As with most Sunday School classes, my class started looking for a service project — something where we could “give ourselves away in generosity and service.” You know, “The Inside-Out Habits”—that is not just a slogan for St. Luke’s. Well, I guess it is, but it has become the mentality of the members of our church. Co-sponsoring a refugee family is a big commitment, especially for a class as small as ours. We did not want to fail in such an important endeavor.
Since this was our first attempt, we asked if we could sponsor a family of four with school age children. We were hoping they would know some English. When we received word that a family was coming in—there was a mother and two children, knowing little English. We could sponsor this family or wait for another family to arrive. The response from our class was pretty quick—we all felt that this family probably needed our help more because the mom was by herself.
As had been discussed by Interfaith Ministries (IM), the week before our family’s arrival was a frenzy of activity. Was it a coincidence, or was it God’s timing that made everything fall into place? Because of an array of circumstances, members of our class were able to donate not only enough furniture for the whole apartment, but virtually everything else the family might need, including a full pantry and even a hot meal waiting for them in their apartment when they arrived. Our class worked very well together.
Those of us who were able to be at the airport knew that we had made the right decision. As we waited with the representatives from IM, we would hold up a large sign that said “Welcome” in a common language of their country whenever people flowed from the doors leaving customs. As we stood there, a security guard for the airport walked up to us and said “that is the language of my country.” Finally, our family came through those doors. They were quiet and reserved. We brought the children gifts to welcome them and gave the mom a prayer shawl from St. Luke’s. However, we all felt a kind of sadness as we watched another refugee family leaving customs with no one to welcome them.
What have we done since then? We stepped out of our comfort zones! We were with the mom when she saw her children off for their “first day” of school last April. We were with her as tears flowed as the school bus pulled away. We have bought school clothes and supplies, taken them to parks, the library, grocery store, doctor’s appointments, swimming. The class took them to an Ethiopian restaurant for lunch and to an Astros baseball game. We helped the mom sign up for ESL classes and practiced English with her. We brought extra food and flashlights and batteries the night before Harvey.
Our class’s sponsorship has had a significant impact both on us and on our refugee family. We have become protective of them. And they trust us. I also have a new respect for the members of the Outreach Ministries and the members of our Open Arms Class. The impact on my own life has been surprising. Even though I feel like I don’t have time, I find myself volunteering: being a Kid’s Hope Mentor; helping at Gethsemane weekly; helping with the flood victims; even to co-lead a LIFT Group. But it is not about the time; it is about getting out of my comfort zone and giving myself away in generosity and service. Those nudges from God that people talk about—they are real.