Refugee Simulation Program Cultivates Compassion

Students attending refugee simulation. Source: Baptist Press

As a part of this year’s Annual Southern Baptist Convention Meeting, youth from across the country participated in a refugee cultural learning mission experience. The purpose of the session was to open the participants’ eyes to the struggles faced by many refugees and learn ways to show compassion and love.

Facilitated by the Tennessee based non-profit, Begin Anew, students were coached through a series of role play scenarios where they could not use English as their base language to communicate essential needs and needs.

Using a combination of pictures, gestures, and repeated motions, staff from Begin Anew began instructing the students in a “new” language – a fake language created for the purpose of these simulations. Students were encouraged to ask questions, however, not in English, but rather the new language they had just learned.

Several students expressed experiences of frustration and feeling overwhelmed, ignorant, and not very smart. 

Next the facilitators began an activity to simulate refugee loss. Each student was given 16 colored index cards – four yellow, four orange, four green and four pink – facilitators asked the students to write four activities they enjoy on the yellow cards, the four most important people in their life on the orange cards, the four things they are most thankful for on the green cards and four roles they currently play in their community on the pink cards.

After writing down their answers, the students were given 30 seconds to discard one card from each category. As the countdown began, students frantically looked through their cards.

When Norvell called time, she explained that oftentimes refugees are placed in situations where they have to make split-second decisions and provided several real life examples for the students.

One touching example was the scenario of a mother fleeing having to decide which child she will take in her arms knowing that by holding one child, she is likely to lose the others. Struck by the terror of the decision, many of the students were shaken and told their group leaders that such decisions would be traumatizing and haunt them for the rest of their lives.

For the third challenge, students were instructed to turn their cards upside down and shuffle them, and pick one card from each color. Not knowing the reason for their selections, the students were later informed the cards they selected represented unknown losses refugees experience that can’t be anticipated or explained.

Without knowing where any specific card was, they then selected another one card at random from each color and placed it in the center of the table.

Informed that this card too was going to be discarded, facilitators explained that once refugees leave their home country, they will experience many unknown losses.

During the final segment of the simulation, facilitators walked around the tables and took cards indiscriminately from students leaving each student with an unequal amount of cards in varying categories and an unequal amount of cards relative to their peers.

Shocked and puzzled by the facilitators actions, it was explained to them that the refugee experience is unfair and everyone does not receive the same treatment or opportunities.

Through feelings of guilt, discouragement, devastation and powerlessness, the group felt an overwhelming compassion for those who have lost everything. They wanted to share the few remaining things in their life with those who had nothing, which was the Begin Anew team’s goal for the simulation.

The team encouraged the students to continue seeking to understand the losses and struggles of others as they follow the Great Commandment and love their neighbors as themselves.

Begin Anew is a non-profit organization based in Middle Tennessee that seeks to address the economic, social and spiritual resources to refugees. Currently, Begin Anew services people from 33 different countries of origin with English language classes, high school equivalency assistance and weekly Bible studies.

To learn more about Begin Anew please visit,

Source: Baptist Press