It all started with a letter sent to surrounding neighbors asking, “Would you be willing to sell your home to Grace Free Church?”
The Fridley Church had dreams of buying a home adjacent to their property to rent to refugees. When an interested seller came forward, a realtor and church member, facilitated the purchase of the church’s new rental home directly behind the church.
A Good Neighbor team of volunteers had just formed, when Arrive Ministries learned that a Sudanese family of 7 was on their way to Minnesota, and in need of affordable housing. The church rental house intended for refugees wouldn’t sit empty long.
We’re not going to move from this house, I like it!
“The paint was still drying when they moved in,” said Melissa. “Half of the Good Neighbor team met the family at the airport, while the other half put the finishing touches on the house, and stocked the pantry with groceries.”
Ishag and Taiba Arbab and their five children were delighted when they walked into their new home.
“My home is beautiful,” Taiba said on her first day, while her 4-year-old daughter energetically jumped on her bed shouting, “We’re not going to move from this house, I like it!”
The family sat down with the team to share a meal; Ishag dramatically bit into his piece of flatbread saying “My first meal in America.”
“He was so proud and excited to be here, it warmed my heart,” said Monica, one of the Good Neighbor volunteers.
The volunteers from Grace Free have taken a team approach to walking alongside the Arbab family – Julie and Jerry offered rides to the adults’ ESL classes and appointments, Monica learned to cook Sudanese dishes with Taiba, Julie makes cookies, Jerry takes Ishag to the food shelf twice a month, and Melissa invited the Arbab family over to share Thanksgiving dinner with her family.
They’re family. Mama Julie, Sister Melissa, Sister Monica. They help me. We are family.
When asked what Taiba likes to do best with her new friends, she answered, “Friends? No, they’re family. Mama Julie, Sister Melissa, Sister Monica. They help me. We are family.”
Ishag also considers Jerry to be one of his closest friends. They enjoy playing Dominos and Uno together. Jerry lovingly refers to Ishag as “the tornado” due to his level of energy.
“When we were raking their yard this fall, Ishag kept raking his neighbors’ yards and the church’s property, he raked all of Fridley!” Jerry says the same is true of when Ishag shovels the neighborhood sidewalks.
…for us to be so different and yet to feel so connected has been amazing to me and has been very impactful.
Monica says the training she received from Arrive Ministries about warm climate cultures and cold climate cultures has helped her understand why as a native-Texan she feels so comfortable with the Arbab family.
“It’s a very communal, the-more-the-merrier atmosphere with laughing, eating together, and just enjoying each other,” said Monica. “We come from different faiths, cultures, and experiences, but for us to be so different and yet to feel so connected has been amazing to me and has been very impactful.”
Julie and Jerry live within walking distance of the Arbabs and visit them nearly every day.
“We’ve kind of adopted them as our kids, since our kids are out of state. It gives us purpose, as we are retired. It’s mutually beneficial for us,” said Julie.
Sometimes we have the expectation of ‘what can I give?’ It’s been exciting to receive from the family as well.
Monica agrees, “Taiba makes the world best tea. For Christmas she made our family a huge container of butter cookies. When I had a flat tire, Jerry and Ishag took care of it for me. Sometimes we have the expectation of ‘what can I give?’ It’s been exciting to receive from the family as well.”
In February, a Sudanese Christian Church started hosting a Sunday service in Arabic inside Grace Free’s building. Although not of Christian-faith, the Arbab’s have expressed interest in sharing in the fellowship of other Sudanese immigrants.
“I don’t have the words to articulate how amazing God works that He orchestrates all of this,” said Melissa.
I don’t have the words to articulate how amazing God works that He orchestrates all of this.
Melissa says this relationship is impacting many of the church members, “Their hearts are softening and eyes are opening to the plight of refugees. Many church members are having a new compassion for immigrants. They are praying and are donating items to the family. Recently, our pastor emphatically shared how proud he was that our church is out in the community impacting people.”
Much like in the days of the early Church, a simple letter can have great impact.