Sadly, refugees are often a misunderstood people notes Rev. Bob Tice (D.Min., ‘12) senior pastor at River Rock Church. “At worst, many think of them as rejects and outcasts, poor, and a strain on America; and some a bit better think of them as just strange.” What is more alarming is that many people do not understand the unique needs of refugees.
“Imagine you fled your home country with your family, and now lived thousands of miles from anyone you know. You have very few possessions to speak of, little money, and you do not speak the country’s language.” Marie Moy (MATSJ ‘15), a home visitor at Jericho Community Health Center, prompts reflection. “Refugees need help navigating American systems of banking, schools, housing, and medical care.” They often find what seems normal to Americans to be peculiar and overwhelming.
In response to the unique needs, Tice and Moy, among other Northeastern students and alumni, are actively engaging in focused ministry in neighboring cities: Rochester, Syracuse and Buffalo. Rooted in biblical principles, refugee-conscious ministries give refugees a solid foundation to build on and the opportunity to thrive in a foreign land.
Patricia Welch (M.Div. ‘09), while pastor of New Hope Free Methodist Church in Rochester, N.Y., oversaw the resettlement of 34 African refugees who were finishing their six-month government-sponsored resettlement program with the Catholic Family Center, also in Rochester. She helped renew benefits with the U.S. Department of Human Services noting that at the sixth-month mark many refugees are at risk of losing their services if the proper paperwork is incomplete. In this ministry, Welch helped refugees open bank accounts, obtain needed household items, liaise with landlords, get to medical appointments, and receive job coaching. Welch also helped develop an English-as-a-second-language program which trained consultants and provided individual tutoring at refugees’ homes for a full year. Her next venture includes setting up an immigration and legal aid clinic to provide additional needed services.
In some ways similar to Welch, Moy supports refugees’ basic needs in the area of healthcare at the Jericho Community Health Center who partners with churches like the Renovation Church in Buffalo, N.Y. where Moy attends. Volunteers serve as English tutors, mentors for pregnant women and single mothers, drivers to take people to medical appointments, homework tutors for middle schoolers, and/or childcare providers for parents attending educational classes. Moy serves as a home visitor through the Parent Child Home Program, providing educational toys and books and preparing pre-school age children for school twice a week. The church’s ministerial efforts of reaching out to those in need are making a noticeable difference. Moy explains, “Low-income children statistically have about a 55% high school graduation rate—with rates being lower in Buffalo. After participation in the program for one year the graduation rate increases to about 63%, and after two years the rate goes up to 84%, which is on par with middle-income families.”
But graduation rates are not the only concern for children. Refugee children require particular attention in the transition process. In Michael Brown’s (MATSJ, C32) field education experience through Northeastern he worked as a co-leader with Hopeprint Summer Kids Camp in Syracuse, N.Y. The camp addressed many basic needs for refugee and non-refugee children with opportunities to engage in English language programs, formal and informal mentoring, tutoring, teen programs, children’s programming, and more. “While we are engaged in many immediate needs,” Brown further clarified, “we are always aware of the broader needs of individuals, families, and communities to develop to their fullest. We are always thinking about two-way mentorships, about leadership development, and about issues of community development.”
By far, a supportive and loving community is one of the most important aspects when working with refugees. The needs of these children and adults transcend the necessity of food, clothing, shelter and work. Refugees need the unconditional support of volunteers, the community, and especially the church.
The Boaz Project at Dongwon Kim’s (MATSJ C32) church, the Korean Church of Syracuse, provides computer services to refugees, teaching people basic skills about operating systems and how to use office programs. “It is a tool for spreading the Gospel [and] we hope the skills help their life,” Dongwon explained. As people serve one another through the Boaz Project, invisible barriers between refugees and non-refugees are broken down and in its place noticeably stronger relationships are built.
At River Rock Church Tice aids in cultivating such a community by encouraging a culturally fruitful environment for people to commune and worship as a single body in Christ. He explains that at “River Rock Church itself we hope we are developing an authentic multicultural church where every culture and race and group has a voice and the opportunity to be empowered in ministry according to their gifts, including the leadership of the church across all its diversity.”
Likewise, Bishop William Turner (MAT ‘01) creates a welcoming multicultural experience at the churches where he serves. Bishop Turner founded the Living Word Temple Restoration Ministries and oversees three sister churches. Whereas some of the members, such as the Bhutanese population, were persecuted for their beliefs in their native country, at church they are able to worship God freely and cultivate a love for Christ.
Showing the love of Christ by spreading the Gospel, reaching out to the refugees, and pouring into their lives is a ministry that is making a noticeable impact in communities across New York State. These ministries, the passion of Northeastern Seminary students and graduates alike, allow refugees to thrive and transition from the foreign to the familiar as God’s love is manifested through the hands and feet of His willing servants.
The content of this article was prepared by Ashley Henry, a Roberts Wesleyan College student and a communication intern at Northeastern Seminary for spring 2015.
Since opening its doors in 1998, Northeastern Seminary on the campus of Roberts Wesleyan College has continued to grow in prominence as a significant resource for the church community in upstate New York. Northeastern Seminary is a multi-denominational graduate school of theology offering five academically and professionally accredited degrees: Master of Divinity, Master of Arts of Theological Studies, Master of Arts in Theology and Social Justice, Master of Arts in Transformational Leadership, and Doctor of Ministry. The student body is comprised of more than 30 different Christian faith traditions represented among 170 students and over 350 graduates ministering around the nation and world. For more information visit www.nes.edu or call 585.594.6800.