Guest Blog by: Heidi Moll Schoedel “Why don’t you cut them down?” That was the response of my Eritrean friend when she first arrived in the United States, in the middle of a harsh winter. Everywhere she looked, she saw dead trees. They clustered around houses, lined streets and filled yards. “Why do Americans keep all of this dead wood?” she puzzled. “It looks so ugly. Why don’t they clear it away and make room for something else?” As the weeks went by, the weather warmed and she began to see flashes of green. Eventually, the “dead” branches that surrounded her were covered in leaves and offered welcome shade from the hot sun. My friend saw herself in those branches. A refugee, she fled persecution and violence in her homeland and spent long years waiting for the opportunity to live in safety. When she finally made it to the United States, she was destitute. She did not speak our language, had no money and few possessions, and struggled to make sense of a new culture. Many of the Americans she encountered wondered why she was here. In their eyes, she was dead wood. Why didn’t the government just cut her down and clear her away? As the months and years went by, my friend established herself here in her new homeland. She learned English, started a small business and built a warm community of friends and loved ones. In this new season, she can finally be recognized for who she is – not dead wood, but a flourishing tree that offers shade to those around her. A few weeks from now the organization I work for will be hosting our annual Celebration of Hope to celebrate our ministry welcoming refugees. This year, branches will be placed in the center of every dinner table. The branches will be there to remind us to look beyond appearances and labels. The branches will remind us that newcomers to our country are not dead wood, as so many would have us to believe. The branches will remind us when we invite refugees and immigrants to grow and flourish in our communities, we are blessed by the unique gifts and talents they share.