Posts Tagged ‘refugees’

By Steve Blanchard. Photos by Steve Blanchard and Susan Brown.

Imagine you’re told without warning to leave your home. No time to do more than fill a bag with whatever possessions you can carry. You walk miles, perhaps hundreds of miles, to find a place that will take you in. This new home will likely be in a camp in another country. There will be all sorts of challenges – shortages of food, healthcare, sanitation, and safety. Or, maybe you are fortunate and find a better place but you know few people; you live in fear and worry about what happened to your friends and family back home.

After a while, you are given the chance to uproot again and move to a more permanent home but the problem is the wait can be long, maybe years. Finally, you are accepted by another country you’ve heard about almost all your life, some things positive, others negative. You gather your few belongings, borrow money from your host country to get there, and then land in a place where everything is foreign – the language, the culture, the people – the whole way of life. Now, it’s time to start your life again.

New AmericansThis is the background for most New Americans. Their old lives, professions, culture, and general way of life have been left behind. They find themselves dependent on the kindness and hospitality of a people they don’t know and of a government they don’t understand. Usually they receive three to six months of assistance from the government and resettlement agencies before they are left to fend for themselves. Imagine the worries, fears, obstacles, and isolation these New Americans feel. They have left familiar places, friends and family; they’ve often given up careers or success in school. Starting over is extremely difficult.

Richmond hosts approximately 300 refugees each year. This doesn’t include the hundreds, maybe thousands, of immigrants and international students who also call Richmond home. These immigrants may have been forced to leave home as well, but they journeyed here on their own accord. International students certainly do not have the challenges refugees and many immigrants deal with, but as immigrants, they may face loneliness, culture shock and homesickness.

New AmericansFirst Baptist, through the Ministry of Christian Compassion, reaches out to these refugees, immigrants and students with the love of Jesus Christ by helping them find not only basic necessities to begin their new lives but also support, friendship and guidance. In some cases, our church may be the only lifeline that an individual or family has or trusts. FBC takes this privilege seriously and encourages others to join us as we express our faith in God by loving the stranger in our land (Leviticus 19:33). And we rejoice in knowing that these are no longer strangers but are now our neighbors and friends.

As we celebrate World Refugee Day on June 20, we acknowledge and pray for the more than 10.2 million refugees worldwide. (This figure from the United Nations Refugee Agency does not include a full accounting of those in exile from recent conflicts in Syria and Africa.) At the same time, we give thanks for our new neighbors who bring their rich cultures and diverse backgrounds to our communities, making Richmond look a little more like the Kingdom of Heaven.

Steve BlanchardSteve Blanchard serves as FBC’s Associate Pastor for Compassion. He has a Master of Divinity from Union Theological Seminary and a Master of Arts in Christian Education from the Presbyterian School of Christian Education, and has served churches in Virginia, North Carolina and Georgia. Steve enjoys traveling and watching sports, especially the Duke Blue Devils. Steve and his wife, Susan, have two daughters, Molly and Menley, who are on top of his list of greatest joys and passions.

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(L-R) Becky Payne and Doris Pittman were among 30 FBC staff members who helped prepare gifts in December.

A Mixteca family enjoying their gifts.

Thirty members of the FBC staff spent a morning in December stuffing Christmas stockings, wrapping gifts, writing cards, and assembling gift baskets for some 300 homeless, disadvantaged and disenfranchised members of the Richmond community.

The gifts went to a number of places:

  • Twenty-two Mixteca immigrant families, with 78 children in south Richmond
  • Seven families, with 10 children at Fresh Start for Single Women
  • 105 community missions clients who participated in the homeless breakfast December 20
  • 80 Grace Fellowship participants
  • Nine children at the Rosy Grier Youth Pavilion
  • and five other families.

The effort was coordinated by the Ministry of Christian Compassion. Gifts and items for the baskets were donated by church members and Weekday Preschool parents and children. Other items were purchased with money given to Community Missions.

Mary Willis, daughter of FBC member LaVora Sprinkle, is the church’s “connection” with the Mixteca community. She has been working for several years with a few dozen families in the Mixteca community who live in a trailer park in south Richmond. She teaches English and helps the families with the basic necessities of living.

The Mixteca are indigenous to the southern, Pacific coastal region of Mexico. Mary grew up speaking Spanish, the daughter of Southern Baptist missionaries. But even she often has a challenge communicating with some of the families. They have their own language. Many of them speak a tribal dialect within the Mixteca language.

In addition to the Christmas gifts, FBC has helped Mary with providing English classes, making repairs to some of the homes, and providing other assistance to the Mixteca families.

(l to r) Lindsey McClintock, Ralph Starling, Jim Somerville, Mary Willis, and Steve Blanchard delivered gifts to the Mixteca families a few days before Christmas.

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