“Amazing” April: One Month in a Growing Movement to Welcome
How do you know you are part of a movement that is gaining steam? It is evident when, in a single month, over 40 churches and community groups invite WRDA to lead or participate in events and discussions on serving and welcoming the stranger among us. Here are just a few of the top highlights:
- Glen Ellyn Evangelical Covenant Church hosted a 2-week emphasis on missions that featured a panel of refugees who are part of the 2 other churches that share their building - one Burmese and one Bhutanese. WRDA speakers also gave talks as this partner church of many decades is encouraging a new generation of members to get involved and to serve.
- First Baptist Church of Bolingbrook served their immigrant neighbors by hosting a WRDA Citizenship Clinic on April 16. Over 100 people were screened and 97 applications for citizenship were initiated in a single day that had folks lined up as early as 5:30 a.m. to be served.
- One church that made a tough decision to dissolve invited WRDA to join them for their final service. Even though this church is closing its doors, they decided to invest in welcoming the stranger by presenting WRDA with a large check from the assets of the, now former, congregation. We are so humbled and so very grateful to continue the legacy of this body of believers.
- The Compass Church in Wheaton held a panel event on April 10 about welcoming refugees and immigrants of the Muslim faith. This church, which shares its building with 3 churches within refugee communities, invited World Relief’s Matt Soerens to be a part of the presentation and discussion, along with Vincent Bacote and Roy Oskevard.
- Pleasant Hill Community Church and First Baptist Church of Wheaton both dedicated a full Sunday to missions, including speakers from WRDA talking about foreign mission opportunities right here in our neighborhood.
- WRDA’s annual Volunteer Appreciation Event and International Street Festival was held on April 22. This event brought out some 225 people who shared food from Burma, India, Congo, Bhutan, Latin America, Iraq, Iran and more. Entertainment was provided by a Mexican cultural dance troupe, by a professional singer from Iran sharing traditional Persian songs, and a group of Bhutanese Seniors got lots of volunteers and attendees to join them in dancing. Check out the photos and video on WRDA’s Facebook page!
- Pastor Talargie Tefesse of the Sensae Church (Ethiopian and Eritrean) came to speak to the WRDA staff on April 20. He brought an encouraging message about “home”. His faith, his own experience as an immigrant, and his role serving a church that is about 1/3 refugees, gives Pastor Talargie a deep understanding that, for Christians, “home” is neither here nor in another country. Home is with God eternally.
- Journeys of Hope opened in Wheaton on April 24. This is a special exhibit of the art of refugees and those who have some alongside them as they have come to our communities. WRDA’s John Rakow, himself an artist, helped to put this exhibit together and a special reception brought together many friends and lovers of art. You can still see the exhibit through May 15 at the Burning Bush Gallery, a ministry of Gary United Methodist Church on Main Street in Wheaton.
- Runners and walkers are naming WRDA as the organization they are supporting in the DuPage Human Race scheduled this Saturday, April 30. They are giving their time and their energy to be a part of this welcoming movement.
After such and Amazing April, stay tuned for what is in store next!
Every year Willow Creek Community Church hosts a “Celebration of Hope” that focuses on ministries and causes that are a part of the church. Through special exhibits and activities over the course of 3 weeks, members of the church learn more about important issues and ways God is working through the church’s many partner ministries. This year WRDA represented World Relief globally and locally as attention was focused on the refugee crisis in the Middle East.
A haunting display that depicts a bombed out building in one of the many Syrian cities now destroyed by the ongoing civil war, called attention to one little girl standing amid the rubble. She makes us think of the thousands of Syrian and other Middle Eastern children who have no memory of anything but war and violence, or of a life of fleeing for safety.
WRDA staff were on hand to share about the work of World Relief in Jordan, Turkey, Germany and other parts of the world to create “child friendly” spaces to give some children a place and a chance to be kids and step away from the horror and trauma of war. Classes of children and other members also learned about the work of World Relief, through offices like WRDA, in resettling refugees from Syria and other parts of the world who are accepted to come to the United States.
Then on Saturday, April 23, over 4,000 people participated in a 5K run named the “Run for Refugees”. Through this run, Willow Creek is partnering with World Relief and World Vision in this vital ministry. World Relief is thankful to partner with churches and other like-minded organizations as we take on the daunting challenges of our day.
Canon Andrew White knows firsthand about the persecution facing some Christians in the Middle East. Known as the “Vicar of Baghdad”, he served until November 2014, when circumstances made it impossible for him to continue, as the pastor of St. George’s Church, one of the largest in Iraq. On a recent trip to the U.S., Canon White and a colleague, Dr. Sarah Ahmet, with whom he now works as part of the Foundation for Relief and Reconciliation in the Middle East (FRRME), visited with the staff of WRDA.
“It was a tremendous honor to meet him in person. He’s such a courageous person who has been through so much,” said WRDA Sr. Employment Specialist Barb Galli. Equally inspirational were the thoughts shared by Dr. Ahmet, a female physician and a Muslim who is orchestrating FRRME’s operations in northern Iraq. Emily Mudge, WRDA Staff Attorney noted, “I liked her answer about if she thinks about serving people who are of a different faith than she is. She said she doesn’t think about it and it doesn’t change how she thinks about what she does for people.” Another staffer said “Dr. Sarah is so sharp, gentle-hearted despite the terror she has seen and experienced. How she loves her people is very inspiring.”
Canon White encouraged the staff of WRDA to spend time with the refugees who are resettled here, to share meals with them and really show them we care. This is always a strong staff desire, even in the midst of real time constraints of the day to day work tasks. As the world and media has turned its focus to the crisis in Syria and Europe, it is easy to forget that ISIS started their terror in Iraq. Many agencies, like the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and others, are not adequately funded to respond to the need. The work of Dr. Ahmet and Canon White is crucial for the internally displaced and the refugees still living in Iraq.
When a growing group of Chin Burmese Christians became too big to continue meeting together in homes, they began searching for a larger place. After finding some doors closed, they were welcomed by the Christ Community Church in Wheaton who began sharing their building. This church already had a history actively serving the refugee community through offering garden plots to refugees and hosting English conversation classes.
Over the past several years this partnership has continued to deepen and the Chin church has continued to grow as more refugees are welcomed and as the church has become a central part of the life of a thriving community. Eager to have a permanent home, the church began talking with the leadership of Christ Community Church about the future.
Talks and prayer have led to the signing of a contract between the two congregations that allows for the Chin church to work on a 5 year plan toward the purchase of the building and ushers in a new era in partnership that is impacting both congregations. “I love our Chin brothers and sisters, and believe that God is indeed introducing new wineskins into our midst, and I want to support that wherever possible,” said Caleb Smith, Pastor of Christ Community Church.
As they continue down the road to the final purchase of the building, the UCC held a special service of dedication and praise on April 3. We celebrate with them as they continue to make Wheaton home.