This week we are hearing from a partner in the good fight, Madeline Chilton. Originally from the Fort Worth area, Madeline is a student at Texas A&M University. Her undergraduate degree is in sociology, and she is about to graduate in May (!!!) with a Masters that focuses on International Nonprofit Management. After school, she hopes of working in the refugee sector for a couple of years and afterwards moving overseas to serve in a refugee community. The youngest of three, she loves to experience different cultures, cook, and spend time with friends/family.
Madeline’s heart for The Other started when she was young. Although growing up in Fort Worth and attending a small Christian school didn’t present many opportunities to interact with people who were different from her, her parents raised her to serve others who came from different backgrounds, pushing her outside of her comfort zone.
“Growing up, my family would serve at the local homeless shelter which taught me humility and how to interact with people who had different stories than me.” These interactions taught her a worldview that confirms even those who are different than us, are worthy of dignity and respect. Like her, everyone is made Imago Dei - in the image of God.
Her first experience being exposed to an entirely different culture is when she traveled to Haiti in 2010. “This was right after the earthquake and it was shocking to see such poverty and corruption. While it was a horrible situation, the Lord confirmed my heart to serve in an international context…this was the first time when I experienced my unique purpose to serve in the Kingdom.”
This passion continued to grow in Madeline as she got older and continued to receive opportunities to live it out. In 2015, she had the privilege of residing in South Sudan for about 2 months, when the civil war was just beginning. After returning to the states, Madeline continued to invest in the friendships she had made while in South Sudan. These friendships - the dangerous realities of her friends - introduced her to the plight of the refugee.
“My dear friends told me about being displaced to Uganda and family members being killed or raped due to the war. Once they arrived in Uganda [in the refugee camp], they told me about flooding tents, lack of proper nutrition and assimilation opportunities.” Contrary to popular belief, life in refugee camps is extremely difficult. Due to overcrowding, there’s often shortages of food, water, and other supplies like weather appropriate clothing. Even sacred things like privacy is hard to come by. In many ways, one's identity is stripped away as they have to be monitored and regulated in the camps in grasped efforts to keep structure in the midst of chaos as hundreds of people enter the camps daily. Reflecting on the massiveness of the refugee crisis and the root problems that cause it all can leave one feeling hopeless.
Instead of becoming paralyzed by the devastation of being continents away, Madeline used that desperation to press into the Lord and open her hands. “I had to do something – personally knowing people affected by the refugee crisis, I could not allow myself to not do something. This is what originally sparked my passion to serve the refugee community in some capacity or another.”
This led to Madeline pursuing jobs and opportunities to work with refugees in different contexts as much as she could intermittently while attending school at Texas A&M. She interned with our office in Fort Worth and traveled overseas to work with internally displaced people groups (IDP). Through these opportunities, Madeline has faced the refugee crisis head on, with the courage and love of Jesus. And when she fell short, she learned first hand that our great high priest can enter into the spaces of trauma with anyone, regardless of culture, religion, and socioeconomic background. He empathizes with our every weakness.
“The hardest part is hearing stories of trauma and not being able to relate or understand in any capacity. It is hard to see why people are displaced and the brokenness of this world. Working with ISIS captives and rape victims, I so badly want to empathize and feel their pain with them - as Jesus did. I cannot do that. However, Jesus steps into that pain with them and I can be the connector for people.”
But God. By his grace, our loving and merciful God is faithful to bring joy and beauty through what feels like hopeless circumstances if our eyes are open to see them.
“There have been so many small joys as I have been exposed to. When [interning with World Relief], I taught an Eritrean family English. It was a single mother with four children. During this time, there were many laughs about mispronunciation, great conversations about culture and countless cups of Eritrean coffee. Being able to build a relationship with this family was such a joy and it has been an even greater joy to walk with them for a couple of years now that they have been in the United States. The children are thriving in school and getting medical assistance that they have never had access to before.”
During the school year, Madeline is continuing to fight the refugee crisis in different ways. In 2018, Madeline partnered with Declaration Church and Grace Bible Church in College Station to host the Salaam Conference which included a refugee simulation. Due to College Station not having a local refugee community, this opportunity was used to educate and encourage local churches and the surrounding community.
Madeline Chilton at the Salaam Conference in College Station, TX.
“First, educate people on the refugee crisis and how there are refugees right in our neighborhoods. Secondly, to encourage others to get outside of their comfort-zone and reach out to our new neighbors. Some of the refugees living in America feel un-welcomed, have trouble learning English and assimilating to a new culture, which is the perfect opportunity for the body of Christ to step in. [The conference] sparked conversations about trauma, gender inequality and refugee issues and allowed people to experience a new perspective of life, family and culture, especially through the simulation.”
When asked how her faith influences her passion, Madeline responds with scripture and a hopeful response in encouraging the Church.
“Deuteronomy 10:18-19 talks about loving the foreigner living among us - this is the modern day call to love the refugee. This command is such a joy and honor to walk into - when you see people of different cultures and languages worshipping God together - it is a view of the Great Commission and Kingdom of God in full affect.” Entering into hard and unknown spaces of ‘different’ can be daunting, but God calls us to those places, and when we obey the call, we get a fuller picture of him. “It is humbling to hear stories of hardship and suffering but at the same time such a joy seeing the Lord work in miraculous ways. He is always faithful. When I was working with IDPs in Northern Iraq this past summer, the situation (just like all of the refugee crisis) was complete chaos. People were scraping to get by and struggling with such trauma. However, the Kingdom of God is a constant peace in the chaos. The Kingdom of God will be order, reconciliation among people groups, and stability to the ends of the earth.”
Additionally, Madeline sees that God uses the refugee crisis to work for the good of people who are called to him; it gives Americans an opportunity to fulfill the great commission in a way that makes it the easiest it has ever been.
“The refugee crisis, whether it is in the USA or overseas, provides believers such a sweet opportunity to be ambassadors of reconciliation and peace. People from the 10-40 Window (unreached people groups) are coming to our neighborhoods - this is such a gift and an easy opportunity to draw new brothers and sisters in the Kingdom!”
It’s easy to see that a peacemaker, reconciler, and justice seeker like Madeline will change the world with Jesus leading the way. She has been inspiring to work with as we all continue to fight the good fight together, no matter how far. We hope that her testimony has encouraged you today to be brave and step into the space of the vulnerable.
“My dream is to be an ambassador of peace and bring stability to chaos (through God and the Holy Spirit).
My dream is to races and people groups of all kinds worshipping together.
My biggest dream is to see and be a part of the Kingdom of God infiltrating the refugee crisis. I desire to see God break the chains of trauma and replace that sorrow with hope that is found in the cross.”