Throughout Scripture, we see believers telling stories of God’s faithfulness, provision, and wonder. As we enter into this New Year, we reflect on all He did through Refugee Life Ministries in 2017. This year we connected 203 refugees, 11 asylum-seekers, and 8 asylees with 33 Church Teams and 15 New Neighbors, more than any other year in the history of RLM! Despite the decrease in refugee arrivals, God has provided new community connections and partnerships which have introduced us to many refugees, asylum seekers, and asylees already in Minnesota.
Below are stories of the four ways RLM church teams and New Neighbors are walking alongside refugees:
1) Newly-Arrived Refugee Families
Last year, two sisters and their children arrived in Minneapolis from Kakuma Refugee camp in Kenya. These families had spent most of their lives in the camp and were excited to be reunited with their brother and mother. They were welcomed by their family, a team from a local church, and their case manager at the airport. The journey ahead for this family was a hard, but good one. The team was with them in some of their first experiences – registering for school, starting English classes, learning how to advocate when bullying was happening, celebrating holidays, setting up their home, and more. One of the sisters, Nashrat*, spent most of her life with incredible difficulty caring for herself and her five children due to a physical disability.
One of the biggest losses refugees experience is loss of dignity.One of the biggest losses refugees experience is loss of dignity. The team showed Nashrat how to write the date on her own. A few weeks later, she excitedly showed them how she had learned to sign her name, as well. They walked with her through the process of beginning physical therapy. As her muscles improved, so did her demeanor. Each time they visited, she showed them how much stronger she was growing. She also taught them about joy, food, caring for children, and welcoming people into your home. A year later, Nashrat has gone from crutches to walking with a cane, and the RLM team has also grown by learning from her resilient spirit.
2) Asylum-Seekers & Asylees
Chibuike* and Rayowa* came to the U.S. fleeing for their family’s lives. Chibuike made a few connections to do volunteer research with a professor at a local college in order to bring him and his family to the U.S. They were able to find a place to stay with a friend, volunteer at a local food shelf, register their five kids for school, and find a church. Once they arrived, they met with a local agency to help them apply for asylum. This process takes, on average, five years. As they wait to hear whether they will be allowed to stay in the U.S. permanently, they have very few resources available to them. Asylum seekers aren’t allowed to work for at least six months, usually a year, after they apply for asylum.
When we introduced Chibuike to their RLM team, he spent most of the time sharing his family’s story and how much he missed teaching. As the team and family got to know each other, the team found ways for the family to use their skills and do things that they love. Chibuike was given the opportunity to teach and share about his story at the team’s church. Rayowa became a great encouragement to the team leader. After a few months, the church was able to offer a house they own for the family to stay in while they wait for their work permits. The team spends time with the family shopping for school and groceries, encouraging each other in their faith, going to the zoo, and simply being together. Rayowa started working on her GED, Chibuike is tutoring kids at a local library, and their kids are working hard in school.
3) Refugee Families Already in Minnesota
God provided an opportunity to connect an RLM team with a Somali woman who wanted tutors for her children. We described to her that volunteers not only wanted to tutor, but also to be their friends. To this she replied, “Yes, we want friends too!” The second time they met, the team and family realized that several of them had birthdays the next week, so they decided to have a birthday party. That night, there was Somali food, tea, and a great connection made.
“Yes, we want friends too!”Since then, the team has tutored the children each week, and they also hosted the family for a Thanksgiving meal! They are building a great foundation of friendship, while also helping with tutoring, praying for the family, and looking for open doors to plant seeds of the Gospel.
4) Befriending Your Refugee Neighbors
A fourth way we’ve sought to make connections is through individuals befriending their refugee neighbors. By neighbors, we’re thinking of those in close proximity as well as those who are intentionally sought out in any sphere of our lives. Some teams have been excited about this prospect, while others are understandably intimidated. It takes guts to initiate and sustain lasting relationships with those who may not cross our paths naturally. We have heard testimonies of individuals who have noticed and sought out people they would not have otherwise, because they’ve been emboldened and equipped through Refugee Life Ministries. As we value unleashed churches that catch the vision of loving refugees in Jesus’ name and take ownership of ministry among refugees, we continue to explore this opportunity with our teams, anticipating what God will do with our eyes and hearts open to the nations around us.
It takes guts to initiate and sustain lasting relationships with those who may not cross our paths naturally.
This year has been a learning curve in refugee resettlement, with the lowest admissions to the U.S. in over 30 years. Even so, Minnesota already has the most refugees per capita of any state in the US! Though we want more to reach safety and freedom, we are hopeful for what can be done in our communities right now.
“And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations…” Matthew 24:14
*Names have been changed for privacy.