Can you imagine living in a war-torn country, seeing your loved ones killed, your community demolished, and having to flee in hope of survival? That is what our newest refugees from Syria have endured, and it is much more complex and painful than most of us could imagine. Now, having recently settled in America (a drastically foreign place), they are forced to rebuild their lives, starting from scratch, and have very limited (if any) resources to do so.
When Caring Ministries Inc., a Lutheran agency, heard that our new neighbors would be arriving, they knew they had to do SOMETHING to show them the love of Christ. But, they also knew they would need the strengths of others in the community to make it happen. So, they joined forces with POBLO International and Christian Friends of New Americans, pooling people, language, and financial resources. They didn’t know how this ministry would look, and they knew it would be messy, but they felt God was leading the charge.
In November 2016, 14 large Syrian families arrived in North St. Louis City. Their living conditions were substandard and in need of deep cleaning (among other things). With cold weather approaching, the need for basic necessities was high. Two weeks before Thanksgiving, the collaborative ministry team organized volunteers for a “Refugee Workday” – taking cleaning supplies (and demonstrating their use), assisting in clean up, and assessing needs. Though the language barrier was challenging, they were blessed to have Nouerdinne Ha and his wife, Lisa Payne, who both speak Arabic, to help with translation. AND, through apps like Google translate, other volunteers were able to have basic conversations with their new friends! Then, the following weekend, they returned to deliver turkeys and other food items to the families, again engaging in conversation.
The help was much appreciated, but what most struck Cyril Loum, Executive Director of Caring Ministries, was that the refugees expressed that what mattered most to them was that someone had actually sat and spent time with them. It can get very lonely when you are in a new place and have limited English-speaking abilities! They have found that Americans are friendly, and willing to offer one-time help, but that not too many want to enter into real relationship. They are very grateful! Nuerdinne checks in and visits with the families weekly and the collaborative team is currently exploring what ministry will look like going forward.
When asked, “How would you encourage those who are maybe fearful of interacting with Syrians or people of the Muslim faith, or who are concerned about the language barrier?” Cyril advised:
- They are people just like us; looking for people to love them. And even though the language barrier can be challenging, sincerity and a genuine heart for them can be felt without words!
- When it comes to faith sharing, remember that it is the Holy Spirit that leads and changes hearts. Don’t focus on sharing your faith in a forward way – approach them with the love of Christ and doors will be opened to share as you grow deeper in relationship.
If you or your church/organization are interested in joining the effort to love and care for our Syrian refugee neighbors, please contact Lisa Payne at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 314.605.8041
To read more about the Refugee Workday, read Caring Ministries’ newsletter, Who is Our Neighbor.