A few years ago, our church, Restoration Anglican Church in Plano, Texas, announced that we would begin ‘adopting’ refugee families who had recently arrived from Syria. A family of missionaries opened our eyes to the global refugee crisis and found a path for us to engage locally.
An organization in nearby Dallas called Gateway of Grace matches refugee families with churches who can provide support, resources, and relationships beyond the scope of social services.
My wife Emily and I waded in with some hesitation. Both of us work, we have two young boys at home, and we were already invested in other church activities. We wanted to serve, but we probably couldn’t commit to much.
So much for that idea.
Once we (and the other volunteers) met this incredible family of eight and saw their overwhelming need, we dove in.
At first, we were in ‘survival mode.’ We stood in long lines at public health clinics and sat in on parent-teacher conferences. We hauled furniture and tried to translate stacks of forms and bills. In the midst of this, though, friendships formed. It turns out, children don’t recognize language barriers—our kids played, sang, wrestled, and laughed alongside theirs. One ‘Google-translated’ phrase at a time, we grew to know them better.
Slowly, we learned more of their story. The husband, Hasaan, showed us pictures on his phone of the family home he’d built himself. It was leveled by a bomb just months after completion. In the bombing, his wife, Kholoud, was burned so badly she nearly lost her leg. They fled on foot with nothing, eventually settling in a tent city in Jordan for four years. No work, no school, no home.
Almost every time we met with the family, Kholoud would tell us that she wanted to sell her sewing. She had learned a little from missionaries in Jordan, and she thought she could help support the family in this way.
So, our little team went to work. Emily and Stacy (our rector’s wife) set up an online store. They took photos and found translators for Kholoud to set up her business. They created a bank account, found and purchased discounted materials, and began taking orders. Some of the older women from the church helped hone Kholoud’s skills and picked out projects that might sell—blankets, placemats, table runners, and more.
It wasn’t charity. Our team contributed to get the business rolling, but Kholoud was easily able to cover those costs from her profits. She began selling in November of 2016 and during that holiday season, Kholoud made enough to cover her family’s living expenses while Hasaan was between seasonal jobs. They wouldn’t have made it without her.
Our team was proud to help them from the beginning, and we enjoyed becoming part of their new lives here in America. But our joy overflowed when we witnessed the transformation of Kholoud—a small business owner.
More than anything else, the war in Syria had taken away her agency. It had taken away her ability to love and serve her family in the most tangible ways. Now, here she was, in a strange land, sending her children away each day to schools filled with strangers, dependent on strangers for basic needs.
But through the work of our little team—and the redemptive, restorative grace of God which always precedes us—Kholoud and her family are beginning to flourish. Ennobled and equipped, Kholoud attends every available English class; she’s almost fluent now. She worked tirelessly this summer to pass her driver’s test so that she could take her kids to school. Last month, she attended parent-teacher conferences without a translator— she can tell you all six children’s grades in every subject. With the money her business earned this year, Kholoud is saving for a washer and dryer. Next year, she hopes to send her profits back home to her family still trapped in war-torn Syria.
We will walk with them and pray for them through all this and more—because that’s what friends do.
Our church isn’t the only church engaged in this work. I’ve heard from many others with their own stories of redemption and love. It’s my prayer that even more churches will find local agencies like Gateway of Grace who can help them begin to serve refugees in their own cities.
God is breaking new ground in the lives of those who have fled unimaginable suffering to become our neighbors. When you come to know and love them as your neighbor, I can tell you from experience that God will break new ground in your heart as well.
The Rev. Kolby Kerr serves as the teaching pastor of Restoration Anglican Church in Richardson, Texas, where he lives with his wife Emily and his two boys, Beckett and Samuel. He is also the Assistant Director of LeaderWorks, a nonprofit organization that supports Anglican church leaders. He regularly posts on www.leaderworks.org and contributes to www.anglicanpastor.org.