On Monday evenings, I usually leave my door unlocked. It keeps me from having to get up and open it later. One particular Monday last year, I was feeling tired. I lay on my couch while I waited. Soon, my friend Zach came through the door. Without saying much, he went right for the recliner and stretched out. After about a minute he said, “I’m really tired today.”
“I know what you mean.”
“I know this sounds bad, but I kind of wish that they’ll be gone when we get there.”
“It sounds bad, but I was thinking the same thing,” I replied.
Soon, our other friend and teammate showed up. We sat for a moment, collected our thoughts, grabbed the English books, and headed over to our refugee family’s house.
That was earlier in our refugee co-sponsorship. God had laid refugees on a few friends and my hearts sometime earlier. While I had never worked with refugees specifically, I had previously worked in International Ministry and was quite aware of the long-term commitment that it takes to build a relationship with someone who is an alien to your country and love them well like Jesus would. I figured that refugees would be even more of a commitment. So, early in the co-sponsorship decision process, I screened our group of potential teammates to make sure it was something that each person wanted to do. There were around 15-18 people that were interested at the beginning, but with each training session and meeting before we received our family, I’d always offer a way out. “I know that this is a lot to commit to, so if you don’t think that this is for you at this time, it’s ok to step away. I’d rather you leave now than when we get the family.”
That process left ten of us. Our family arrived in October 2017. The first few weeks were intense since there are several things that the government requires them to do within a certain time frame. We met them at the airport, went to doctor’s appointments, did safety checks on the house, brought them items that we thought they might need, waded through Medicaid, SNAP, and social security, and even drove forty-five minutes out to Walgreens to pick up a prescription only to find that the address given was wrong, there was no Walgreens there, and the prescription was actually close to the family’s house.
You do not know love until you’ve spent two consecutive days in a cramped social security office (two because you were told the first day that after all of the papers that you brought, you still didn’t have the correct one) to get a little boy’s name corrected on his social security card. Long story short, I came close to an epic meltdown that second day, but held it together since several of the people in that waiting room knew that I worked for First Baptist Church (misery brings people together). Nevertheless, I think that our young refugee mother learned that we would fight for them.
Our team worked out a routine of visiting the family once per week to teach English to the mother and to tutor and play with the boy. (The dad had come to the US years earlier and works a job in the evenings). At first the weeks were awkward and a bit laborious. “What are we going to teach her this week? And how can we get to know her when we can barely talk with her? We’re not very good at this,” was the general feeling. We completed our six-month obligation that co-sponsors commit to, but some of us decided to continue to go over there weekly. Showing up week after week, regardless of the discomfort, regardless of the busy schedules, and regardless of our insecurities finally did something. It built trust. We’ve had the opportunity to show up during some of their times of need, though they come from a culture that doesn’t like to express need or inconvenience others in any way. Figuring out those needs has been a challenge in itself.
Recently, our young mother had a baby, so the family has grown and the dynamic has changed. Instead of having English lessons with the mother, we mostly do homework and play with the little boy. This has actually helped the mother to relax, and we get to just hang out with her as well. Sometimes she’ll even join in on the reading lessons and do the flashcards along with her son. Though language is still a barrier, this family has become our friends. We haven’t been able to have in-depth faith conversations, but we’ve seen her Bible in her native Karen language. We’ve discussed prayer and Christian holidays. She’s showed us YouTube videos of Christian missionaries in her native home. As we continue to show up, we grow with them.
The other amazing thing that has happened through this process has been the closeness that has been formed between our team, particularly the five of us who work with the family weekly. We share in joy and we share in frustrations. Trust has been built between us as well. Those are four people that I can count on to do the hard things, and they can count on me. Let me add that we have other wonderful teammates who contribute financially and offer encouragement. Ministry can be an incredibly lonely place when you choose to devote your whole heart to it. Knowing that there are others sharing that same heart and doing that same work can make all the difference.
This is a picture of what the Church should be. Jesus didn’t minister alone. He had twelve trusted and devoted friends in his disciples and a handful of others such as Mary and Martha. Early Christian missionaries often went out at least in twos. Matthew 10:2-4 tells us the pairings of Jesus’s disciples when He sent them out to minister. The early church in Acts, though it was growing rapidly, functioned together as a unit.
“And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.” Acts 2:42-47
Jesus prayed for that unity for us in His High Priestly Prayer.
“I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” John 17:20-21
This is where it starts. Jesus loves us, so we are able to love Him. Then we can love our church community. We have to be consistent with our brothers and sisters first. Then from that, we can love the rest of the world. It sounds simple enough, and on one hand it is. Yet lived out it takes the supernatural power of the Holy Spirit to accomplish.
Love moves down the road one step at a time. Love takes faith. Love requires trust. Love shows up.
*Faces of the family have been blurred to protect their privacy.