Across the Table: Ministry to Refugees
Each year, the Grand Rapids International Fellowship (GRIF) Church of the Nazarene in Grand Rapids, Michigan hosts an international potluck. This year, the church’s gym was filled to capacity with people from all over the world sharing singing, dancing, and food. The tables were crammed with both church members and refugees, those who have found this taste of heaven through one ministry: Community Link.
About 15 years ago, GRIF felt called to take action for God in their community. Church members began engaging closely with their community to assess local needs, meeting with nearly 20 agencies to determine areas where they might be able to help. They wanted to be sure they weren’t duplicating services already being offered.
The neighborhoods around the church have a large number of apartment buildings, and local resettlement agencies were housing people living as refugees there. The church decided caring for their neighbors was what they were being called to do. Today, that ministry is thriving, engaging more than 25 church volunteers weekly.
It is a highly relevant ministry: according to the Detroit Free Press, Michigan had the second-highest number of Syrian and Iraqi refugees from 2002 to 2018, coming in behind California. While the number of refugees entering the state has dropped significantly in the last few years, more than 40,000 refugees have been resettled there since 2002.
Each week, Community Link provides services to approximately 50 students. The largest facets of the ministry are weekday English language classes and job readiness skill classes. Joint Orientation classes are also offered to the newest refugees covering topics they most need to know as new residents. During the day, certified English as a Second Language (ESL) teachers run classes for three different skill levels. The teachers come through a partnership with Bethany Christian Services and Samaritas, two large resettlement agencies for refugee families in Grand Rapids.
The second set of English classes convene on Wednesday nights, open to all in the community. There, students study for citizenship and learn more skills to adapt to life in the United States. Volunteers might provide transportation to the doctor, help sign children up for school, practice driving, or join the students in various celebrations in their culture. These practical skills are vital for those who are learning new country procedures, languages, and culture. But that’s not all—the ministry also organizes trips to the zoo, botanical gardens, Lake Michigan, and more. Transportation and child care provided so there are no barriers to participation. They even off free swim lessons so that children can be safe in the lakes.
In the face of global issues, it’s easy to feel immobilized. How can we possibly find a practical application for God’s call to action for such massive problems? It may seem like a simple answer to say merely love others. But that’s exactly what GRIF is doing. Through Christ, all of God’s children are coming together around one table. As the Community Link Program Director Marsha DeHollander says, “When you sit across the table from a person from another country, when you are blessed to share their food, when you take someone to a Lake Michigan beach for the first time, when you watch our children grow up together … I believe God is pleased and He rejoices with us.”
“Community Link is this amazing community ministry that only God could orchestrate,” she adds. “It is my great honor and privilege to serve here.”
To learn more about Community Link, visit www.grifcommunitylink.org