Have you heard all the ruckus? We’re GOing with the gospel through serving refugees! Eastminster is partnering with the Oaks Baptist Fellowship, a local church made up mostly of Congolese refugees, to help families new to Wichita assimilate to American culture, learn English, find jobs and enjoy becoming part of the community. We’re focusing on three areas, each with their own challenges and opportunities, to serve these immigrant families: Teaching English as a second language, transportation (most refugees do not have a drivers license or vehicle) and helping to find employment. Members serving in each of these areas on the RIOT team (Refugee and Immigrant Outreach Team) share a little about what it’s like to work with refugees and the needs and challenges of each area.
Gwen is a college student serving on the ESL team, as most of the refugees speak Swahili and very little English.
How did you get involved with the refugee team?
Pam Van Bebber, the refugee team coordinator, contacted me asking if I was interested. I jumped on the opportunity because I’d been searching for an outlet to volunteer and plug in. The refugee outreach team seemed like just the thing – a unique challenge to reach a small group of Congolese refugees living right here in Wichita. What a cool way to serve an untapped community and even better, with and through my home church, Eastminster!
What is your role in serving?
I meet with a team of two to three other church members once a week at the refugees’ homes for an English lesson. We go to them rather than them to us, because they lack transportation and because it’s easier for us to get to know each other when we step into their culture. They’re so eager to learn English and it’s important that they do, so English lessons are our number one priority in helping them adjust to this unfamiliar place. We also make ourselves available to give them rides to the store, the International Rescue Commission, or other appointments. We’re essentially their American friends who spend quality time with them weekly and help them get settled into Wichita.
Why is it so crucial for refugees to learn English? How are you helping them with that?
Imagine having to ee to a foreign country, and not being able to communicate to someone what your name is, or anything else. A woman I meet with weekly did not know how to say her address in English until I taught her a few weeks ago. She’s lived here for more than six months. It is so key that these people learn things like how to introduce themselves and their families, how to ask for directions or give them, and how to converse with a cashier at a store. These are the basic English words we’re teaching them. You must speak the language of the country you’re living in to make it by. Without knowing the language, you can’t get a job, you can’t ask someone at the grocery store where an ingredient is, you can’t order food, and so much more! Learning English is the most important thing the refugees can be doing for their success in America. Our job is to help them learn it in a loving way.
What is it like to work with someone in learning English? What’s the hardest part? The best part?
There’s a lot of giggling involved. It can be quite silly when you’re trying to communicate with someone who is speaking what sounds like gibberish to you. It’s best to take it slow and start with the basics. Repetition and practicing words out loud are two successful tools I’ve noticed thus far. Sometimes, I revert to google translate to have a conversation with them. That way they can read what I say in Swahili. It’s de nitely not an easy process. Language barriers are tough. There are times when my group leaves the home feeling discouraged, wondering if we’re making any difference in their lives. But with each meeting, the women begin to absorb and retain more. It’s very fun to watch them get totally ecstatic about saying the right words or answering our questions correctly. All they want is to be a part of our world, to connect with us! Even on our unproductive days, deep ful lment always follows our time with them. The joy I feel when I witness our two cultures collide is the best part of it all.
Why do you think it’s important for followers of Jesus to care for refugees?
God calls us to serve one another humbly in love. He also tells us to offer ourselves as living sacrifices. We, as the Church, have the freedom to reflect Christ’s heart in how we serve and love others. Matthew 25:35-40 says “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me. Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you, a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’”
What is your favorite story from working with the refugees?
My favorite memory was our rst time meeting the Congolese women. I was with Pam Van Bebber and Ali Wettig and we were leaving a woman’s apartment after our rst get together. The language barrier was so dif cult; we hadn’t accomplished much this time. When we say goodbye, one of us girls shouted “Vipi!” which is the Swahili word for “what’s up.” We all burst out in laughter because she misused the word and all of us realized at the same time, even the Swahili woman she said it to. We were worn out from ghting the language barrier for the rst time and a little slap happy. The women from East Africa have radiant smiles and loud laughs! We love to make them laugh and joke around. The silly times are my absolute favorite because humor is universal. You don’t have to speak the same language to laugh together.
