How One Refugee’s Story Gave Me Purpose

Refugee ministry in Rome

More purpose.

This is what I have been asking for.  This is what I have desired during my time in Rome for weeks now.  I just keep thinking, “There has got to be more to my time here than taking classes and traveling the continent.” These things are fun, but they are not ultimately fulfilling.

For me, what is fulfilling is a story—a heart.

Last Thursday, I spent volunteering at a Refugee Center in the city center of Rome.  You’ll appreciate this story because it, of course, features more awkward moments of my life.

The refugee center I work with is for men, mostly from Iraq and Afghanistan, and it strives to  provide a safe place for these men. Quite obviously, I am none of these things; I am a white, young, female.  What could I possibly have to offer to comfort these refugees with stories I won’t ever fully understand?

When I arrived—ensue awkward moment—just as I expected, a hush fell over the room of about 30 men, and the stares followed as two young, white girls entered as if they have something to offer.

The men went back to their English lessons, card games, and conversations while we found a seat at an empty table to be briefed on what our time here would look like.  The only other female in the room, an older woman serving as my Mission Mentor for my time here, explained what our time might look like…and promptly told us she would be leaving in ten minutes.

Excuse me, what?

She is the one comfort I knew I could count on there, and she’s leaving.  But of course, this brought me that final step out of my comfort zone and into the essence of unfamiliarity that comes with true service.

So we sat, rather awkwardly, as everyone else in the room seemed to have figured out their roles.

Right before my Mission Mentor left she brought a man named Thomas to the table with my roommate and me. She told us he is working on his English and wanted help reading.  We were thrilled to have been given this responsibility, to be trusted to help this man!

Our task was simple.  Thomas had a book he was reading at a first or second-grade level.  We read through the story about a little girl in space as Thomas struggled with words like ‘vanished’ and ‘shining’.  We helped this man in his late twenties sound out these words that my eyes simply have to glance over to know.

We learned a little bit of his story too.

We learned about his passion to work.  And we learned about his passion to learn and know English so he can communicate and do the work he’s so passionate to do.

Christian study abroad in ItalyThomas’ story has given me purpose here.

I am thankful for the time I spent helping him read English.  I am encouraged by his passion for learning and his willingness to share with me.  Thomas’ story is similar to so many of the men in that center.  And it is similar to mine.

My story is simple.  I have a passion to learn and a willingness to share.  I pray that as I see all the ways Thomas’ story and mine relate, I would continue to see the purpose the Lord has for me in my time abroad.

“Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, serving as overseers – not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock.”
{1 Peter 5:1-3}


Christian study abroad in Europe


Jordan Bear is a Business Economics major at Wheaton College in Illinois. This semester, she’s living a different story than the average college student: she’s studying abroad and doing missions in Rome. See more stories from Jordan here.

Searching for purpose in your college routine? Change things up (and change the world). Apply to study abroad and serve with Veritas Christian Study Abroad. See programs available. Get more info.

All photos by Jordan Bear.

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