By Caitlyn Furr
As a first year M.Div. student at Candler School of Theology at Emory University, I am required to take a Contextual Education (“Con Ed”) course. All students select one out of thirteen sites, and remain “interns” at that site for the entirety of the first seminary year. We spend four hours each week ministering in our unique Con Ed settings, and also participate in a weekly reflection group with our peers and the site leader.
For my Con Ed site, I chose “Friends of Refugees,” which is a family literacy program that teaches English as a Second Language to refugees from all over the world. The school is located in Clarkston, Ga., which is in the Metro-Atlanta area, and Clarkston is known for housing thousands of refugees. We meet in the Clarkston International Bible Church, where certified English as a Second Language teachers instruct classes comprised of refugee women who have a varying degree of familiarity with English.
The school also teaches the women important American life skills, such as how to navigate the justice system, how to become a United States citizen and how enroll in social programs like Medicaid. One of the goals of the program is to reach beyond literacy, and to provide the refugee families with resources that they may not be able to find elsewhere.
Friends of Refugees is unique because, unlike any other refugee literacy program, this program provides childcare. Many refugee women are unable to learn English when they arrive in the United States because their children are too young to attend school and childcare is expensive. At Friends of Refugees, while the mothers learn English, we work with the young children to aid in their development and immerse them in the language, as well.
In addition to our time onsite and in reflection, my Con Ed group is taking an Introduction to Pastoral Care class. We are able to discuss the specifics of our site in class, and immediately apply what we learn in the classroom when we return to the site. The combination of the site hours and classroom time is incredibly enriching and relevant to my current life and ministry, and my fellow students and I have the opportunity to learn and benefit from each other.
Although I have only spent a short time ministering at Friends of Refugees, it has already impacted me greatly. The material we teach to the refugees at the school is not overtly religious, but the love of God is powerful within the walls. We are learning to minister to people who have backgrounds very different from our own, and may never have heard the Good News. We share the love of God with wounded women and children who truly need to be cared for. I have already learned a lot and grown to love the women and children, and I hope to help them improve their lives holistically.
Caitlyn Furr is a first year M.Div. student at the Candler School of Theology at Emory University in Atlanta, Ga., and the Church Engagement Intern with CBF Global Missions. Caitlyn received her undergraduate degree in Public Policy from the College of William and Mary, and spent two years working in health policy in Washington, D.C., before moving to Atlanta for seminary.