Business Major Helps Refugees
When Derek White ’06 left Southwestern Adventist University with Business degree and then completed law school in 2009, his first job was in Lebanon, working for the United Nations, assisting Palestinian refugees.
Seven years later, he is still working with refugees, but this time in Denver, Colorado. White has a law practice there, as well as a ministry to not only refugees but other immigrants as well.
“My wife and I caught ourselves waiting for God to send us back overseas before we were really ready,” he says. “And then we resolved to live on mission wherever we are. For us, that meant moving into the same neighborhoods where the refugees we were serving and befriending lived.”
White and his wife, Alicia, work with refugees from all over the world who have been resettled by the United Nations and the United States government. An example of this is Somali refugees who fled Somalia during their civil war. After fleeing to refugee camps in Kenya, they were finally settled in Colorado with their families. White helps them with their various legal needs, such as simply reuniting their families. Once they have eligibility, they can bring family members here and earn U.S. citizenship. Alicia, a registered nurse, helps refugee families with medical needs and helps with the children. It’s a busy life, but an intentional, committed one, says White.
“My wife and I were just touched by what Jesus did for us, I guess,” he says. “He came here and lived among us, and so we actually live in the same neighborhood as most refugees in Denver.”
The neighborhood includes a majority of immigrants, as well as Hispanic Americans, whites, and many young people. It is also one of the poorest neighborhoods in Colorado and in the country.
“It has been a rewarding adventure, because we have been blessed by so many glimpses of Jesus,” he says. Their mission has come with its own set of challenges; they have been burglarized at night, and their car has been broken into several times. Finances can be a strain, and they are currently fighting a pest infestation in their home. White feels he is only doing what others do who are forced to live in these circumstances.
But the experience has become more than just ministry to them. By living among those they minister to, by befriending them, it has become a mutual community where everyone helps each other. Their neighborhood has a community garden, and about 80 percent of those who garden are refugees from Burma, Bhutan, Sudan and other places. The community garden also acts as a social center for those who live in the neighborhood.
That’s not to say that Derek and Alicia spend all of their time in ministry. All people need time to get away occasionally, and the Whites enjoy life in Colorado, including trips to the mountains, running and walks. They are also enjoying the community garden tremendously.
“We honestly don’t know anything about gardening, but we enjoy just being at the garden and being with our friends there.”
Derek White, Business, 2006