Meaningful Work: An Accountant's Perspective on Refguees

After 12 years as MCC’s Controller, Lisa Bennett and her family are relocating to a new state. In parting, she was kind enough to share this reflection on her work with the Refugee Services program. It could be easy for an accountant to feel distant from the day-to-day work of a direct service program like Refugee Services, but Lisa has truly embraced the work and mission of welcoming refugees. She has been a passionate advocate and supporter, and we will miss her!

When I first started working here at MCC almost 12 years ago, I had no idea who a refugee was. Perhaps someone who is running away from something, a term having to do with the nightmare of the Holocaust? But the relevance for today? And to my life? I knew nothing.

As an accountant, my role is not working with our refugee clients directly, but making sure our staff has the financial tools they need to help our clients. My job is to support a stable organization with a strong cash flow, checks ready when they were needed, payroll paid in a timely manner, and correctly. I provide financial reports to make it easier to do their jobs, and the required reporting to funders.

Over my first months here, as I learned more about MCC and Refugee Services, I began to understand who refugees are. They are mothers, fathers, grandparents, teenagers, small children. They are single people and large family groups.  They are people. They are us. Sometimes they are here to join a group of people with whom they share a culture, or are reuniting with family members. Sometimes they are all alone, facing a new life without the comfort of much of anything familiar. All have one tragic element to their story: they have fled their homes, not because of a whim, not because the United States’ streets are paved with gold, and not because they want to harm the US and the people living here. They flee, leave, run, escape, with nothing. With only their lives, and their hopes. Because to stay means death. To stay means fear. Because home doesn’t want them.

Refugees today, I learned, are much like my own family who left Sweden 135 years ago and came to Minnesota, to an area with people who were familiar to make a better life for their children. One stark difference rings jarringly in my head: my great-grandparents did not have to leave Sweden because they feared for their lives.  My family was fortunate enough to plan their move, to bring money and belongings, and skills that enabled them to make successful lives here, while finding the help and comfort of some familiar people when they arrived.

I thought about what life would be like for me and my family, if we had to leave the US with a few hours warning with what we could carry in a plastic bag, because it was too dangerous to stay. I thought about being a mother with 3 or 4 small children, transported to a hugely different world in Somalia, Bhutan, Burma, Honduras, or Guatemala. What if I couldn’t find someone to help me figure out how to get food for my kids, or a place to stay? What would happen to us? Could I figure out how to make a life there by myself? I don’t know if I could persevere and show the courage and bravery I see every day in the faces of the people MCC Refugee Services helps.

Having played a part in helping people learn how to live in the United States has made my life richer and opened my eyes to how fortunate my family has been, and how important paying that good fortune forward is—helping others find their new homes, without fear, and with hope.