Across the table: Michigan church ministers to refugees
When Grand Rapids International Fellowship Church of the Nazarene in Michigan discovered local resettlement agencies were placing refugees in apartment buildings near the church, they knew God was calling them to serve their new neighbors.
The church created Community Link, a ministry that provides services to approximately 50 students each week, including 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.
“Community Link is this amazing community ministry that only God could orchestrate,” said Marsha DeHollander, Community Link program director. “It is my great honor and privilege to serve here.”
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.
A second set of English classes convene on Wednesday nights, open to all in the community. There, students study for citizenship and learn skills to adapt to life in the United States. Volunteers might provide transportation for a visit 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.
The ministry also organizes trips to the zoo, botanical gardens, Lake Michigan, and more. Transportation and child care are provided so there are no barriers to participation. They even offer free swim lessons so that children can be safe in the lakes.
“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,” DeHollander said.
The ministry is thriving, engaging more than 25 church volunteers weekly to offer much-needed support. 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.
The church also hosts an international potluck each year, allowing people from around the world to share their music, dances, and food in a preview of heaven.