Scott is part of the transportation team, and drives the Eastminster van to take members of the Oaks to and from church each Sunday afternoon.
How did you get involved with the refugee team?
Kathy and I were at the GO Sunday worship service that challenged everyone to get involved with either a local, national or worldwide outreach. We attended a meeting about working with refugees and immigrants and felt this could be a area that we could both be involved in locally.
What is one of your favorite stories of working with the refugees?
Last fall I helped in getting portable air conditioning units to several families and installing them. Some of the families were sleeping outside because it was cooler, or because they were not shown how to open their widows. One widow was so unsure and afraid of what was going on with this new box. I had to have her 12-year-old son try to translate what the unit did. I held her hand and walked her over to feel the cold air blowing out. Just seeing that huge smile on her face, I knew this is where God was calling me.
What is your role in serving?
Since most of the Oaks families do not have drivers licenses or vehicles, their pastor, John Ronel, was spending almost all of his day each Sunday traveling to each home and picking up families for church, followed by leading the two-hour worship service.
The RIOT team wanted to help with this burden, and I have made a six-month commitment to drive our 14-passenger small bus to take families to and from church. We can always use more drivers, as no CDL license is required, or drivers to help with other transportation needs.
Each week I see and feel the love coming through all these families as they pray, sing and worship during their two hour service. They have recently added a short children’s service. The kids will sing and pray, then an elder will teach them a lesson. They learned this from our GO Sunday service, when they came to Eastminster to sing to us in Swahili and English.
Why do you think Eastminster’s involvement with the Oaks Baptist Fellowship so important?
There are so many lives and families that are being touched right here, 10 miles from Eastminster. It’s like seeing a foreign country, but without the trip. These people have been in refugee camps for decades. Some have met their spouses there and some have started a family (all inside a camp). Most do not know how to speak English, but they are eager to learn. Today I taught I've English words while driving: father, mother, parents, children and kids. The mother did know how to say “thank you” and gave me a huge smile as I looked at her in the mirror. These same families did not know how to use a zipper when we gave them winter coats. They had never seen snow before. Just our presence with them and even showing them little things in living in a completely new environment makes a huge difference.
How many of us are so afraid to “step out of the boat and come” when called by Jesus? I challenge you to come on any Sunday afternoon and see for your self why God has called the Eastminster family to serve in this way.
Roxie leads the jobs team, helping connect our refugees with local employment.
It has been a joy, but also a challenge, to explore employment opportunities in Wichita for our refugee friends. Our committee began by looking at manufacturing positions, but soon realized that due to the strict OSHA requirements, this would not be an option. This lead us to the food service and hotel industry.
As I have inquired about employment opportunities at various Wichita hotels and restaurants, I have prayed that the Lord would lead me to the right person who might resonate with what we are doing at Eastminster. It has been amazing to see how the Lord has gone before me in making these connections.
We are currently working on some strategic partnerships in our community that will help us secure good jobs for our refugee friends. Hopefully, in the next few weeks those will be in place. The Congolese refugees have a strong desire to work and take responsibility for providing for their families. We want to encourage them in any way that we can.
If members of our Eastminster family have in uence or contacts in any industry or business that might increase our efforts to provide employment for our refugee friends, please contact the missions of office. God is working in big ways to open doors for employment, and we can’t wait to share more on what he’s up to.
JOIN THE RIOT
We have had such an outpouring of support and interest for the refugee team that there are just a few spots left to serve! We are so proud of the way the Eastminster family has rallied around this cause. If you’d like to get involved, check out these open positions:
• Rides: People who have a car to drive refugees to appointments, to run errands, and most importantly, to and from work.
• Sunday Bus: People willing to drive the Eastminster bus on Sundays to transport refugees to church (CDL license is not required).
• Employers: People who own businesses to consider hiring a refugee as an employee. They are fully legal to work, and eager to support themselves.
There are just few more ESL positions open, though transportation and employment are the greater volunteer needs right now.
READY TO SERVE?
Contact Marcia Davis at 634.0337, ext. 213, or firstname.lastname@example.org.