The story not covered.

If you live in the Seattle metro area, you might have heard a lot about Vietnam lately…particularly about Vietnamese refugees and their history in Seattle. 2015 marks the 40th anniversary of the fall of Saigon and the pull out of US troops from Vietnam. In Washington, it marks the 40th anniversary of the first large influx of Vietnamese people into our community.

Hundreds of tents were quickly constructed at Camp Pendleton, CA to temporarily house Vietnamese refugees in 1975. Photo credit: Ralph Munro.

You may have heard about the response of Washington’s policymakers to the refugees in Camp Pendleton, CA. Maybe you listened to stories about Operation Babylift when planes full of hundreds of Vietnamese children landed at Joint Base Lewis McChord. You may have even dug deeper to learn about the resilience of the Vietnamese people as they started life in Seattle, planting the seeds for what would become a thriving community of 70,000.

Babies lined up on seats on a Pan American flight to Seattle. Photo credit: Joyce Wertz Harrington

Despite all the coverage, there’s a part of the story that is often overlooked. Once Washington decided it was going to resettle thousands of Vietnamese refugees (without notable experience with “resettlement” to begin with), it was time for the community to step into action. Local congregations and individuals responded in a powerful way, sponsoring families as they began their new life. The Church was mobilized to care for new families, to help them find houses and jobs, and to care for them in very practical ways. People were opening their homes to strangers, churches were hosting English classes and social events, and friendships were beginning that would last for decades.

This is nothing new for God’s people. “You shall love the stranger as yourself,” we’re told “for you were once strangers in the land of Egypt”. For the last 4 decades, the Church in Seattle has been faithful in responding to the needs of newcomers. What began in Seattle with the Vietnamese was adapted for people from Bosnia, the Balkans, and the former Soviet Union. The Kurds were welcomed, followed by people from all over Eastern Africa. Today, the Church is welcoming refugees from Afghanistan, Iraq and soon Syria.

If your church is interested in learning more about how they can welcome strangers arriving to their community, we encourage you to attend an orientation or ask for one to be hosted at your church.

Refugee Volunteer Training – Kent
What: A training for volunteers who wish to come alongside new refugee families
When: Saturday May 30th 10:00am – 12:00
Where: Kent Nazarene Church – Kent
RSVP: Please RSVP to Scott at by May 25th
More information at

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