By Bill Bigger
In January of 2016, the Hope Valley Baptist Church congregation began praying about a proposal to renovate an empty brick ranch house on the church property to provide temporary shelter for refugees entering the United States. Modeled on the ministry of Welcome House in Raleigh, this ministry would allow the congregation and other partnering churches to offer hospitality and welcome to refugees who have fled their homeland in search of safety and a new beginning.
After a process that lasted several months and included multiple information sessions, times of prayer and discernment, and open discussion, the church voted to move forward with this project.
The renovation process lasted nearly eight months and included volunteers from more than 10 different churches as well as other skilled and unskilled workers. Grants and financial gifts were received from multiple Baptist groups, churches and individuals so that the whole process was completed with no debt. Over and over again, this process has been a testament to the reality that as God calls the church to be faithful, God provides all necessary resources to fulfill the call. It has been amazing to see how generous people have been with their time, their skills and their financial investment.
What a blessing it has been to have churches and Christians joining together in ministry.
While the house renovation work has been ongoing, members of our church also began coordinating efforts to set up several apartments for new refugees. We collected donations of furniture and household items that were used to make three apartments ready for families, and a small group of us even had the privilege to meet three young Afghani gentlemen at the airport late one night and take them to their new “home” which we had set up a few days earlier. What a treat it is to meet and engage people from around the world and to discover that amidst the sometimes negative rhetoric, these are individuals like us who simply want a safe place to live, work and raise a family.
As the renovation project was nearing completion, however, the political environment surrounding refugees changed dramatically in our country and the flow of refugees virtually stopped.
While some of us were wondering what would happen with Hope House, the staff at World Relief Durham – our partner refugee resettlement agency – reached out to let us know of a family that could benefit from the ministry of Hope House. The family originally arrived in Durham from Africa about fourteen months earlier and was facing a medical challenge. A single mother with two teenage children has been diagnosed with a challenging form of cancer and was nearing the end of her apartment lease. In an effort to help the family financially while the final diagnosis is being made and expenses are mounting, the World Relief staff asked if Hope House might be available to the family to help them save some money while they figure out what they are facing and the mother faces possible treatments.
At the time of this writing, the family is planning to move next week into Hope House for possibly a few months. If more refugees start arriving, Hope House will still have another bedroom available for shorter term stays. In the meantime, however, our congregation and other partner churches eagerly anticipate the chance to surround this family with hospitality, support, and love.
From offering rides to appointments to providing some meals and other forms of care, we are excited that God is opening this door for us to care for refugees. The immediate future may not look exactly like what we imagined when we began this project, but what a blessing it is to be reminded that God provides and will give us ministry opportunities even when situations change around us.
When we as God’s people respond in trust and faithfulness, God will allow us to be the hands and feet of Jesus in caring for refugees and others who are struggling and vulnerable. While we don’t yet know all the ways God will use Hope House in ministry, we are excited that we get to be part of this important work.
Bill Bigger serves as the senior pastor of Hope Valley Baptist Church in Durham, N.C. Learn more about Hope House through this video from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.