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September 25, 2017

Reflections on the Presbyterian Church USA’s short documentary, “To Breathe Free”

When filmmaker David Barnhart notified me that the documentary, “To Breathe Free,” was completed, I was excited to finally share with my family and friends the story of our church’s journey to help resettle a young Syrian refugee family.

In the last year, I had reached out to friends and family for their help to welcome the refugee family to Maryland and make their resettlement and transition to life in America as easy as possible. These occasions also gave me a chance to talk about my motivation to be involved with refugee advocacy work.

For me, the “work” fills a spiritual need and space in my heart for a richer, more deeply felt human connection. In the end, I believe we are all God’s children, and we each in our own individual capacity should “give back” to the communities we live in and to the human family that nourishes and sustains us in ways material and spiritual.

To Breathe Free from Presbyterian Disaster Assistance on Vimeo.

I’ve really needed that nourishment and connection in my life, as my heart continues to heal from the death of my Dad from cancer in January 2013. When I heard that Chevy Chase Presbyterian Church (CCPC) was getting involved in the Syrian refugee crisis and would help resettle a family, I raised my hand.

There was no question that I needed to be a part of this work.

More than 30 years ago, in the aftermath of the Vietnam War and the Southeast Asian refugee crisis the CCPC was there for my family and helped us resettle. Like the young Syrian family today, we were refugees too.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but CCPC and the members of the church needed me to share my story about coming to the U.S. as a young refugee. They needed to hear the history of their church and its role with my own family’s resettlement, so that they could be reminded of why we needed to continue to open our hearts and homes to those fleeing war, violence, hunger and other desperate situations.

Our work with this one refugee family has motivated and fostered other faith congregations and organizations to join in the wider refugee resettlement effort in the Washington metropolitan area. Today, more than 15 congregations of all different faiths in Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C. are co-sponsoring or mentoring refugee families displaced by war and conflict in the Middle East.

I am honored that the Presbyterian Mission (PCUSA) is highlighting the dedication and commitment of Chevy Chase Presbyterian and churches and faith groups around the country. We are doing our part every day to create a welcoming and inclusive place for our sisters and brothers from around the world who are seeking a place “to breathe free.”

‘To Breathe Free,’ winner of the “Best Documentary Short” in the 2017 Covellite International Film Festival. You can see the film Thursday, September 28 at the VFM Memorial Building in Washington, DC. A short panel discussion on the global refugee crisis will follow. RSVP here.

By: Loan Nguyen, Co-Chair, Refugee Resettlement Task Force, Chevy Chase Presbyterian Church