From the very beginning Carol Entwistle knew she would become fast friends with Shema, who arrived from Rwanda at the Minneapolis airport on a frigid November day, wearing flannel pants and flip flops under her African dress.
“We share the same birthday, we are about the same age, and we have both been married to our husbands for almost 50 years,” said Carol.
The night of their airport greeting was dangerously cold, so the church team from Shepherd of the Valley in Afton, MN brought hats, gloves, jackets, and a bouquet of flowers for Shema, her husband Fataki, and their 18-year-old daughter Christelle.
I hugged Shema and her family more in the first week of knowing them than I have in my whole life!Shema was floored by the church teams’ extravagant gesture, “Shema told us only the President of our country is ever given flowers, so when we gave them flowers at the airport, it was really special,” said Carol.
Shema’s gratitude and affection were contagious.
“We (at Shepherd of the Valley) are Lutherans, we don’t show much affection, but I hugged Shema and her family more in the first week of knowing them than I have in my whole life!” Carol joked.
Arrive Ministries’ resettlement staff assisted the family in finding an apartment and employment at a hotel for Fataki and Christelle. Christelle is even taking evening nursing classes to pursue a career in medicine.
But it was the Shepherd of the Valley team that truly helped the family settle in during their first winter in Minnesota. The team worked hard to furnish the apartment, advocate the landlord for better living conditions (ridding it of 50 mice!), and even signed Shema up for sewing classes.
“Shema makes beautiful African dresses, but at the sewing class, there were no other Swahili speakers, so we used google translate to take sewing classes together. We had a lot of fun sewing with other women,” said Carol.
Christelle appreciates how much effort the church team has put into connecting with her parents.
“Some of the church group members tried to learn Swahili to communicate with my mom and dad just to be their friends. They’re also trying to teach my family members to drive,” said Christelle.
In June, Shema and Fataki found out that more of their children and grandchildren were moving to Minnesota. In this time of joy and transition, the Shepherd of the Valley team expanded their efforts to welcome Shema and Fataki’s extended family.
In July of 2019, five of their extended family members stayed with Carol and Fred for two weeks, until an apartment opened up.
“Bora (the mom) says the best thing about America is washing machines; she used to do laundry by hand every morning and evening. Eric (the dad) is very curious about farming practices and why my husband and I don’t farm our land. It was a precious time having them and their 3 daughters stay at our house,” said Carol.
In October of 2019, more extended family members moved to Minnesota, and temporarily stayed with another church team member. The family has now grown from 3 people to 13 people in the course of one year.
We are way out of our comfort zone, and yet I think it is working because it brings us to our knees“They feel like our family, and they are delightful. Sometimes I wonder what God got us into, but he always provides the next step,” said Carol.
“I feel like I have another family here. They gave me anything I needed, doing all they could to help us. I am only able to be independent right now, because of their help,” said Christelle about the church team. Read more of what Christelle said about her new life in Minnesota.
Carol says she has been amazed to see how their church team is fulfilling God’s purposes for the body of Christ.
“One of our team members, Mary, seems to have a spiritual gift of convincing landlords that it’s good to rent to refugees,” said Carol.
Another Shepherd of the Valley team member had connections to a realtor in Woodbury who donated a house full of furniture to fill their newest arriving family member’s apartment.
Jennifer, a SOV church team member said, “It is just so fun to stand back and see God work!”
She and I have been joined at the hip ever since the airportAnd Carol agrees.
“It’s seeing the church work in its best format, we all come with different gifts. We are way out of our comfort zone, and yet I think it is working because it brings us to our knees. It’s not something we could do by our own strength or wisdom. We have grown in dependence on God,” said Carol.
It is that mutual transformation for both refugee family and church team that makes the work of Refugee Life Ministries so powerful and rewarding.
“Shema and I are sisters forever. She calls me Mon Amie (my friend) when she give me big hugs. She and I have been joined at the hip ever since the airport,” said Carol.