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Share a new start with a refugee family this Advent
It is a particularly appropriate time of year to remember the plight of refugees, says Tom Van Laningham.
“Advent, according to the gospel of Matthew, is the season for immigrants and refugees,” said Laningham, Sponsorship Developer of RRISA (Refugee Resettlement and Immigration Services of Atlanta). “These people who come from afar bring us gifts.”
And the gifts a church receives from opening its heart to a refugee family are innumerable, says Hank Woolard, a member of Oak Grove UMC in Decatur.
“The first time a church goes down to Hartsfield-Jackson to welcome a family they’ll never forget it,” he said.
About five years ago, Woolard felt a call to reach out to refugees.
“I was reading and watching the news about the influx of refugees into Clarkston,” said Woolard. “I made appointments at five or six agencies that serve refugees. I was most impressed with RRISA, for their organizational structure, process, and that they were faith-based.”
Woolard made a presentation to the church council, and soon afterward the congregation was preparing to help resettle a refugee family.
Church members went through RRISA’s orientation/training session and began preparing to be the host church for a refugee family. They raised $3,000.
Through a special arrangement called “co-sponsorship,” RRISA takes all the legal responsibilities of resettling a family, then partners with churches that welcome the refugees, furnish their apartment, a provide support and friendship.
Each year RRISA helps resettle approximately 550 refugees from nations in turmoil or conflict.
“Refugees are survivors,” said Woolard. “They’ve been through it. And North Georgia Conference churches can help them become productive, taxpaying citizens. These are not people who are a burden on our society, they are a blessing.”
After about a month of working with that first family, the church invited them to a Wednesday night service.
“I introduced them, and the mother asked if she could say a word to the congregation,” said Woolard. “She spoke through a translator and it was a tear-jerker. It made such an impression on all of us.”
Now, five years later, the family is very successful. They moved from Clarkston to Alpharetta and have a son at Georgia Perimeter College.
Oak Grove’s most recent co-sponsored family, Kum and Sha Thang and their 10-month-old son Eliezer, came to the U.S. on Oct. 9 from Malaysia, where they had migrated from a refugee camp.
For Eliezer’s first birthday, the Oak Grove youth threw him a party.
“Saturday morning we had 18 youth come to the apartment,” said Woolard. “They brought gifts, cake, ice cream – you name it. Sha (the mother) expressed her appreciation to the youth of what a blessing it is to be in this country and to see her little boy beginning a new life. The name Eliezer means ‘hope’ and this is the life she had ‘hoped’ for him.”
Kum, the husband, began work last week.
“They have a lot of talent,” said Woolard.
For the rest of 2010 and 2011, RRISA has 30 families for co-sponsorship with the North Georgia Conference.
“Working with UMCOR Refugee Ministries, RRISA can help United Methodist congregations of any size share a new start,” said Van Laningham.
To learn more about how your church can be a part of refugee ministry, contact Tom Van Laningham at Tom@RRISA.org or call 404-622-2235, ext. 239.
Sybil Davidson is a staff member with the North Georgia Conference Connectional Ministries Office. She can be reached at email@example.com.
This article recently ran in the North Georgia Advocate, the official print source of the North Georgia United Methodist Conference. For more information about the North Georgia Advocate, or to subscribe, please visit www.ngumc.org/advocate or call 678.533.1376.