Ministry Story ~ Welcome Pack Ministry to Refugees
Since visiting a refugee
camp in Rwanda in 2011, FLY (Faith Lutheran Youth) has maintained a Welcome to
America Pack closet filled with items that newly arriving refugees need to fill
their apartments in order to begin their lives in America. We then partner with
Exodus World Service to deliver these packs whenever refugees arrive.
Recently, we were asked to
deliver a Welcome Pack to a refugee family of three from Bhutan. Truthfully,
busyness nearly made me decline the request. But after a conversation with a
high school junior about justice and her passion for refugee ministry, I
decided to ditch our weekly discussion and instead deliver the Welcome Pack
during our regular meeting time.
So during our regular youth
ministry gathering, we loaded up cars with supplies and people and headed to
the family's apartment, or rather to their relative's apartment where they're
staying until their own apartment is ready.
We marched up three decrepit
flights of stairs and two of my students knocked on the door, explaining who we
were and what we we were doing. We then headed back down to the cars and
grabbed all the supplies – dishes, pots and pans, bedding, toiletries, light
bulbs, and basic food staples – everything you need to fill an apartment except
the furniture, which the resettlement agency provides.
We trucked back up the three
flights of stairs, removed our shoes, and crammed into the tiny apartment. We
piled the supplies into the middle of the living room and then sat down –
anywhere and everywhere - as the family frantically ran to get more chairs.
Arjun, the dad of the newly
arrived refugee family, introduced himself as his elderly father – who'd come
to America three years earlier – explained in broken English that Arjun's
English was not good. He then proceeded to go around the room, shake everyone's
hand, and introduce himself by name, Rad. Despite Rad's own rudimentary
English, what impressed me about him was his willingness to use it. Through a
combination of hand motions and repetition, the 16 of us proceeded to ever so
slowly piece together what he was trying to tell us.
Meanwhile, another family
member who was also resettled three years ago, offered us tea, at the same
time, exclaiming, “We've never had this many people in our apartment!” Immediately, I felt guilty
for having brought so many people to her house, for imposing on a family who
clearly didn't have much. As she left to get tea,
another family member – also resettled three years ago – came in and sat with
us. Rad proudly told us this young person, Reuben, spoke English the best out
of everyone. And he did.
Eventually, he pointed at a
guitar and asked if anyone could play. My students passed the guitar to my
husband, who started strumming Mighty to Save, a song we sang a few
weeks ago at Youth Sunday. Before long, students joined
in singing, self-consciously at first, until they realized Rad, the elderly patriarch
of this extended family, was clapping along with us. Soon, the rest of his
family was too, though they seemed to have multiplied before our very eyes. Next to me, I heard Reuben's
thick accent as he sang along loudly: Our God is mighty to save,
He is mighty to save.
My eyes filled with tears as
I thought about what these song lyrics must mean to a refugee who knew God was
“mighty to save” because he'd been saved by God as he and his family fled their
We finished the song and my husband
passed the guitar to Reuben, who led us in another praise song before handing
it off to Amith, his newly arrived cousin, who then proceeded to sing a lively
Nepali song about the moon. Eventually, Amith's mom –
also newly arrived – sang another song in Nepali. This woman, who knew no
English, put herself out there, belting the words out to this song. She wasn't
always in tune but it was nevertheless, beautiful, especially when we learned
the words she sang meant “Welcome into Christ.”
By then, the tea was ready
and the family proceeded to serve it, along with some food, to us. Over the next few minutes,
we ate, drank, and laughed along with this family.
Eventually, we had to leave.
On the way back to the church, the excitement in my car was palpable as
students wrestled with what they'd seen and experienced. As I drove, I reflected on
how I'd almost said “no” to this delivery because it came at such an
To think of all we would
have missed. No discussion I ever would
have facilitated would have had more of an impact on my students than meeting
this family, being shown extravagant hospitality, and worshipping with them in
two different languages.
(Story shared by Jen Bradbury, Director of Youth Ministry)