The Family Had Been Scheduled to Arrive in Michigan on September 14, 2001
UMCOR's Advance Story of the Month for March 2002 is about Genesis United Methodist Church's ministry with refugees in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Please support UMCOR's Global Refugee Response, Advance #982540-1.
Prayer: God of open arms, we pray for refugees and displaced people who have no home and know no welcome. You commanded your people to welcome the stranger and show hospitality to sojourners in their land. We thank you for congregations who are welcoming refugees into their community and helping them create a new home. In your eyes there are no strangers; we are all your children. Inspire us as we work for a world where everyone will have a place they can call home, a place where they are welcome. In Christ we pray. Amen.
John and Sarah have been waiting for a new home for years. They are of the Nuer tribe, one of the most persecuted tribes in Southern Sudan. They are Protestant Christians and farmers. The Nuer's homeland is rich in oil deposits and therefore sought after by the warring factions of Sudan. John and Sarah and their family were forced to flee the ongoing war and have been living as refugees in Kampala, Uganda for the past few years.
They were scheduled to fly to their new home in Grand Rapids, Michigan, on September 14, 2001 where the Genesis United Methodist Church was waiting to welcome them. But the events of September 11 put their plans on hold. After the 11th, the United States government cancelled all refugee arrivals and has given extra scrutiny to African and Middle Eastern refugees. John and Sarah and their family: sons Michael (10) and David (8), daughter Nyamuoc (4) and John's brother Michael (18), are still waiting for their flight to be rescheduled. The United States government has said that they are committed to having John and Sarah and other refugee families like them come soon, but they have not said how soon.
The members of Genesis United Methodist Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan are also waiting, eager to welcome this Sudanese family to their new home. Genesis is a new church, just six years old. They have not had the perilous experience of being refugees, but they have known what it is like to not have a permanent home in their brief history. They also know how fortunate they are and take to heart the Biblical teaching "to whom much has been given, much will be required." Three years ago they welcomed a Bosnian family. This time, they wanted to respond to a part of the world with even greater suffering and decided to sponsor a Sudanese family. A family in the church has bought the house next door to them and is offering it to John and Sarah as their new home. The children will have next-door neighbors close in age to play with, and their school will be right across the road.
At a Genesis UMC worship celebration a few years ago, Bedrije Mahmuti (left) from Bosnia speaks with the Rev. Chris Lane (center) and Bishop Don Ott (now retired). The congregation helped Bedrije and her family resettle in the U.S. Now Genesis church is waiting to welcome a second refugee family from Sudan as soon as the U.S. government grants them permission to travel. Photo: Courtesy of Jackson Photography and Design.
Co–pastor of Genesis UMC, Chris Lane, said the congregation keeps the family in their prayers and hearts during this time of waiting, and they have used these past few months to gather extra household items for the family. In December, the 5th and 6th grade Sunday school class sent a care package to the family in Uganda. Included were photos of Michigan and their new home that was waiting for them. They included pictures of snow and the assurance that they had warm coats for them. There were also pictures of members of the church family.
John and Sarah and their family received the package and sent the Genesis church the following letter in reply:
Dear Friends in Christ,
We greet you in the name of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. We hope that you are well and leading good health. We are here to inform you that the letters and pictures which you sent to us we have received them on 18th January, 2002 in good condition. We are very pleased and praising our Lord for his Love in which you revealed to us. Everybody here is happy and praising the Lord our God for what you have done to us. We really have delayed due to the closing of the way, but now it has been opened again. So we hope very soon we shall meet. We also request your prayer to pray for our journey so that God could make it possible for us to reach as we all desired. May the Lord's name be praised. God bless all of you. Thanks,
Yours in Christ
We love you all from,
John and Sarah's family
Rev. Lane said, "We still have the porch light on for this family. Waiting for them is one of our spiritual tasks!"
Refugees and the agencies who arrange for their arrival and sponsorship have been greatly affected by the aftermath of September 11th. Almost no refugees arrived in the fall and winter months of 2001 and 2002. But there is hope that the wait will soon be over. 20,000 refugees have been approved for resettlement in the US and are awaiting permission to travel. The Bush administration has said that they are committed to bringing 70,000 refugees during 2002 and government agencies are taking steps to speed up the process.
UMCOR has many ministries with refugees and immigrants, assisting with resettlement and offering legal assistance through Justice for Our Neighbor clinics. Since September 11 the needs of refugees and immigrants have increased, and their situations have become more tenuous. They need assistance now more than ever. Please support these ministries by giving to UMCOR's Global Refugee Response, Advance #982540-1.
For local church and annual conference credit, give your gift through your local United Methodist Church. Be sure that the project name and Advance code number appear on the memo line of your check. Gifts may also be sent directly to: UMCOR, 475 Riverside Dr., Room 330, New York, NY 10115. Credit card gifts may be made online or by calling (800) 554-8583.