By Carla Davis
Sheer out-of-this-world luck. That’s what Abdelhamid thought when he learned he was selected by lottery for an elusive U.S. visa and green card. So many around the world apply every year, and so few win. Quickly, Abdelhamid and his wife, Laila, packed up their life in Morocco and eventually settled in Houston, Texas, where the first people they met were Butch and Nell Green.
For the Greens, who serve as Cooperative Baptist Fellowship field personnel in Houston, this new friendship was not about luck.
“God today has brought the world to our doorsteps,” Butch said. “Refugees, immigrants and international students are our neighbors, and we have a responsibility as Christians, as churches, to reach out with the love of Christ.”
To Abdelhamid and Laila, that love looked like being there to pick them up from the airport when they first arrived, giving them a place to stay until they found an apartment and helping provide necessities for their first home in America.
“[The Greens] were our start here in America,” Abdelhamid said. “They have done their best to help us. Without such people life would be worthless.”
Embracing a global neighborhood
Every year, tens of thousands of people like Abdelhamid and Laila move to the United States. Some are international students who study for a few years and return to their home country. Some are immigrants who choose to relocate for employment or family. And others are refugees who are forced to resettle because of violence, poverty or other unrest in their own country.
“We have to realize that God is not only giving us an opportunity in this migration, but a blessing,” Nell said. “Our churches will be better for seeing it, embracing it and reaching into it.”
In Houston alone, an estimated 2,500 refugees resettle every year. Most start with little to nothing, arriving with only the clothes on their back. Agencies like Interfaith Ministries for Greater Houston (IMGH) help transition refugees to their new home by providing assistance with housing, English and culture classes, job placement and basic needs like furniture and kitchen utensils. The Greens partner with IMGH and serve as cultural guides and emotional support for new refugees.
“They come with a lot of questions, expectations and fear — but also a lot of hope,” said IMGH program assistant Lizeth Zavala. “They’ve been through so much that they’re willing to start a new life.”
But starting anew can be tough. Resettlement agencies often help during a refugee’s first three months in the United States. After that, “too often they’re just left floundering,” Nell said. Most still need help finding jobs, learning English, getting around town and understanding American culture.
Christians and churches can help fill this void, and part of the Greens’ ministry is equipping individuals and congregations to do just that. Tallowood Baptist Church, a CBF-partner congregation in Houston, has collected furniture for refugee families and school supplies for refugee children. Church members have also made welcome baskets filled with food and other gifts.
“No matter who you are, everybody wants to be needed, welcomed and feel comfortable in their new environment,” said Tallowood member Debbie Connally, who also teaches English classes for refugees.
Just across the city another CBF partner, South Main Baptist Church, is also reaching out to its global neighbors. When a young Muslim woman visited South Main and wanted to know more about Christianity, Amy Grizzle Kane, the church’s minister to adults, called on Nell as a resource.
“Nell and I took the young woman to lunch to get to know her and talk with her more about her faith. It was phenomenal the way and the depth that Nell could connect with her,” Kane said. “It’s really a wonderful testimony to the missions work that CBF is doing when we can participate with field personnel and see ministry at work.”
Reaching out to Muslim neighbors
Many of the people the Greens minister among are Muslim. An estimated 150,000 and counting Muslims call Houston home, and the Greens have experience and a passion for empowering churches to reach out to their often-misunderstood Muslim neighbors.
“Muslims are real people with real feelings,” Butch said. “They laugh. They cry. They want the best for their families. They want the best education for their children. They want to have a good life — to be a part of the community.”
Many members of Clear Lake Baptist Church in Houston would now agree. When the church offered a video simulcast on how to reach out to their Muslim neighbors, they didn’t expect 50 local Muslims to come that night. At the end of the presentation, the audience looked so perplexed that pastor Glenn Young invited the Christians and Muslims to turn to each other and just ask questions.
“We dismissed and for the next hour my congregation sat and discussed their faith with these members of Muslim mosques,” Young said. “I had a lady in my congregation that came to me and said, ‘I loved this event. I see Muslims around me all the time; I never spoke to one until last night.’ Since that time, it’s just opened the door to new relationships.”
And God often opens those doors at just the right time. Like the Christmas that the Greens brought a young Iranian international student to church for the first time. They looked over during worship and saw her crying. Later she said it was the most moving experience she had ever had.
Responding to needs
For the many refugees, immigrants and international students who come to Houston with dreams, there are some for whom Houston is a living nightmare. The major transportation hubs that make Houston a center for diversity also make it a center for human trafficking (also known as modern-day slavery). It is estimated that one in four human trafficking victims in the United States pass through Houston at some point in their trafficked life — whether it’s through the major port, international airport or Interstate 10.
A mile from Interstate 10, designated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation as a human trafficking corridor, is Tallowood Baptist Church, where church member Robin Moore leads a prayer group that meets on the 10th day of each month at 10 a.m., right in front of Interstate 10.
“Some call it the major slave route for trafficking, and we know that it is an unseen battle that we cannot solve on our own,” Moore said. “So we gratefully rely on God to end it and to allow us to participate.”
The Greens help educate churches on human trafficking and what they can do — whether it is praying, advocacy or creating care packages for law enforcement officials to distribute among potential trafficking victims.
“We live in a day where we can do something about it,” Nell said. “And that’s what I hope to do through the very small efforts and partnerships we have, is make a difference that will finally once and for all end slavery.”
Gifts that make ministry possible
For all the life-changing ministry the Greens are part of in Houston, none of it would be possible without individuals and churches who give to the CBF Offering for Global Missions that supports the Greens and 130 other CBF field personnel.
“When somebody comes into my home and sees 15 international students there for dinner, that’s the Offering. When somebody walks through my garage and picks up a Farsi-English Bible, that’s the Offering. When somebody sees me on a Monday afternoon teaching English, that’s the Offering,” Nell said. “The CBF Offering for Global Missions gives me the tools to invest in these relationships.”
So, please give to the CBF Offering this year but do not stop there, Nell said. Give of yourself — whether it is among internationals or others in your community. “That, too, is the greatest contribution.”
Please support the CBF Offering for Global Missions. You may make a financial gift here.