Why I Live for Refugees – By Terri Saelee

Several of my students neared decisions for baptism at the end of my third year of teaching English at a camp of 50,000 refugees in Thailand.

I was a college student from the U.S. state of Nebraska, and my students were learning about Jesus through Bible classes offered as a bonus to the English classes.

But then the pastor who taught the Bible classes told me that the students who wished to be baptized were hesitating. They were afraid of becoming Christians and seeing the missionaries leave before they understood Christianity enough to live real Christian lives.

When the pastor shared this with me, I didn’t know what to do. I had been planning to go home after three years as a student missionary. My mother was looking forward to seeing me. But my main goal was the salvation of souls. So I began to pray, “Lord, what shall I do?”

Then I read during my morning devotions: “The cause of God is to hold the first place in our plans and affections” (Counsels on Stewardship, p. 220).

I thought, “This passage is pointing right at me.” I wanted to finish school, have a profession, and start a family. But it was like God was saying, “Terri, here is the guidance that you have been waiting for. God needs to be first in your plans and affections.”

I decided that my first responsibility was to my family. But my family already knew God. So I decided to call my mother and heed her advice.

I traveled 35 kilometers (22 miles) to find the nearest post office with a public telephone. I called collect because I didn’t have any money. I knew it was expensive.

I asked my mother, “What would you think if I decided to stay another year or indefinitely?”

Her response was immediate. “Terri,” she said, “I will never tell you to come home. If I told you to come home and even one soul failed to hear the gospel, I would regret it for eternity. But if by staying you can help even one soul to know God and to be in the kingdom, it would be worth it even if I never saw you again.”

Tears streamed down my cheeks as I sat in post office. I praised God for a mother who loved so much. My mother wanted to see me, but she had already made the sacrifice in her heart. The salvation of souls was so important to her that she would give up seeing me again.

Terri Saelee did eventually come home to see her family as she is now the director of Adventist Refugee and Immigrant Ministries for the North American Division. A total of 140 new churches comprised of refugees has opened across North America since she became the ministry’s founding director in 2009.

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