A group from the Ann Arbor church took a group of Afghan refugee women to shop for clothes and necessities.
One chilly Friday afternoon last fall, Karen Yang saw two young men walking toward the bus stop. She recognized one of from her church and pulled over to offer a ride. Vincent, a refugee from Rwanda, had been going to the Ann Arbor Church and he was with Sherif who was newly arrived from a Rwandan refugee camp. She took the teens to their temporary home, a hotel, and met the new family.
When she arrived, the family appeared anxious and worried. Karen decided to invite them to attend church the next day and offered to take them. They brightened at the invitation and quickly agreed to go. Since most Christians don’t attend church on Saturday, their response seemed a little too favorable. “Are you Adventists?” Karen asked. “Yes!” was their response.
The Ann Arbor church warmly welcomed the family. Other Rwandan families embraced them; the church provided the family with winter clothing, shoes, blankets, and more. Through the generous sponsorship of a church member, the youngest son enrolled in the Ann Arbor Adventist Elementary School.
Karen began to visit the Rwandan family more frequently at the hotel and met other refugees who noticed the Rwandan family seemed less distressed. Some of the Afghan refugee families were exasperated, trying to keep their children occupied for a month or two, with nothing for little ones to do in a cramped hotel room.
A few days before Thanksgiving, Daniel Rodriguez, the new pastor of Ann Arbor, suggested that the church provide a meal for the refugee families staying at the hotel. Fifteen Rwandan and 17 Afghanistan refugees came for the Thanksgiving dinner.
Providentially, God sent translators for each group to understand what the pastor said in his short talk and prayer in the school gym. The Afghan families were incredibly grateful their children could run and play in the gym and shared a speech of thanks at the end.
Later, a group took the Afghan refugee women to purchase clothing and things from a second-hand store. Members took the children to the public library to borrow books and play at the playground. Karen and Pastor Rodriguez connected with the Plymouth Adventist Community Services to select items the families would need for their new place. An agency in Ann Arbor soon found apartments for the families.
A few events opened the door of trust between Karen and the refugee families. Through Google translate, Karen was able to take the Rwandan youth and the Afghani men to rake leaves at homes surrounding the Ann Arbor church.
Karen would knock on the door, introduce herself as a member of the Ann Arbor Adventist church and explain that the refugees wanted to rake leaves on a donation basis. The neighbors not only gave generous donations but brought out jackets, suits, winter shoes, hats, gloves, and good wishes for their resettlement. The day was a blessing in many ways: the community became aware of the church’s refugee ministry, and refugees earned money for needed items. Karen took the men out again when it snowed, and offered to shovel for donations.
The refugees were very happy to receive compassion from the community as they served them, plus the side blessing of making an income. Karen told the refugees that those who live by the Word of God, especially Adventists, want to be blessings to others, even those not of the same faith.
Karen says: “I rejoice in the refugee ministry. The new Rwandan family started a Bible study twice weekly. We open the Scripture and let the Holy Spirit move. If no translator is available, we use Google Translate.
“The seven young people have become enthusiastic and interested in the life of Christ Jesus. They said that their family is praying together every evening for worship now, and Jesus has become real to them.
“The Holy Spirit may not call us to go to Rwanda or Afghanistan as a missionary, but brought them close to our home to share the love of Jesus and the gospel to preach.”
Karen Yang, a retired nurse, is family ministry director of the Ann Arbor Church. The church’s refugee ministry was started three years ago and continues to grow. They now minister to 12 Rwandans and 25 Afghans.