A few weeks ago, during the course of a church service, my family and I met a young family sitting close to us. We spoke briefly, then after the service, we resumed our conversation. I had a funny feeling upon departing church that my family was going to get know this family pretty well in a brief period of time.
Fast forward a couple of weeks later. I’m leaving church and I noticed the man of the family, D. heading towards a bus stop to go home. I asked him how long it would take to get home if he took the bus and he said over an hour and he really didn’t live that far away. I offered him a ride, he accepted. He told me where he lived, I had a vague idea where it was and we were off.
I enjoy living in Bangkok (BKK) due to the incredible diversity of the people who travel through or who call the BKK home and their stories. So, here I was with D. on a Sunday afternoon, confident that I was taking him where he needed to go, but when I arrived where I thought he needed to be, he said politely and respectfully, “Mr. Ryan, I have no idea where we are?” After clarifying where we needed to go and searching Google maps, we were off in the right direction. This circuitous ride home due to some ill communication provided us with the opportunity to talk and for him to share his story with me.
D. and his family are political/religious refugees. D.’s story is timely due to the global hand wringing over the plight of refugees; regarding where should they go and who should be responsible for them? One of the hallmarks of the church my family and I attend is its focus on outreach ministries, which includes refugees.
D. and his wife come from solid middle class families in their respective home country and some members of both he and his wife’s families are even politicians, but he and his wife’s families are not of the predominant religion in their home country. D. said, “If you have some money, are somewhat prominent, but are not of the majority religion, then you are watched and your opportunities for employment and otherwise are limited.” Then, one day, he and his wife’s families were gathered together by some high ranking people in the area, taken to a field, and were threatened to be killed. D. said the police were aware of what was taking place, but decided not to take action. After years of slights and injustices due to his religious beliefs, D. said, this was it, he knew he and his family were no longer safe and they needed to move, he remarked, “Mr. Ryan, I’m a man, I need to provide for my family and keep them safe. My wife and I had good jobs, families around us, but due to the fact we were being persecuted for our beliefs, we had to leave our home country. We didn’t want to, we had to.”
D., then looked at me and said, “I’m so embarrassed, I’ve shared so much about me, please tell me about you, what is your story? Why are you here in Bangkok?” I then shared with D. where I’m from, what my wife and I do for a living, and where we have lived. When I mentioned that we lived in Oman for 5 years, D. stared at me in disbelief and a huge smiled radiated from his face. He said, “My dad worked in Muscat, Oman for awhile and returned home. But, my uncle has been in Muscat for 30 years, he is a plumber.” It seemed like we further connected with Oman being a common denominator.
Eleanor and I have always been extremely sensitive to the plight of immigrants/refugees; especially since moving overseas and meeting other refugees or people who felt they had to leave their home country in order to try to secure a better life for themselves and their family, often at great sacrifice! People don’t typically choose to immigrate or become refugees because times are good! Also, for me, having a parent and other relatives who have immigrated to the U.S. makes me sensitive to people willing to leave home in hopes of a better life.
Ultimately, D. would like to seek asylum and move to a European country where he has family. For the time being, D. is thankful that he and his family are safe.