Testimonies for Epiphany: Refugee Settlement in Durham – Joe Adelman

Epiphany, the manifestation of Christ in the flesh.  Aren’t you glad that we do this epiphany thing together? We manifest the body of Christ together as we each make small decisions to serve others rather than ourselves.  It is so easy to go through a day and mindlessly serve ourselves. I have done that without effort for more days than I care to admit.  But in John chapter 4 we read that “Jesus had to pass through Samaria.”  This is a strange phrase loaded with intentionality.   Later it all makes sense when we read of his service to the Samaritan woman at the well.  Likewise, Thomas encouraged us last week to make conscious decisions to serve others and so live into our collective lives as the manifestation of Christ’s body.

Teri and I were first introduced to the needs of refugees in our community in 2010 when a couple who were volunteering with World Relief were moving away and encouraged us to take over their role as helpers for Saw Min and his family, refugees from Myanmar.  We stopped by Saw’s apartment in Oak Creek Village and after a few awkward meetings we slowly began to understand Saw’s broken English enough to assist his family with some of their practical needs.  We set up a TV and antenna so they could learn English and access children’s programs on UNC-TV.  We had them enrolled in English classes and we walked with them through a frightening medical emergency.  Over time a very comfortable relationship developed where Saw and his family could relax and visit with us or call us for advice when they did not understand something.  It was humbling to see how much this family had endured (persecution in their homeland, mistreatment and imprisonment in their country of refuge, and the birth of their only child in prison while Mom was on a starvation diet).  Yet they persevered and soon both held jobs at odd hours so one was always home with their child.

This past fall we were reminded once again of the needs of refugees and immigrants through Paul Watkins’ spiritual formations class: “Welcoming The Stranger: Discovering God’s Heart for Immigrants.”  Paul guided us through countless scriptures in every part of the Bible that declare God’s concern for the immigrants in our midst.

This class caused me to reconnect with World Relief Durham last month where I learned of their continuing need for volunteers in their mission to resettle and empower refugees in our community.  I agreed to work within All Saints to build Good Neighbor Teams.  These teams consist of 4 to 12 people (these could be individuals, families, or small groups) who commit to support the resettlement of a single refugee or refugee family.  They acquire the necessary items to furnish an apartment and then set up that apartment and purchase a week’s supply of food, often on short notice.  They greet the newcomers at the airport and transport them to their apartment and assist them with settling in.  They visit the newcomers once per week and assist with one or more resettlement tasks such as practicing language skills, acquiring medical care, or searching for employment.  The State Department provides a small stipend that supports a refugee family for about 90 days so the need for volunteers is great.

Refugees are a diverse group.  Teri and I taught English to an elderly lady from Napal who had never handled a writing instrument.  We also taught highly educated refugees from Egypt and Iraq who had to work menial jobs because their degrees were not recognized in the United States.

One neat aspect of this opportunity is that, as Christ’s body, the Good Neighbor Team works together to build relationships and empower a terribly vulnerable segment of our society.  No single person needs to do it all.  Everyone can contribute from their own unique talents and within their own available time.

During this epiphany season I encourage you to consider if this is one of those intentional decisions that would help you, your family, or your small group live into being the beautiful manifestation of Christ’s body.

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