June 21, 2016
By Aaron Weaver
DECATUR, Ga. — “I was a stranger and you welcomed me.”
These words from Jesus in the 25th chapter of the Gospel of Matthew ring especially true for Kim and Marc Wyatt. For the past 20 years, the Wyatts have been living into the richness of Christ’s command as they have loved and welcomed immigrants, refugees and international students as Cooperative Baptist Fellowship field personnel.
From ministry with Burmese refugees in Thailand to assisting asylum seekers in Canada to serving refugees in the rapidly-growing and diverse Research Triangle of North Carolina, the Wyatts have devoted their missionary journey to mobilizing congregations to welcome their new neighbors with the love of Jesus Christ.
Their most recent “welcome” has come to two Syrian families — some of the first to be resettled in the Research Triangle — who recently stayed at Welcome House, a three-bedroom residence in Raleigh that the Wyatts opened in October 2015 in partnership with the nonprofit U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants (USCRI) and with the support of CBF of North Carolina (CBFNC).
Welcome House serves as a temporary residence for new refugees as USCRI seeks to find them a permanent home. In less than nine months, Welcome House has been a home to nearly 80 refugees from war-torn countries such as Afghanistan, Burundi, Congo, Iraq and Ethiopia among others.
The beginnings of Welcome House date back to the summer of 2014 when the Wyatts formed a partnership with CBFNC and returned to their home state to start a new chapter in their missionary journey after 15 years of ministry with refugees and other internationals in Canada. With support from CBFNC and First Baptist Church of Knoxville, Tenn., the Wyatts went to work, creating relationships with area CBF churches and mobilizing hundreds of volunteers to meet the needs of newly-arrived refugees navigating through an overloaded and overwhelmed refugee system.
“Our strategy has been to discover the needs, find and form friendships with local community organizations and mobilize volunteers to meet existing needs,” Marc explained.
“To do so has often meant that we first needed to become volunteers ourselves. Refugee agencies need help. Becoming a volunteer in another organization is a way for us to be the presence of Christ with them, and yet we don’t have to own it and pay for it and supervise it and manage it. We can participate in it. I think that’s a good posture for the church to be in.”
Working alongside CBFNC and its missions coordinator, Linda Jones, the Wyatts recruited CBF churches in the eight-county region surrounding Raleigh to supply volunteers to assist refugees moving into apartments, provide medical mentorship, build bunk beds, donate mattresses, linens, blankets and other household items, and provide hospitality — a much-needed “welcome” to their new refugee neighbors.
Some volunteers have even been inspired to seek English as a Second Language teacher training, said Kim, who is a certified ESL instructor and has launched a free program to teach English to new refugees in the Research Triangle.
Watching Cooperative Baptists discover their international neighbor has been an incredible experience and a reminder of the realities of the refugee experience, Kim shared.
“It’s been amazing to watch as churches and individuals discover their international neighbor and realize all that we have in common,” Kim said. “We all have similar goals and dreams for ourselves.
“These refugees did not bring this upon themselves. They have had very little control over their lives, fleeing persecution and hardship and war. They fled in order to stay alive.”
CBFNC Executive Coordinator Larry Hovis emphasized the immense impact of the Wyatts and their ministry over the past two years in the Tar Heel State.
“In a short time, Kim and Marc have had a transformative impact on CBFNC, partner churches, North Carolina and the Kingdom. They are not ‘lone rangers’ but strategic catalysts, connecting churches to real ministries of hospitality and authentic evangelism. As the world comes to us, we are able to partner with God and Kim and Marc to make disciples of all nations. We couldn’t be more grateful for this partnership.”
The Wyatts see refugee engagement among Cooperative Baptists expanding in North Carolina beyond the Research Triangle, with increased collaboration between CBF churches and refugee agencies. In Durham, churches are collaborating to open Hope House, the second expression of Welcome House. This house, owned by Hope Valley Baptist Church, is being renovated in order to be a place of hope for newly-arrived refugees in partnership with World Relief Durham, a refugee resettlement agency.
“We’re seeing a movement emerge,” Kim said. “Churches have the idea, and are doing the work. They realize the potential and opportunity and are partnering together. It’s just been amazing to watch this happen in less than two years.”
“Overseas, missionaries might spend years waiting for that first opportunity to be invited into the community and to participate. In this context, we’re the host,” Marc added. “We as Cooperative Baptists really have to walk through the door of privilege we have in North America to be from here and to participate with the community. It is a biblical mandate to welcome the stranger and to stand in the gap for the widow, the orphan, the stranger, the refugee. That’s a clear message — we’re demonstrating the gospel first with our actions and our presence.”
As the Fellowship prepares to celebrate its 25th anniversary this week at the 2016 General Assembly in Greensboro, N.C., the Wyatts offered their sincere thanks for the continued generous support of CBF churches throughout their 20-year journey.
“Thank you, Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, because for 20 years our churches have been praying for us and praying for our children who are now grown and our eldest is married. They’ve helped raise our family and cared for us for many years and we are forever grateful. We are excited about the future and know some of our finest days are still ahead. Thank you.”
CBF is a Christian Network that helps people put their faith to practice through ministry efforts, global missions and a broad community of support.The Fellowship’s mission is to serve Christians and churches as they discover and fulfill their God-given mission.