By Matt and Jordan McGuire
Early one Thursday morning, we pulled into the parking lot of an apartment complex in an area of Louisville, Kentucky, that is oftentimes overlooked. We were among a small group of folks from area churches who drove four Syrian families to Kentucky Refugee Ministries for their first orientation class. We were some of the first Americans they had met, and they were putting their trust in us to drive them an unknown distance to an unknown place.
We could sense their anxiousness, as they had just arrived in America the previous night. Though it was a relatively short drive, it seemed to take hours due our inability to communicate. We quickly made an emotional connection, however.
The children peered out the windows as we passed many restaurants and stores—there was curiosity in their eyes. What was so foreign to these families was home to us, and we couldn’t wait to play a role in helping them make our home their home.
We could never have imagined the Lord would lead us to this place. How was it possible that for many years we didn’t know Louisville accepted thousands of refugees every year? There are areas in Louisville where hundreds of different languages are spoken. The Lord is providing opportunities to engage with the nations in our own backyard.
For the last few years, members from multiple churches in Louisville have helped teach English on Sunday afternoons in a park in the middle of an apartment complex. We simply called it “English in the Park.” Learning English is a huge need for many of the refugee families that are coming into the United States. Providing help in this area has been a great way to build relationships with families as they move into the surrounding apartments. In the process of teaching English, many of us have learned Arabic words.
Meeting with these families in the park each week has allowed us to hear about where they came from. Many of the stories are filled with the loss of family members, homes, and identity. We quickly realized that seeing these families on Sunday evenings wasn’t enough, and so many of the volunteers would visit families throughout the week to help with kids’ homework, take people to doctor visits, and just continue to build relationships.
There are many perceived barriers to serving refugees that deter people from coming alongside to help. The biggest barrier is fear. Whether individual American Christians agree with our nation’s immigration policy or not, the immigrants and refugees are here, and the church has an amazing opportunity (and a command) to reach out to those who would otherwise be difficult to reach with the gospel. It would be easy to give in to fear and indifference, but God has called us to love the foreigner.
Our refugee ministry began when we participated in a weekend service trip with Refuge Louisville, which helps mobilize local churches to reach out to serve refugees throughout the city. When we learned we would be spending time with Iraqis, we experienced fear in our own hearts. We prayed that our hearts would be open, and God was faithful.
One evening during the trip, we entered an apartment to share a meal with an Iraqi family. They shared everything they had with us. They were hospitable. They were kind. They were tired. They needed friendship and love. They were human.
The barriers came crumbling down. Our hearts shattered in repentance, and our desire to serve these families grew.
Another barrier to refugee ministry has been bringing together multiple churches to meet the needs. Churches will sometimes mark their territory, but this is not conducive to bringing about lasting change within a city.
We are blessed to have organizations like Refuge Louisville to help bring churches together for the purpose of serving refugees. Because of what Refuge Louisville does, we have been able to partner with many churches in our city to serve refugees as one body.
Satan has been the final barrier, for he does not like the type of work we are doing. Gathering to pray has been of utmost importance to our success. We could always do better in this regard, but we have seen the Lord’s purposes flourish as we have spent time praying against Satan and his schemes.
We can often forget that prayer is just as important as spending time in a refugee’s home. We have seen God work in amazing ways as we have gathered together to pray.
God is moving among refugees, and he allows us to be a part of his work. It has been such a privilege and honor to join God in this work, and to share in the hope and salvation we have in his Son. We are often reminded of Jesus’ words, “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:31).
Matt McGuire serves as community pastor with Southeast Christian Church, Louisville, Kentucky. Jordan McGuire serves as director of engagement and care at Life In Abundance, also in Louisville.