We had an informative class last Sunday about sponsoring a family of refugees. Louisa Merchant, who runs the refugee ministry at All Saints, was a good source of information and will continue to be a resource to us as we move forward. I also want to share with those who weren’t there Sunday the news that a family in the parish has given a $5,000 matching grant for us to do refugee ministry at St. Dunstan’s. That means they will match every dollar received up to $5,000. The “challenge” period goes until February 12. If you would like to make a contribution make a check to St. Dunstan’s and mark it for refugees.
We will have a meeting after church on January 29 for all who are interested in helping with this work. But I also want to share some information and clear up some questions now.
Those of you who were here eight or nine years ago may remember that we sponsored a family of refugees from Rwanda. There were some difficulties with the agency that we were working with, which I won’t belabor now, but I know that it was not a good experience for some who were involved. That agency no longer exists. The agency we’ll be working with now, New American Pathways, is a much larger and more capable group. The agency itself also does much more of the work now than previously.
In a nutshell, here is what is involved in sponsoring a family. The cost, which goes to the agency, is $2,500. The agency (not us) finds and leases an apartment (probably in Clarkson). They handle all the “sign ups” for government services — medicaid, food stamps, enrolling kids in school, etc. They find jobs for the adults. They offer English classes. In other words, they do most of the hard and critical work (which was not the case before).
Here’s what we do. We furnish the apartment. We meet the family at the airport and take them home to a hot meal. We teach them how to use MARTA. We provide tutoring in English (in addition to the classes they take). We take them to doctor’s appointments, to the grocery store, etc. We are their friends and advocates.
We agree that this relationship officially lasts three months. That is the obligation. It may last longer, depending on what kind of relationship is formed. But we are not obligated to take care of the family for life. The goal is for the families to be self-sufficient as quickly as possible. They are highly motivated, and New American Pathways has a very high success rate. Interestingly, only about 10 percent of the families they work with have church sponsors. Those families are the lucky ones because they get extra attention and tend to assimilate faster. But that also shows that what we do is over and beyond the basic necessities the families need.
I am very aware that for a small congregation we already do much outreach ministry. Some of it, like Family Promise, is very hands on and labor intensive, as will be sponsoring a refugee family. Our commitment to Family Promise remains. But I have gotten feedback from numerous people that they are also interested in doing refugee ministry. I don’t think they need to compete with each other.
Another question you may have is why do we need $5,000 or $10,000 if it only costs $2,500 to sponsor a family. Two answers to that. First, there may be other costs involved. For example, we may want to hire a translator the first few times we meet the family. Or we may want to rent a truck to pick up furniture and take it to the apartment. Having extra money allows us to do those things. Second, it gives us the option of sponsoring other families down the road. We’ll start with one. But next year we might do another. Again, this gives us that option.
Finally, here is my sermon from Sunday which talks about refugees and what our faith has to say about helping those who have fled in the night in fear of their lives.