August 28, 2018

Teaching the Class to Care for Refugees

On a cold February Sabbath afternoon, thirteen Religion, Social Work, Nursing and Dietetics students from Andrews University (AU) left campus with Bill Wells, ASAP Refugee Ministry coordinator, and his wife, Rahel, to meet the needs of some of the refugees who have resettled in the area. 

The group’s first stop was at the Bethany Christian Services agency in Kalamazoo which serves all of southwest Michigan in resettling, educating and mentoring refugees. The agency gave the group a list of names most in need of winter clothing, and then the group set off to meet the people they had come to help. The team provided physical and emotional warmth to four Congolese families, three of whom turned out to be Seventh-day Adventists. 

Before the trip, the students had collected, sorted and boxed winter clothing. They had convened for a training session in which Bill described the war in the Congo, which over the last 20 years has left 4.25 million Congolese displaced. The effect of this war was captured through a loss simulation exercise when they realized the horrible choices people were forced to make when they fled their country. Tears streamed down the students’ faces as they imagined a scenario of living quietly in their village in the Congo when soldiers burst into their house and murdered their family before their eyes. Nearly everything they own is stolen and they are forced to flee on foot for three weeks, sleeping on the ground, foraging for something to eat. By the time they arrive in an overcrowded “safe” place, they are exhausted, starved and traumatized. They don’t know why this happened or what they will do next. 

Student Nicole Walker, who visited with one of the Congolese families, discovered that one of the women had lived in Nicole’s hometown for a short while but couldn’t locate an Adventist church where she could worship while there. Nicole is determined that this won’t happen again wherever she happens to live after graduation and has committed herself to keeping an eye out for refugees around her.

At the close of the trip, the group spent an hour with a Muslim social worker and family who left Libya before the war. They have a burden to help refugees and are excited to have AU student participation. The rest of the winter clothing was left in their care to distribute as needed.

“I’m taking a class about Sabbath and how we should get to the point where we don’t want it to end,” said participant Jonathan Baker. “That’s how I felt today. Thanks for the opportunity; I hope we can do it again!” From feelings of anguish to joy, these 13 students will never look at a refugee with casual indifference again. 

Since 2003, more over 100,000 refugees have settled in the Lake Union territory and almost 7,000 Adventist Congolese have been brought to the U.S.

To find out how you can make a difference, please contact ASAP at 269-471-3026; we can direct you to an agency in your area.


Students and supporters pause to take a photo before delivering care packages to refugees in Grand Rapids, Michigan. | Courtesy of Bill Wells
Students and supporters pause to take a photo before delivering care packages to refugees in Grand Rapids, Michigan. | Courtesy of Bill Wells