Baylor students unite refugee and American families over dinners
This past summer, 12 Baylor pre-health students signed up for an internship at Kearny County Hospital in Lakin, Kansas. It’s an area that has seen a spike in the refugee population, primarily from Somalia, due to the proximity of a Tyson Foods plant that provides many immigrants with jobs. Unfortunately, that also makes it an area with high tensions between old and new residents.
It’s an issue close to the heart of Benjamin Anderson, CEO of Kearny County Hospital, who traveled to Baylor last fall to speak to students at a Christian Pre-health Fellowship. He told them about the refugees and the situation in Lakin, and many expressed interest in traveling to Kansas to help. Twelve students signed up for an internship with his hospital, and two — seniors Jordan Millhollin and Jacey Hilbers — volunteered to organize the “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” project.
Designed to help the community learn about each other and their cultures, the project simply consisted of an American family and a refugee family breaking bread together. Millhollin and Hilbers spent the summer going door-to-door to explain the project to families, but they were met with some uncertainty from both sides. However, all that disappeared once the families met and began asking each other questions.
Students talked to them about cultural and religious differences. They explained to Christian families that Muslim refugees may ask to use their front room to pray, and they prepared Muslim families for the Christian custom of praying before a meal. Children from both families ran around, jumped off furniture and wrestled with each other while the adults listened to harrowing stories of the refugees’ escape to America.
By the end of the summer, Millhollin and Hilbers had arranged 20 dinners between 20 pairs of American families and refugee families. For the project’s grand finale, all 40 of the participating families came together in the Somali-owned African Shop for a potluck dinner modeled after the communal meals common in Somali culture.
“There’s just so much to learn from one another,” Millhollin says. “We’re all human and we can all get around the dinner table and start eating a meal together. The perceived differences we thought we had before are not quite as big as we thought when we’re sharing a plate and serving one another.”
Sic ’em, Baylor students!