By Blake Tommey
As the sun set over the Democratic Republic of Congo, Elias Isaiah Erick and his family settled into a customary evening at home. Suddenly, militia fighters burst in, attacked Erick and kidnapped his wife and children. Alone, and with no knowledge of his family’s whereabouts, Erick fled the swelling violence as the deadline on President Joseph Kabila’s two-term limit came and went without an election.
After arriving at a displacement camp in Kenya, Erick was miraculously reunited with his family. The International Organization for Migration then arranged for them to emigrate to North Carolina. Following extensive interviews and vetting, representatives of the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants (USCRI) received the family in Raleigh and arranged for transitional housing — 7,000 miles away from their home in Africa. And at the end of a long, terrifying journey, Erick and his family finally dropped their meager belongings and took a deep breath in their new bedroom at Welcome House, a refugee resettlement ministry founded and led by CBF field personnel Kim and Marc Wyatt.
“We thank God that we were received by Welcome House,” Erick said. “Here, we don’t know anyone; we don’t have relatives. We are in a foreign land. People come here but I don’t know how they progress. Since we arrived, Marc and Kim received us with open arms and they have been guiding us along the way. We are attending ESL classes and the job club every day, and my kids are going to school. God brought Welcome House our way to help us.”
Alongside the Ericks and many others seeking refuge in the United States, the Wyatts are partnering in renewing God’s world through Welcome House, a community dedicated to holistic ministry among displaced peoples. With support from the CBF Offering for Global Missions, the Wyatts are forming together with local churches and the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants (USCRI) to cultivate beloved community with displaced families and individuals as they work to establish a safe home, get settlement assistance and find bridges into the larger community. “The call to offer God’s radical hospitality among immigrants has never been more clear,” Kim Wyatt said, noting that the world now witnesses the highest levels of displacement on record.
According to the U.N. Refugee Agency, an unprecedented 65.3 million people have been forced to flee their homes because of conflict or persecution. In addition to fleeing well-known conflict zones in Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq, immigrants are increasingly arriving from African and Southeast Asian countries, including Somalia, Myanmar and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Nearly 1,500 will arrive in the Research Triangle of North Carolina this year, Kim added, and, above all, they need community.
“This ministry of welcoming immigrants and refugees is all about building beloved community and bearing witness to Jesus Christ as we share life together,” Kim said.
“For many, this is a strange new world — not just because they’re in a different country, but because some have spent nearly 20 years in a refugee camp. They’ve not experienced normal life. So as they begin to build a brighter future, having family makes all the difference. Ultimately, community is what will help them with their jobs, with their kids’ schools, with their own education — someone that can help them understand how to access the resources they need to move forward.”
For Welcome House, beloved community takes shape as local churches, organizations and even immigrants themselves come together to share vital resources with displaced families, including affordable housing, English classes, job training and a network of relationships to lean into. Partnerships with the USCRI and World Relief facilitate initial contact with refugees, many of whom live together at the Welcome House reception home for one to six weeks while awaiting long-term affordable housing. Once new arrivals are safe, Kim explained, a team of hosts and volunteers assess their most pressing needs — do they have basic living supplies? Do any medical issues need attention? Would English classes, job skills development or new clothing be helpful? Do they need help enrolling children in a local school?
During their six weeks at Welcome House, the Erick family began ESL classes as well as training for employment skills, which garnered Erick four job interviews within his first month in Raleigh. His children enrolled in public school and the entire family now attends a local church where they are discovering what true hospitality means, Erick said. In January, the family finally moved into their own apartment, complete with furniture, groceries and a hot meal.
“We are happy because we have our own place,” Erick said. “I am proud that I have a place, and I am grateful. [The Wyatts] have welcomed us with open arms and prepared a place for us. I trust the things they have prepared for us, and I thank them for their assistance and giving us shelter. This Welcome House — it is really a nice place.”
At Welcome House, those who receive radical hospitality are also those who give it, as immigrant families like the Ericks increasingly comprise the staff of hosts and volunteers. Marc Wyatt first met Thomas Morgan and Nunu Ngwa as his team prepared a local apartment for another recently-immigrated family. Within minutes, Morgan and Ngwa were moving furniture and distributing bottled water to the volunteer team, Marc said, and have since not only received assistance from Welcome House, but have become indispensable navigators among unreached refugee families in Raleigh.
When Morgan and Ngwa first arrived in the U.S. from Myanmar, Ngwa said nobody would welcome their family, let alone help her two daughters get medical attention for extremely high fevers. Back home in Kachin State, conflict between the Kachin Independence Army and government soldiers led to the kidnapping of her husband, Thomas, who escaped and fled the country with his family.
When they arrived in North Carolina, Morgan said he and his wife sought help from neighbors and even tried to apply for public health insurance, but neither knew how to use a phone or access the most basic resources for survival in the U.S. Now up and on their feet, Morgan and Ngwa work alongside Welcome House to help prepare apartments, provide transportation, gather groceries and even form partnerships with other faith communities across the area.
“I think that helping is like breaking down walls,” Morgan explained. “I help as much as I can because, when we came to America, we got nothing, nobody. We need to treat them very kind, very open-hearted so that they can share their feelings and let us know what they need. Mostly, they need to feel like they are at home, and we have to be like their brother or sister, so that they will feel safe.”
As local churches come alongside the Wyatts as well as immigrants like Morgan and Ngwa, congregations across the Fellowship are discovering how to become part of beloved community, but only through careful listening, emphasized Amanda Atkin, associate minister for spiritual formation at Greystone Baptist Church in Raleigh, N.C. Not far from Greystone, the Cedar Point neighborhood where many immigrants and refugees reside has become a new haunt for many of the Greystone congregation, Atkin said.
In addition to partnering with Welcome House to collect furniture and prepare apartments, the Greystone congregation is engaging in ongoing dialogue with Felix and Nicole Iyoko, two Swahili volunteers who are also CBF church starters, planting a faith community among local refugees and partnering with Greystone as it grows its church. Through that partnership, Atkin said, Greystone has contributed a set of Swahili Bibles as well as collected 30 turkeys for the church’s Thanksgiving outreach project.
“We cultivate beloved community by understanding that we are much more alike than we are different,” Atkin explained. “Even with very marked differences of culture, race and language, we still find ways to partner together. We want to listen to them and hear from them what their needs are. We are able to do that when we sit down at a table together, when we prepare an apartment and make beds for kids, when we share meals together, when we talk about how our kids are doing in school or discuss different parenting styles, when we are listening to the spirit of God calling us.”
As immigrants, organizations and local congregations like Greystone form together in North Carolina, Marc Wyatt said, the beloved community of Welcome House extends to every church that partners in their work through the Offering for Global Missions.
“We do this as a community, God’s Beloved Community,” Marc said. “As CBF field personnel working in the Research Triangle, we have the privilege of calling and mobilizing God’s people to be welcomers and to walk alongside the immigrants and refugees that are coming to this area. Every day, as we engage, as we’re among our neighbors and families in the neighborhoods, we see transformation — from ‘zero’ until they have their homes established and jobs to sustain their families and beyond. That’s transformative. It’s a new life that happens, and it happens in the community of the churches working cooperatively together.”
Learn more about and support the work of the Wyatts at www.cbf.net/wyatt. To support the cost of their presence in the Research Triangle, consider a gift to the CBF Offering for Global Missions at www.cbf.net/presence.
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