Domestic Missionaries for Refugee Families
“It is the obligation of every person born in a safer room to open the door when someone in danger knocks.” – Dina Nayeri, Iranian refugee and author
The ecclesia in Avon, Indiana heard a knock on the door…and they opened it. Like several ecclesias in North America, the Avon ecclesia has recently been blessed with an influx of Christadelphian refugee brothers and sisters. Seeking a better life for their families, these brothers and sisters petitioned the UNHCR (the United Nations Refugee Agency) and were approved for resettlement. God’s hand, it appears, has directed them to the door in Avon. This has come at a time when the ecclesia’s own membership has declined due to a natural cycle of young families transferring to other ecclesias as they follow job opportunities. As Job rightly said, “The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.”
For the Avon ecclesia, growth has come in the form of Christadelphian families in the immediate area, in nearby Indianapolis, and in Louisville, Kentucky, a couple of hours away. The families are generally large with upwards of seven children. Additionally, there are interested friends, refugees themselves, in each of these areas. The opportunities certainly abound for Avon, but as their own numbers have dwindled, they needed assistance to manage the sheer volume of work and overcome the language barriers that complicate matters. So, they put out a call for help…and immediately they had willing hands ready for the work.
Sis. Lonti and Sis. Jackie Shindano graciously responded to the call. They left their home ecclesia in Monroe, Washington this month and drove to Avon so they can serve in a year-long, CBMA-sponsored Domestic Missionary program. Their focus will be on the Sunday School and CYC as they use their infectious smiles and gregarious personalities to encourage the kids to be excited about the Truth. Their language skills will be invaluable in communicating with the parents – both sisters speak fluent Swahili.
In fact, Sis. Lonti and Sis. Jackie are quite familiar with life as a refugee. When they were children in 2004, they relocated with their family under the same UNHCR program from the Logufu One refugee camp in Tanzania to isolation in Spokane, Washington. Their extended family (parents, grandparents, uncles, and three siblings, all Christadelphians) soon moved to Seattle and joined the ecclesia there. The sisters grew up in the Seattle ecclesia and were baptized in the Monroe ecclesia as teenagers. Now they will share their experience with other refugee families as they serve as domestic missionaries. God willing, we look forward to reports on their experiences and progress over the coming year, and we are thankful for their generous response to the call as they said, “Here am I; send me.”
Some 500 miles to the west, in Des Moines, Iowa, is another group of refugee brothers and sisters. The group is so large in fact, with the help of the Monroe ecclesia and the Portage, Indiana ecclesia (formerly Kouts), they formed the Des Moines ecclesia, the first Swahili-speaking ecclesia in North America. We reported on their formation a few years ago.
The Des Moines ecclesia continues to thrive and meets weekly in a local VFW building. The ecclesia has seen growth of its own as the Mulondani family of five has recently joined them, and a retired couple, Bro. John & Sis. Dawn Bleichner, will live nearby part of the year. Even more exciting are the five baptisms that have taken place so far this year — the four brethren (Bro. Raymond, Bro. Victor, Bro. Jeff and Bro. Mmunga) grew up in Christadelphian families, and Sis. Regina is Bro. Fidele’s wife. Memorial service is held in Swahili and they have plans to live stream the service so Swahili-speaking brothers and sisters in isolation can join. Information about the ecclesia, including a link to recorded videos, is available on their website at www.desmoineschristadelphians.org.
As part of their relocation package, refugee families often receive a low-interest loan from the refugee agency to cover travel expenses and upon arrival, are provided with short-term assistance from the agency in the form of temporary housing, welfare assistance, access to medical care, and English classes. The families rarely know their destination as that decision is made by the refugee agency at the last minute. When they land, Christadelphian families find themselves somewhere in North America – sometimes near an ecclesia, and sometimes not.
Even with the help of agencies like the UNHCR, relocation under the refugee program can be difficult for brothers and sisters. Having no influence on their destination, some find themselves in isolation, with no ecclesial support nearby. The CBMA tries to connect these families with the nearest ecclesia so fellowship can be enjoyed and the ecclesia can welcome the family into the fold. Sometimes that requires the ecclesia to move the family closer. Obstacles like distance, language barriers and transportation for large families can be challenging for ecclesias to overcome, but the blessings far outweigh the difficulties. There is a network of brothers and sisters with experience in these matters, should an ecclesia need advice.
Sometimes the needs are financial, and the local ecclesia may struggle to meet those needs. In response to this, a fund has been established in the brotherhood to assist refugee brothers and sisters. The Refugee Fund, managed by the Monroe ecclesia, has provided welfare help (e.g., food, clothing, housing, etc.) and pastoral care (e.g., transportation to ecclesial events, CYC conferences, hall rental, etc.). The fund is not large, and inquiries continue to come in, so donations are always welcomed. Donations can be arranged through the ecclesial finance brother at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Looking at the state of the world, national politics, and the subsiding pandemic, should our Lord remain away, it is our expectation that the number of refugee brothers and sisters arriving in North America will increase. We expect to see more brethren, whether Congolese or Iranian, successfully navigate the refugee process and find themselves in a new world and in need to connect with a local ecclesia. When that happens, and there is a knock on the door, we are confident brothers and sisters will open the door and say, “Here am I; send me.”