By Ben Shedlock
When I arrived in Spokane, after the welcome party ended and I had unpacked and showered, I sat on my couch and opened my laptop. It had been a week since I had reliable internet, much less time, to check the news.
Of all the headlines I missed while I was gone — sliding within 10 minutes of war with Iran, the flight of Oregonian lawmakers to Washington, Idaho and Montana — one story stood out. In Clint, Texas the federal government was caging migrant children without their parents, showers, adequate food or medical care.
I had just completed the Sea-Tri-Kan bicycle ride across Washington State, a fundraiser for World Relief. The event took nearly 50 riders 425 miles across Washington in 5 days, stopping at each of Washington’s World Relief offices in Kent, Tri-Cities and Spokane.
The ride served a serious purpose. We raised over $160,000, which will be amplified by a two-to-one government match, to support refugee resettlement in Washington. The money will go in part to helping refugees adjust to life in Spokane, particularly through educational and vocational support.
Since 2017, the federal Executive Branch has systematically dismantled the U.S. refugee resettlement program, a program that has given new life to civilians displaced in Vietnam, Christians persecuted in Myanmar and the former Soviet Union, and Iraqis and Afghans who served alongside the U.S. military.
Despite these challenges, World Relief still serves refugees who have already arrived and the few the government has allowed to trickle in. This bike ride, and the nearly $3,000 I raised for it, will help keep the doors open. I am very proud of that.
I’m also proud of the physical accomplishment of riding across Washington the long way. On the second day, I summited Chinook Pass under falling snow, and on the fourth day I rode 100 miles across Eastern Washington from Tri-Cities to Endicott. I climbed 18,000 feet, spent 35 hours in the saddle and overcame my doubts and fears that I could finish the ride.
Completing the adventure has given me a fleeting window into the refugee experience. When refugees flee war, they don’t know if they’ll make it to safety; I didn’t know if I’d finish the ride. Refugees cross imposing physical barriers, like the Rio Grande River; I crossed a mountain range. I don’t know what it’s like to live as a persecuted minority, but now I have some appreciation for what someone must endure to take on such a challenging journey.
On the third night, in Kennewick, the Sea-Tri-Kan riders had the honor of listening to the story of a World Relief Tri-Cities staff member, an Iraqi woman who works as an interpreter. She left behind her prestigious life as a college professor, in the aftermath of the U.S. invasion, when she learned her life was in danger.
Her small American apartment and entry-level job choices paled in comparison to the life she left in Iraq. She reminded us that refugees who left behind a good life have to rebuild from scratch in a country that doesn’t accept their credentials. Those who left harsh lives without opportunity have to learn a whole new culture and worldview to succeed.
Either way, she reminded us, refugees’ arrival to the U.S. is just the end of the beginning of their long journeys. Staring at the accounts of what our government is doing to migrant children locked up in jails, I gained a little insight into what our storyteller meant. I have arrived home. Once my muscles loosen and my energy returns, I will, like the refugees I rode for, continue the effort.
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Ben Shedlock is the communications coordinator for Catholic Charities Eastern Washington. Before working as a writer, he served Catholic Charities as a refugee resettlement caseworker. Ben’s career has emphasized Catholic Social Teaching’s themes of solidarity and an option for the poor. He is a member of St. Ann’s Catholic Church. You can reach him at email@example.com.