My last post was written about 6 weeks ago. In it, I stated that there were 20 Congolese refugees attending my church. The following week, that number grew to 30. Then the next week, 40. Now, there are over 50 refugees attending my church. The numbers have grown tremendously, but our infant ministry, Woodlawn Refugee Ministry, had not. We still had the same base of a few dedicated volunteers who were assisting with ESL and the clothing closet. With the growth has come the urgency for additional volunteers in the children’s ministry. We also do not have a bus that is large enough to fit all of the refugees, so that has proven to be quite a strain on Sunday mornings, organizing the church van, small bus and additional 2 or 3 volunteers with their own vehicles to pick up refugees. There is more awareness at church of the vast need, but more assistance is still needed.
All of these growing pains are a good thing. I am reminded that a community is being built. Investments in lives are being made. While there is tremendous work in this stage of cultural adjustment for refugees, I am thankful they have new friends who can help them along the way.
I have always believed that at the heart of service to refugees is the importance of building relationships, not merely providing services. I touched briefly on this in my book, “Refugee Resettlement: On The Frontlines“. I want to know a person, to hear their story, for them to know they matter. This was easier when I had a smaller base of refugee friends. Now that the numbers have really taken off at church, I am afraid of losing that personal touch. It was an emotionally draining night a few weeks ago when our refugee ministry team discovered 10 new refugees who did not have any food in their apartment. How could this have gotten overlooked? If each refugee family has an American family or even a small group to befriend them, I doubt that this type of oversight would ever happen.
I can’t build relationships with every single refugee. That is not what I have been called to do. My own husband, 7 children and 2 grandchildren are my #1 priority. While I do incorporate ministry into my whole life as a wife and mother, I have to put boundaries in place to protect the family that God has blessed me with. That is why I am praying for more people of action to step up to the plate and ditch the craziness of “normal” life in exchange for the richness of something deeper than what they have known.
OK, so it doesn’t have to be refugee ministry. I understand that. I applaud my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ who are sacrificing their lives overseas on the mission field, or in their own cities ministering with the homeless, or to the battered woman, or to the children in foster care. I think of you often and pray for you. May the younger generation of America cast off selfishness and instead pick up their crosses and choose the harder path. That is my hope for the refugees I meet; I hope that Christians will say to the struggling single mother with 3 children, “Your life matters to me because your life matters to Christ.”
On Friday, I will be picking up one of these single mothers and her children so they can spend the day at my house with my children and me. We will take them to play at the park and on their first outing of ice cream. Where will this mother be next month? Who will befriend her– and all the other women, children, families– who have come to my city and your city? Their desire is not only to say, “America is my home”, but to know and feel it in their bones, that this new country truly is the blessing they were hoping it would be.
So, my fellow brothers and sisters– if you are a reader that calls yourself a Christian– I would like to ask if you could prayerfully consider making a few minor adjustments in your life in order to make a world of difference for your new neighbor? Let us love our neighbor as ourselves. If they are hungry, let us feed them. If they are lonely, let us visit them. If they are weeping because of lost family members left behind, we will weep with them in empathy. Let our love be not merely with word and tongue, but with action and in truth (1 John 3:18).