Paul Metzger asked me to speak at the John 17:23 Network meeting tonight, which focused on refugees. I was honored to share the story of our friendship with Sudan refugees from North Portland — Jima and Wang’s—family, as well as the larger Sudanese Portland connection. It has been neat these past four years having the opportunity to reach out and seeing our church and community members reach out as well. And, my daughter Rachel was such an inspiration to do more than “just reach out” to Jima’s family. She wanted to go beyond, into the sphere of friendship.
And friendship just takes–plain and simply–time. We invited Jima and his family into our home to share Christmas and Easter. They have joined us for church services and we invited the kids over for weekends with us. The kids have come on camping trips with us and gone on hikes, and we took the mom and the kids to the beach. The mom had never felt sand between her toes or watched the waves of the ocean splash against the shores. Our kids have become friends with the Sudan kids. Jima went to Bible study with my daughter and son Ryan every week, and Jima heard me say “Read Your Bible, say your prayers” when I tucked the kids in at night.
Rachel helped organize sports camp for Jima’s siblings and neighborhood kids who lived at the apartment complex and we’d bring the youth group over for basketball games. I’d go over to help cook with Jima’s mom and to take her shopping for food and to look for jobs. She had such broken English.
But, as I shared tonight, not every story has a Hollywood, Blindside movie ending. Hard times came upon this refugee family due to a variety of circumstances. And the neighborhood they lived in proved to be too much for one of the kids to resist the gangs. That is the sad part of the story. I got teary eyed sharing the story of one of our friends getting shot by gang members and his brother retaliating. It is heartbreaking. It is heartbreaking when you are friends with someone, to see them choose a different path. . . .
. . .They have moved away since then, and I sobbed as I wrote good-bye letters to each of the seven children before they left last year. . . .And now we are trying to reach out to other Sudan refugees we met through Jima’s family. One of the families is represented by Peter, who came to tonight’s meeting. It was great to have him share for a few moments. Peter’s statement, “Because of Christianity, I came to America,” was powerful.
I was grateful also that my friend Gerry Winfield was able to share tonight about how he reached out to our Sudan refugee friends. Gerry started off telling us about his growing up years in Mississippi and the journey that brought him to Oregon. A gifted story teller, Gerry’s perspective as a social worker shed important light on social issues, and how children just want to be “home.” I loved his humor when he corrected my statement regarding how he “took Wang to the hairdresser” – “Cornelia, it’s not the hairdresser that I took Wang to—it’s the barber!”
Later, Central Bible Pastor Ahmed Iya began his talk quoting from Acts 1:8, which says that we should be “Christ’s witnesses to the ends of the earth,” “but we do not need to go to the ends of the earth anymore, because the ends of the earth have come here!” And Pastor Ahmed’s “here is the church, here is the steeple, open the door and see all the people” hand-motion analogy was a great visual reminder that it is time for people to get out of the church and into the world, reaching refugees with the love and message of Christ. And, to be a friend!
And Paul Metzger sent us on our way, quoting Frederick Douglass, the 19th century American slave turned abolitionist leader and author, who said to “agitate.” (We read Frederick in the American Lit class I taught at Multnomah last year!)
The word “agitate” reminded me of a conversation this week with Pastor Turner (who could not be there tonight). The conversation was with Paul Metzger and Pastor David Stevens as well, and Pastor Turner asked us what our purpose was for the meeting tonight. What is our action point going to be, Pastor Turner wondered? What are we going to do about what we talk about tonight, he challenged.
Great reminder. Discussion leads to dialogue and networking. Pastor Stevens had suggested I be a contact person for the Sudan refugee connections, which Paul announced tonight. We are very grass roots but would love people to join us. Peter’s family has a wide connection and many needs in the Sudan community there.
I shared a passage tonight from Jeremiah 5:1 “Roam to and fro…and seek if you can find a man, if there is one who does justice…” God is looking for people to do justice. And I also shared, Jeremiah 22:16, about “pleading the cause of the afflicted.” Will we plead the cause of the refugee?