December 20, 2023

I remember the first gift I made to City of Refuge. It was September 2018, and the organization’s building at the time needed to be outfitted. They shared an Amazon gift list in a social media post, and I bought them a set of window blinds. It was my first step forward–my first investment, modest as it was, in awareness of and care for the refugee neighbors City of Refuge serves. I started to volunteer sometime around then, sorting donated clothing, and learned more from staff about the unique story and mission that had then been going on for almost a decade of care and empowerment.

Two years ago on the day after Christmas, my son and I sat in an airport hotel room in St. Louis, ready for an early morning flight the next day to visit some family out of state. I picked up my phone while he watched cartoons, and I decided to make a few year-end gifts through CoMoGives (like you can do right now). I tapped through City of Refuge’s website and saw that, in addition to the great work they were doing, they were hiring a development officer for the first time. This caught my interest immediately, and I prayed about it for the upcoming week away. Six weeks later, Debbie Beal hired me here, and “they” became “we”. And for the past two years I’ve had the honor and pleasure of representing this organization and doing what one person can to rally others to provide for its well-being. It was a fit, and it was a call.

And yet today–-still somewhat to my surprise–-I am leaving our staff while looking forward to remaining a donor and a volunteer. Not because I don’t love my colleagues, our volunteers, and the people we serve–but because I’m joining the staff of my church full time. It is a fit, and it is a call. And it is led by prayer. Who can guess the wisdom of the Lord’s plans? I’m incredibly excited for his next assignment for me. But I also write this goodbye through tears.

More than once during these past two years I’ve been reminded of the 1883 poem, The New Colossus, which appears on a plaque at the Statue of Liberty. It’s an aspirational and patriotic poem that calls us to remember what America’s open arms can be. Its author, Emma Lazarus, was involved in refugee care for eastern European Jews who had escaped antisemitic oppression and arrived in New York City. The poem is perfect for our country, blessed as we still are a century and a half later, with vast material abundance and open spaces. It recalls that despite all our struggles, this country is a place with room for exiles–a place ready to extend a worldwide welcome to those tossed by the tempest of suffering.

Of course, this inclination toward welcoming refugees has never been a universally appreciated principle in our country. But there also was a time when it was a less controversial principle than it is today. It’s easier for us to believe that scarcity prevails over abundance; it’s easier for us to believe that familiarity with what you know is safer than encountering the beautiful variety God has built into humanity. But thanks to you and thanks to what I’ve seen through City of Refuge, I’ve been reminded that open arms are still the better way. As an American citizen, it’s a joy to be part of welcoming our new neighbors so well. As a citizen of another Kingdom, it means even more.

So I wish you a happy Advent as I wait for that King, who HImself knew what it was to flee for his life, and without whom I would personally have no capacity to see any of this beauty for what it is. Whether you’re spending this season preparing for Him or not, we are grateful for the ways that so many of you–from so many different walks of life and so many varieties of personal convictions in our city–are partnering together to extend Columbia’s own particular and very special version of that worldwide, open-armed welcome. A work of mercy and justice that dispels myths in the minds of, and changes priorities in the hearts of, our donors and volunteers like few other things I’ve been part of.

I’m especially grateful to the team of colleagues who have made it so rewarding to be a daily part of this remarkable work. Together with you, we are strengthening this organization for the next generation of refugee care in Columbia, whatever that looks like, with whatever the world’s future crises means for newcomers in our city. And I can smile through the tears because, as Debbie has reminded me this week, our farewells are more of a “See you later” than a “Goodbye”. That’s the kind of Kingdom we belong to.

Thanks to all of you. I pray for the most profound blessings for you and your families during this season and the new year. 

Dan Szy

Director of Advancement

Happy Holidays!

From our staff to you! We are so grateful for you!

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