Twenty years ago, Dr. Samira Page became a refugee. Along with her husband and two young children, she was forced out of her homeland of Iran due to religious persecution. The family hired smugglers to help, and through a long series of events, eventually found themselves in Dallas with nowhere to go.
Two phone calls later, local volunteers had provided the family with a furnished apartment, groceries and, most important, a taste of their lost dignity. It was the kindness of these strangers who helped Dr. Page and her family acclimate to life in a foreign country and the reason she went on to convert to Christianity, become an Episcopal priest and establish Gateway of Grace, a local charity that assimilates and empowers refugees by providing education, housing, empathy and understanding.
You have an amazing story. What was it like to arrive in Dallas that first day?
It was really scary. We didn’t know anyone, and we didn’t know what to do. We lost everything we had, and it was very difficult to start over. We didn’t have work permits or driver’s licenses. I found out we couldn’t rent an apartment because we didn’t have jobs or Social Security numbers. Our children were just 6 and 8. We were connected to a guy from a local church, and he came and helped us that day. It was everything to us.
How did you eventually make the decision to start Gateway of Grace?
I started praying and asking God what He wanted me to do. I thought that based on my own experiences and what God has taught me through those experiences that perhaps the most faithful way of serving was to reach out to people with similar experiences. At that time, Texas was the state with the largest number of refugees. There were thousands who went unreached. I wanted not only to provide services, but also care and relationships, a deeper way of being together and a way of healing.
What types of services does Gateway of Grace provide to refugees?
Initially, we start by asking them, “what do you need?” because meeting their practical needs is hugely important. When many of the refugees come here, they are scared and they don’t necessarily trust others. We start by building that trust and expressing love. We show them that we really deeply care about them, regardless of their religion, language, country of origin, race. Sometimes the needs are pretty basic, and we do our best to provide items like furniture for them. And sometimes their needs are deeper. They might need to be connected to a medical community. We are there every step of the way. Many of the women show up with no skills, completely illiterate. They are smart people but have never been given an opportunity in their country. So we give them those opportunities. We show them they can be educated and that they can make it. We provide a community for them, and we have a school where we teach English. But more than anything, we want them, to know they are welcome and unconditionally loved.
How has your own journey shed light for those just arriving in America?
One of the first things I say is, “Look, I’ve been there. It won’t always be like this.” I tell them we are not giving to them because they are needy. This is so important because in many of their countries, having need is associated with not having dignity. I tell them they have dignity as human beings. It takes the weight of the world off their shoulders and makes them so much more comfortable.
What can locals do to help Gateway of Grace and refugees in the DFW area?
We have many opportunities to get involved, from helping at school, becoming a conversation partner, helping someone pick up groceries. There is a list on our website. If there is someone with a special gift and this person wants to use that to help refugees, we make it work so that these skills can be used to serve.
What about donations?
Monetary donations are always needed. If there are people who see the value of what God is doing and they want to support the education of refugees, they can make a secure donation online. We are always in need of furniture, but we ask people to give furniture that is clean, dignified and can communicate love for that person.
There is so much misinformation in the media today. What do you want people to know about refugees?
People would never leave their own country and their families—everything they have worked for all their lives—to come to a new country and start from scratch and be looked down upon. Refugees wouldn’t be here if they weren’t forced out of their countries. The media only gives us one slice of reality; it doesn’t give us the whole pie. Refugees are people, and they are already here. This is a huge opportunity for us here in Dallas to help them flourish and grow in our community. They have the same concerns and desires for their children just like everyone else. We would love to have people come visit refugees or our schools and based on that, then make a judgement.