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Refugee Team Testimonies Part III: The Politics of the Kingdom

December 17, 2017

Each Sunday of Advent we are sharing a testimony from one of our Good Neighbor team members, as we prepare to form new teams as part of our Advent Gift. Good Neighbor teams partner with World Relief to provide logistical support and friendship for local Refugee families during the first few months of their transition to the United States. Grant shares a snapshot of his experience below.

I have been involved with a Good Neighbor Team at Rez since August of 2016. But my heart is not naturally drawn to do this kind of volunteer work. I considered the plight of immigrants more of a political issue, not a primary Kingdom focus. 
My wife Amy got me thinking about the issue by encouraging  me to read Richard Stearns’ "The Hole in the Gospel". Through this book and study of Scripture, I found clear teaching calling the people of God to care for the “sojourner.” In the Old Testament, God called the Israelites to love those people who were not native-born, but who wanted to be part of the covenant. The sojourners were not to be neglected, ignored, or overlooked because of their foreign origins. God judged those Israelites who did this (cf. Mal. 3:5). In the New Testament, we are called to welcome the stranger, whether they have pledged allegiance to the covenant or not. Jesus gives us a higher calling…in welcoming the stranger we welcome our Lord himself (cf. Matt 25:31-40).
Basically, I wanted to and needed to grow in my compassion for the downtrodden. They were a statistic and news item, not something that touched me personally. When it became clear that my wife needed support for her leadership role on the Good Neighbor Team, I took a step of faith and obedience, joined the team, and just got involved. In short, my wife Amy’s influence was paramount toward my thinking differently about this issue and joining the team.
The experience has been much better than I expected. This ministry provides a personal, relational connection between refugees and American citizens who are members of the local community. While I technically serve as an ESL tutor, lately, I have been helping the husband of the family whom we serve by assisting him in the process of getting his driver’s license. I have let him practice driving my car, escorted him to the Illinois Drivers Services Department, and was his English language advocate as he registered to take his driving test. He did not pass the test his first time, so we will need to return in the near future. Once we get some registration documents taken care of we will go back to the office take the driving test one more time.
But this is not just a service that I provide as a volunteer. God has blessed me with a friendship with the family from another part of the world whose language I don’t speak and whose culture I don’t know, but about which I am learning.
Of course there have been awkward moments when I did not know what was going on and wondered if I should stay or leave when I had dropped by for a visit. It has been good for me to be out of my comfort zone, however. My advice for anyone looking to join a team is the following: don’t be afraid to step into the unknown dynamics of a new cultural experience. You will grow through this process and will be blessed with new friends from another part of the globe. Even when I officially am no longer a member (as it is initially an eight-month commitment) I’m going to stay connected relationally with our refugee family. They are my friends!

Refugee Team Testimonies Part II: Who Can You Call?

December 10, 2017

Each Sunday of Advent we are sharing a testimony from one of our Good Neighbor team members, as we prepare to form new teams as part of our Advent Gift. Good Neighbor teams partner with World Relief to provide logistical support and friendship for local Refugee families during the first few months of their transition to the United States. Tim shares a snapshot of his experience below.

RING! I startled awake and, groaning, reached for my phone.
“Hey Aimen, what’s wrong?”
“Can you come?”
It was 1 a.m., and I didn’t want to go. But he sounded scared, and I couldn’t understand him over the phone. So I went. When I arrived, Aimen was clutching his stomach. I drove him to the ER and found out he had appendicitis. They rushed him to surgery. I wondered why he hadn’t called 911, but later I learned that he had. An ambulance had taken him to the hospital. But the doctor couldn’t understand him, and his symptoms weren’t clear—so they sent him home. He was afraid to call again.
I had met Aimen and his friend Johar a year earlier while volunteering at the People’s Resource Center. At first I was their tutor, but soon we became friends. When I visited, we would sit together around injera and tsebhi and talk about our lives, cultures, and religions. Before they bought cars, I would give them rides when they needed them. I loved them, but I also found it exhausting to see so much need and feel alone in trying to help.
When they moved away, I stopped volunteering. But when Resurrection decided to organize Good Neighbor Teams, I knew I wanted to get involved. The first team I was on worked with a wonderful Burmese family. Chris Easley and I visited them on Saturday afternoons to help with everything from English to taxes to insurance. Our team also took them to Chicago and introduced them to deep-dish pizza! Currently, I’m on a team volunteering with an Eritrean refugee family. We helped set up their apartment and visit them regularly. A few of us hosted them for Thanksgiving. They’re still getting settled, so I’m not sure what all we will do.
I’ve really appreciated the support structure that these teams provide. It’s easier to find someone to help when you can’t and to brainstorm solutions. It’s wonderful to know who to talk to at World Relief when difficult situations arise. It’s relieving to know that you are not the only American that the family knows. And it’s exciting to see a family get on their feet and make this country their home. But most of all, it’s deeply meaningful to volunteer in a way that involves building relationships and showing love. Organizations can help refugees get on their feet. They have all sorts of expertise that we don’t have. But they can’t be friends. They can’t help them feel at home. They can’t be the persons you might call in a midnight emergency.