 2016


A quintessential American story, well worth your attention. Whether or not you readily support refugee resettlement, this work can both inspire and reset your thinking at a time when we wonder what can we do to relieve the suffering of 65 million refugees in the modern era.
– Claude S.

I just read your book on a road trip this past week. The best part for me was how you made the hardships that the family went through more real to me. I also appreciated the subtext of how this experience affected your family. . . . Thanks for continuing to motivate people to support refugees. I’m thinking when my kids are no longer in our basement that it could serve as a space for such a family.
– Bertie P.

. . . On a personal note, I plan to order the book when I am home this afternoon.  We have friends who helped refugees re-settle refugees, and she has written a memoir for her children. She kindly shared a copy with me, and it was very fascinating reading and a life changing experience for their family.
– Mary C., Pennsylvania

Wow! I really liked the book! I got it from Amazon, and I thought it was well written.
– by Wanda D. 

A great new book by my friend, Jeanne Smith! Maybe you can have an immigrant hosting in your church.  At any rate a good read!”

– Carla  B., Mac Writers, McPherson, Kansas

“Jeanne Smith, I located your book in our church library, brought it home to read, and just finished it the other night! Very readable, and heart-warming, along with tear-jerking in various parts! Thanks for putting our refugees’ experience into written form for everyone and anyone to read!”

– Gloria H., Ohio (from the church that settled the family featured in Refugees!)

“I want you to know that I purchased your book through Amazon and am currently about halfway through reading it. Reading your story reminds me of an experience our church (Center Church of the Brethren in Louisville, Ohio) had while sponsoring a family from Uganda in the 1970s.  There were some of the same situations to which you refer — language issues as well as their eventual desire to relocate closer to people of their own nationality.  I appreciate your writing and am looking forward to the rest of the book.”

– Rev. Bruce R.

“Jeanne, I’ve purchased and read your book. I think it is a must read—and very helpful and inspiring—for any group, especially churches looking to live out God’s call to love our neighbors!”

— Crystal Z., former editor, United Methodist Press, Nashville, Tennessee

“I finished your book and found it very gripping.  I couldn’t put it down after starting.

“This book had the same effect on me as a movie I used in school concerning immigrants from Mexico coming to the US and trying to survive on their own.  Thanks for showing the plight of people trying to adjust to a different culture.

“Your suggestions at the end of the book are excellent for any newcomer to the US.”

– David S., Lebanon, Pennsylvania

I’ve been looking forward to reading this book and it arrived in today’s mail! My 10th grade high school English teacher in Upland, CA just published her book. We’ve stayed in contact all these years! Last time I saw her was at KSU while she was working on her doctorate. Both Jeanne and her husband Herb were very influential.”

–Ron O., Illinois

“The true story of Refugees is exceeded only by Jeanne and Herb’s extraordinary lifetime of selfless service at home and throughout the world.  We are honored to have known them.”

– C. and C.P., Wauwatosa, Wisconsin