A WRF Member in the United States Describes and MODELS a Biblical Response to Immigrants

September 20, 2019
Sam Logan

NOTE: The headline of this article was created by the WRF.  The material below the headline was written by (and therefore about) a ministry in which WRF member Barbara Perrin is participating. Barbara is the widow of Dr. Rick Perrin who, for many years, guided the work of the WRF as the Chairman of our Board of Directors.  The WRF presents this report both in thanksgiving to God for the work He is doing in this one specific situation and to provide an example of how evangelical Reformed Christians and churches can carry out the kind of mandate which Jesus commends in Matthew 15: 31 – 46.

 

A WRF Member in the United States Describes and MODELS a Biblical Response to Immigrants

Most of us know a bit about our ancestors who came to America.  Once while hosting a dinner party for some of my senior neighbors I asked each to share where their families originated before coming to America.  And while they did, some shared about the hardships of separation from parents and siblings who remained in the "old country." Some told of their parents saving and sending money back "home" to help bring a loved one to America.  My father's family emigrated to Americas as a large family group of brothers and their wives and a sister in 1923 from Belfast, Northern Ireland.   My father was only 18 months old making his first voyage across the Atlantic Ocean. We also talked about how these first folks supported themselves as cleaning ladies, seamstresses, maids, laborers, and school custodians.  And there we sat enjoying the benefits of all that our family members went through as they adjusted to "the American way of life."

People moving alone or in groups is nothing new.   All we have to do is begin with the book of Genesis.   God scattered the people in chapter 11--Babel.   At the end of 11 Abram's father, Terah, moves the family away from Ur " . . . in order to enter the land of Canaan" (Genesis 11:31).   The family stopped their journey in Haran.   But God's plan was to resettle them in Canaan so, in chapter 12, God tells Abram to go forth.   And we can follow His chosen people through Scripture as nothing thwarted (or will EVER thwart) God's plan.

That brings us to the present day. God's plan is still in place.  It is reported there are 21.3 million refugees worldwide.   And 65.3 million displaced people in total.   The average time spent in a refugee camp is 17 years.   Resettlement into another country is an option for less than 1%. We hear daily of the needs of these people.  In 2017 the BBC called Lancaster, Pennsylvania “America's Refugee Capital.”  Lancaster is a small city in central PA known as a tourist destination because of the Amish who have made their home here. Between 2013 and 2017, ONE THOUSAND THREE HUNDRED refugees moved here.   Lancaster takes 20 times more refugees per capita than the rest of the United States.   Why have these people chosen Lancaster?   I have heard it said we are the Bible Belt of the north and these immigrants seem to realize that they will find compassion here.

So how should evangelicals respond to such a need?   ESL (English as a Second Language) signs are popping up in front of more and more churches and I would like to describe the response of the church I attend (Westminster Presbyterian Church {PCA})  and what God is accomplishing through our church.  Most important, this is the kind of Kingdom work in which EVERY church . . . and EVERY church member . . . can participate.  

I met with a very humble woman who shared how it all began.   I hope you will be as encouraged as I was to hear her story and see what great blessings can come out of yielding ourselves to God.

This exciting journey started with a group of church members burdened with reaching the unchurched in Lancaster city.  It started by meeting regularly for prayer about this need.   As they continued meeting weekly for prayer they also began visiting local relief centers around the city.   As time passed each couple was called to a different ministry and began serving where called.

The couple I interviewed actually walked the streets meeting children.  Soon, with parents' permission, they began bringing several children to our church’s Sunday School.  Two of these children were twin girls from an extremely large and dysfunctional family.  In addition to bringing them to Sunday School, this couple raised money to make it possible for the girls to attend a local Christian school and then they welcomed the girls into their own home during their senior year in high school.  Fast forward to today - these girls, because of the faithful, Christ-centered nurturing of this couple are entering their senior year in college. 

In the last 10 years,  God has done marvelous things in the lives of both the refugees and members of our church.  Here are a few examples:

1.  We now sponsor FIVE ESL classes

2.  We offer ESL Sunday School classes for children and for adults.

3. A Muslim has come to Christ.

4.  We now host a thriving Congolese congregation which meets in our old sanctuary.   On any given Sunday, 150 people attend the services of this congregation . . . and there continues to be steady growth.

5.  God provided one of our missionaries to Africa to be their pastor.   He speaks Swahili.

6.  A nearby Christian school lends us their bus so the Congolese can be transported on Sundays

7.  The Congolese Children's choir is led by our assistant music director and our hearts rejoiced recently when they sang “What a Friend We Have In Jesus,” performed with “African rhythm,” drums and rattles.   They sang in both English and Swahili.

8.  An English church has gone from adopting one family to embracing an entire Congolese Congregation.

9. Several members of our church are buying houses in the city in order to be able to give reduced rental rates to the Congolese.

10.  Finally,  a notice in our bulletin requested volunteers to listen to Congolese children read during the summer months.   I was assigned a rising 6th grade girl who has been in America for one year.   She was born in a refugee camp in Tanzania to which her family had escaped from Congolese rebels in the Congo.  My student is a quiet, somber soul and to win a smile makes my day.   I visit her once a week.   We work on phonics, sight words, comprehension and oral reading.   Besides these skills she asks the definition of most words we read.   While defining the word sports she described the activity that they played in the camp and twice she said "in my country."   I asked her if she missed her country and she nodded yes with that sweet almost sad expression.  After an hour, I ask if her brain is tired and now she smiles and says YES!!  During the last ten minutes of most sessions her older brothers and sisters gather round to listen.  When we are finished we all sit and shoot the breeze like old friends.   We talk about school and families and places like Washington, DC.   I told them about America's birthday and of course sports!!   It's great they want to practice speaking English.   And I love how they laugh when I try my hand at Swahili.  Who knew an old, retired school teacher could find so much joy in saying yes to a bulletin request.

So through donating items to meet physical needs, educating  the stranger to our American ways we can participate in the assimilation process.  But as believers we can do so much more by providing hope and stability during a very unsettling, uncertain time in their lives.   And above all we have the opportunity to share the gospel with them.  That's the real blessing.