By Christine Fifield, Communications Coordinator (written in collaboration with Ralph Berg, Refugee Support Team)
Over the past month, we have encouraged you to share your stories of compassion in action. In worship, we heard incredible stories of service, care, sadness, strength, resilience, and most of all, community. As member Elaine Foell explained in our recent video series, “You cannot be a community if you’re not connected.” Sharing and listening to our stories remind us that we are called to connect beyond the stained glass windows of our sanctuary and even the New Brighton city limits.
For the past 15 months, CtK’s Refugee Support Team—an expression of Social Ministry—has been actively connecting and accompanying a family of refugees from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Following its independence from Belgium in 1960, this country located in the center of the African continent has experienced sporadic periods of civil unrest, violence, and instability. Seeking a better life, the Murwarashyaka family fled the DRC to a refugee camp in Rwanda where they resided for many years. In the camp, oldest son Innocent broke his leg and had to spend six months in a hospital bed.
After Innocent’s leg healed, family matriarch Reniya and her five children (Dina, Innocent, Florance, John, and Dieudonnee) finally made their way to the US leaving their father behind in Rwanda. The four school-aged children are making great strides in their classes, adult daughter, Dina, has a part-time job, and Reniya is learning English while also searching for part-time work.
Adjusting to life in the United States is not without its challenges. While the three oldest children are handling part-time work and school successfully, the youngest feels a bit in over his head due to lack of education opportunities in the refugee camp. Language barriers and chronic pain continue to create significant challenges for Reniya as she tries to find work to support her family.
But, there is a great deal of hope. Not only has the oldest son Innocent’s leg healed from his injury in the camp, he now races as the star of the Como Park High School Cross Country team. On Saturday, Sept. 26, Innocent won the Roy Griak Invitational with a time of 16 minutes, 13 seconds—a win that landed him an article in the St. Paul Pioneer Press! “I was thinking (the leaders) have never been in the life that I’ve been through, so I’ve got to go,” Innocent said in the article. “That kept me strong. That’s how I won the Griak.” (You can read that complete story here). The family also joined us back in April 2015 for the Many Voices, One Mission concert where they sang in their native language, Kinyarwanda.
The story of this family is a part of the larger global narrative of displaced people. It seems that every day we are inundated with news from the Syrian refugee crisis, of the millions of people risking their lives in search of health, wellbeing, and safety for themselves and their families. Two thousand years ago, Jesus found himself in a surprisingly similar situation.
Fearing for the safety of their son under the reign of King Herod, Mary and Joseph took a young Jesus and fled to Egypt, a place where they did not know the land, the language, or its customs. Seeing that Jesus himself was a refugee, it’s not surprising then that in Matthew 25, Jesus calls us to welcome the stranger, caring for her in her hunger, thirst, sickness, and poverty. Furthermore, he said that when we welcome the stranger, we are welcoming Jesus himself.
In the face of massive crises, it’s easy to be overwhelmed, to throw up your hands and say, “I am just one person. What can I do?” Considering that there are refugees, strangers in our midst at this very moment, the question is not “What can I do?” but rather “What would Jesus do?”
I have a feeling he’d open the door and welcome them in.
If the story of this family and the work of our Refugee Support Team speaks to you, please contact Ralph Berg at firstname.lastname@example.org and ask how you can be a part of creating a community of support for refugees in our neighborhood.
Originally published in the November 2015 issue of the Herald. Read the complete issue.