MILLCREEK — Maysa Kergaye's family emigrated from Jordan to the U.S. when she was a child.
She wasn't a refugee, she said, but because she speaks many languages, she gets to work with refugees in Utah and sees the struggles that come with adjusting to life in a new country.
"Until you've walked a mile in their shoes, you don't know what it's like. Imagine losing your home, your neighbors, your family and starting over again and not knowing the language, how things work from as simple as getting a doctor's appointment to reading directions on the back of a cake mix," she told the Deseret News.
"And … many have succeeded, but it takes time to learn the language and figure out the ropes," she said.
Kergaye was part of a small gathering of Utahns from diverse backgrounds who met Wednesday at the MOSAIC Inter-Faith Ministries building in Millcreek to celebrate the things that unite us and the things that make us unique.
It's a celebration MOSAIC has held for the past eight years on World Refugee Day, a holiday started in 2000 by the United Nations to "commemorate the strength, courage and perseverance of millions of refugees," according to the U.N.'s website.
For Jose Bonilla, who calls himself a "Muslim with a Christian heart," the gathering was a chance to pray for the families currently divided due to immigration policies.
"My heart cries, and then I have tears in my eyes about the separation of the families, of the children. … I hope that everybody who prays today prays for that," he said before singing the Islamic call to prayer, his hands held close to his face.
Bonilla was among more than 25 people of all ages who sat in folding chairs arranged in a circle in front of the MOSAIC building, in the unyielding 85-degree heat. They listened to thoughts about immigration, prayers and songs of worship accompanied by the buzz of cars passing and engines revving.
Smells of spices and sweets mixed in the air from a table lined with food, set in wait for the potluck that would follow.
"As we remember and celebrate those refugees and immigrants, we just want to remember the connection and to be spiritually aware of those individuals," said Amber Thomas, a University of Utah practicum student who organized this year's event.
She said the celebration highlighted "senior" refugees for whom adjusting to life in America, with language barriers, isolation and culture differences, is often particularly difficult.
Doug Bertrand, a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, discussed his personal connections to immigration.
Now almost 80 years old, he says he remembers some of his ancestors, Galicians from Spain who immigrated to Cuba and then eventually to the United States. Other ancestors crossed the seas and traveled to Utah from Sweden and Scandinavia in the 1850s, he said.
"I don't think there's very many people in the United States of America that don't have a connection, a direct family connection, with people that have had to leave their homeland in order to survive, essentially," Bertrand said.
"I believe in being very welcoming to refugees. I also think refugees have an obligation to the society that they come to to make a contribution, to further the story of our land," he added.
Others who spoke and performed included a member of the Unification Church, a Hindu, a family of Methodist Koreans and a metaphysical spiritualist. Each performance and short speech was met with smiles and applause.
And then it was time to eat and mingle.
"For most, it's just another day," Kergaye said. But for her, it's a chance "to see all the different religions united with the same goal."
That common goal?
"Love one another. And help one another. If everyone does that, then there would be peace on earth," she said.