By Marc Wyatt
We got ourselves dressed, grabbed a cup of coffee and set out for church like we do every Sunday. Only this time we weren’t going to be sharing our stories with folks interested in our ministry to internationals.
No, this Sunday, we were traveling to Winston-Salem to be participants of Peace Haven Baptist Church’s ministry on Refugee Welcome Sunday. Arriving early, we were greeted warmly by friends and asked where we might greet Pastor Nathan. “He’s on the road picking up our refugee guests with Jean Claude in the Salvation Army’s mini-bus,” we were told. So we tried to make ourselves useful by opening the door to folks and helping carry homemade covered dishes and bags of warm clothing that would be shared by the beloved community over the next hours of fellowship.
And then they arrived.
Three white Salvation mini-buses filled with newly arrived refugees. The VIP’s excitedly made their grand entrance into the church, young and old, dressed in their finest. A parade of joyful children of God aged 7 months to 70 years old, men, women and children who had fled persecution, suffering and death were now safe, beginning new lives in a new land far from home.
The sanctuary was filled. There was not a seat in the house as the worship leaders entered the sacred room carrying cross, candle and Holy Scripture. Nathan and Pastor Jean Claude orchestrated the holy service so that all present were able to hear, sing and dance in their heart language. The theme of peace was proclaimed from the words of Jesus, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” (John 14:27) One of the highlights of the morning worship was when the Congolese children shared sacred traditional African songs and dance with the congregation.
After worship we all made our way to the fellowship hall for a delicious bounty of home-cooked covered dishes and amazing desserts prepared by the loving hands of Peace Haven’s finest chefs. Of course the children beat me through the line so all the deviled eggs were gone before I had my turn. We all ate our fill and enjoyed meeting our neighbors around the tables.
And then, like Christmas and your birthday all rolled up into one, it was time for the clothing give away.
I was instructed to help the ladies in charge by standing at the doorway to what used to be the church library and told to allow a dozen or so folks in at a time so that everyone could be helped with their shopping and trying on of lightly used fashions. Skeptical, I agreed.
As you might imagine, I was able to hold the line for exactly 1 minute before the enthusiastic shoppers overpowered me like it was Black Friday at Wal-Mart. And then it was on. Every coat, pair of shoes, pair of pants, sweater, pair of gloves, hat and even the 50 or so Beanie Babies neatly placed around the Peace Haven Baptist Boutique was gone. While the clothing drive ladies did their best to help every shopper, you could tell on their faces that what was happening was very much out of their control.
And then it was over.
Everyone who wanted something had gratefully received it. Our special guests were happy. The clothing drive ladies were happy. The giveaway had been a tremendous success.
Nathan gave a call to leave and the parade of worshipers carrying bags and bags of new fashions joyfully made their way back on their assigned buses and the excitement of the morning began to return to a quieter volume in the church. We all waved to our new friends and fellow pilgrims as the three bus caravan of white Salvation Army mini-buses made their way back toward the homes and apartments of our refugee guests.
On our drive back to Raleigh we reflected on the experiences of the day. We first met our friends at Peace Haven Baptist Church while on an off field assignment in 2006. Back then we were warmly greeted as we shared our stories of ministry among internationals in Canada. Since then, the church has been one of our strongest supporters, continuing to pray for us and sending generous gifts to help support our ministry.
Now, not quite 10 years to the day, they are sharing their story of ministry with internationals with us, here in North Carolina. God in his amazing timing has brought the world to the church and the beloved community has welcomed them wholeheartedly: fixed them lunch, gave them warm clothes and has begun to learn to sing with them a new song and dance with them a new dance to his glory and majesty. Praise be to God.
Marc and his wife Kim serve as CBF field personnel ministering with internationals in the Research Triangle of North Carolina.