(For the privacy and dignity of the individual, this photo does not show the person mentioned in the story.)
In a Thailand confinement center, it was time for visitation. Cung was bumped and jostled along with nearly 85 other detainees into a large, long room. Two tightly woven chain-link fences reinforced with steel bars divided the room in half, with a space of six feet between them. On the other side of the fences, dozens of friends and family members craned their necks for a glimpse of their loved one.
But Cung was not looking to the other side of the fence. The one he loves—his wife, Lin—was on his side of the fence. Finally, they spotted each other and pushed through the crowd. These 45 minutes during visitation were the only time they’d get to spend together. It’s unbearably difficult when they have to separate again, but they thank God for the small amount of time they get together.
Cung and Lin came to this country as refugees, fleeing religious persecution against them in their home country. But what should have been a new beginning quickly became a nightmare.
Asylum seekers to the country can apply for and receive a temporary visa relatively easily. The challenge comes when they have to renew that visa after 30 days. In order to renew their visa, refugees must complete an extensive interview with the authorities and pay a fee, which is no small thing for asylum seekers, who aren’t allowed to work. They can appeal for official refugee status through the United Nations, but after three denials, their case is closed permanently. Even if refugees wish to leave the country and return home, they still have to pay a fee. It’s a catch-22.
Unfortunately, that means that many refugees are still in the country when their temporary visas expire—making them illegal immigrants. Police frequently raid housing communities where refugees typically live, and anyone who can’t produce legal documentation is arrested.
And that’s how Cung and Lin found themselves in the confinement center. Their two small children were taken from them and placed in other homes. They could be confined for years unless someone is willing to pay their bail. They could end all of this by willingly submitting to deportation, but with only violence waiting for them at home, that wasn’t an option. For now, they endure the conditions at the center—crowded open cells packed with nearly 100 people and no room for everyone to lie down at once. Dirty toilets, but no privacy. Illnesses traded back and forth.
They lived for this precious little time to see each other and hold each other.
They were able to share this time together because someone was waiting for them on the other side of the fence.
Two volunteers from a Baptist church in Ohio were calling their names and squinting at photos, then squinting into the crowd. Cung and Lin walked over to the fence and immediately began crying tears of gratitude. The women had brought Cung and Lin each a big yellow bag filled with food, supplied by the donations of friends like you. It wasn’t even enough to last them a week. But it was something.
Cung and Lin thanked God that, even in their suffering, He was still watching over them. The women started to step back from the fence and told Cung and Lin to spend the rest of the time with each other.
But before leaving, the volunteers prayed Cung and Lin would continue to find strength from the Lord even when they weren’t together. Then, Cung and Lin prayed for the safety of the volunteers. They shouted the names and ID numbers of others who hadn’t had visitors in a long time and the volunteers scribbled them down. In spite of their situation, they knew others needed God’s love and encouragement too.
Cung and Lin’s story is shockingly common. Every day, refugees face incredible risks to seek safety, provide for their families, and find lives of peace. Please consider donating to bring them the fullness of God’s love within a small measure of comfort like a bag of food.
Published June 13, 2019