Thursday, September 17, 2009

What’s it Like to Host a Refugee Family?

The Bellou family, Ruth Egger, Pastor Pam Wagner and members of Spirit of Hope UMC.
In April, 2009, our pastor, Pam Wagner of Spirit of Hope United Methodist Church in Phoenix, Ariz., received an invitation to attend a refugee resettlement meeting. Two of us from our mission committee attended. That was the beginning of the most rewarding, difficult, and blessed project we had undertaken. We are a small church with about 150 members, but consider ourselves big warriors for Christ.

After approval from the congregation, a special work committee was formed to accomplish our goal of bringing a refugee family to the point of self-assurance and independence.

The family we assisted was the Bellou family of seven from the Ivory Coast who had spent the last seven years as refugees in Ghana. They ranged in age from two to 44 years of age. We were privileged to help celebrate the two year-old’s third birthday, his first in a country of freedom.

Our first task was to collect furnishings for a two bedroom apartment, as well as clothing and food. Our requests for assistance went beyond our church family to include our places of work and personal friends. What a profound sense of God’s presence through this part of the mission. The logistics of acquiring the necessities for seven people in a short time was daunting, but God provided. He opened doors we were unaware of. We received a donation toward a one bedroom apartment, plus substantial monetary gifts from unsuspected sources. Moving everything into the apartment and organizing furniture was a huge task, but thankfully, we had the assistance of many eager workers from inside and outside our church family.

The big day arrived. On May 14, 2009 the Bellou family arrived and our team joined to greet them at the airport. They were thrilled with their new ‘digs’ and relished their first meal that women from our committee had prepared for them. Two days later we took the entire family on an instructional bus ride. We went to a grocery store and a clothing store and had a grand time watching them take in and select from more than they had imagined possible. This gave us a better insight to the family and what they had been through. We were certainly humbled by the bounty present in our lives that we have taken for granted.

What was the high point of the day? It came when the Bellou family asked if they could attend our church on Sunday. For weeks thereafter, we provided two cars to pick them up for church and two more cars to take them home again. We had a welcoming Sunday where the family was greeted warmly by church members and received special prayers and blessings from Pastor Pam.

The following weeks were filled with lessons in shopping for food and clothing and staying within a budget. One of our duties was to teach them how to operate a stove, microwave, coffee maker, dishwasher, laundry appliances, TV, and all things electronic. Many times we heard them say ‘Everything is automatic here’! But with each new accomplishment we got to see their joy followed by profound gratitude. Over the weeks, we slowly withdrew from their lives, leaving them to be totally independent and able to experience that feeling of self satisfaction that comes with taking care of oneself. We are often asked some basic questions about our experience. What were some of the most difficult parts? I have to say it was the lack of experience on our part and the magnitude of the family size. I believe that more detailed instructions would have been helpful along with more preparation time. What was the easiest part? Our family had a good command of the English language, we’re well educated and devout Christians. We had strong support and encouragement from the team, and for that we are grateful.

At the end of this project we were asked to submit a report dealing what we had spent in dollars, what was donated and its value, how many people were involved along the way and for what purpose. This included man hours and mileage for all work. I would strongly advise any congregation taking on this type of mission to keep a log of time, people, material and receipts, and the purpose of each entry.

All of us were blessed by this work in helping those much less fortunate than ourselves. I believe we have a better grasp and understanding of the freedom of choice in our country. I have a deeper appreciation of the opportunity to worship when and where I choose without fear of persecution.

Would we do this again? Yes, absolutely! We’re wiser now and we crave the blessings that come form our Lord as we strive to help with His work. Would we recommend this to other churches? Of course! Your blessings will far out number whatever difficulties you might encounter. It is also awesome to experience how God works to help his servants. Our Lord is truly an awesome God.

Submitted by Ruth Egger, Chairman of the Mission Committee, Spirit of Hope United Methodist Church, Phoenix, Arizona

1 comment:

  1. Dear Brothers and sisters in Christ,
    I am so grateful come across such a wonderful story. I am so impressed as to how u all received those refugees so warmly. I am Albert Isaac Farkarlun, 28 years ols and a male. I am also in the Refugee Camp in Ghana. I have been here for 19yrs and now I have a little daughter who will turn one year November 11,2009. The situation here is so bad from us. There are alot of things we as refugees buy but yet we do not work to earn money to sustain ourselves.
    I pray that someday this church will come to help homeless kids and aged women and some of us who lost both parents to the civil-war in Liberia.
    God richly bless you all.
    Here is my contact address Albert Aries Farkarlun
    I hope to hear from you