By Caleb Mynatt
Moving to a new place is hard. Integrating into a new culture is harder. Doing both at the same time feels almost impossible; but it’s what thousands of international immigrants and refugees do every year in the United States.
For some, it’s exciting. For some, it’s frightening. For others, cultural insecurity and a language barrier are small prices to pay to escape the conditions from which they are fleeing. But for most internationals in this situation, a friend to help them out is a true godsend.
And that’s where the Samples come in.
Rick and Lita Sample, CBF field personnel serving in the San Francisco Bay Area, have made a career of showing God’s love to the ever-growing immigrant populations of the area. Whether they are immigrants coming to America in search of a better life, or whether they are refugees escaping persecution, the Samples have spent most of the last 19 years waiting to assist them with open arms as they find their way to California.
“Although refugees and immigrants make their way all over the country, there is a huge number of internationals in the San Francisco Bay Area,” said Rick Sample. “There’s a variety of reasons why these international families end up here; but regardless of the reasons, we want to be here to help them.”
The Samples provide a variety of ministries to assist internationals in their area. From orchestrating food drives, to fighting poverty, to providing ESL lessons to adult and tutoring to children, the Samples focus on helping families integrate and adjust to the new world they find themselves in. In addition to meeting those needs, they also provide prayer and help to mobilize churches in their area. For one particular group of people, the Karen people from Myanmar, the Samples helped start the Bay Area Karen Baptist Church. The Samples work alongside their encourager church, 19th Avenue Baptist Church in San Francisco, to provide assistance to the Karen people in their community.
“Coincidentally, a lot of the Karen people that come over are not only already Christian, but Baptist as well,” said Rick. “We usually suggest 19th Avenue as a place that Karen people can go; so we run almost all of our assistance programs out of that church. It’s definitely the best way to reach them.”
By their own estimation, the Samples have worked with upwards to 15 different ethnicities and people groups in their time in Fremont, California, a suburb of San Francisco with a population of nearly 200,000 people. Afghans, making up almost 25 percent of Fremont’s population, are the group they’ve worked with the most. This means that a large portion of the people they are assisting are Muslim. The Samples have found that those religious differences don’t create problems. Rather, the differences make for a very special and deferential relationship.
“They’re always respectful of our beliefs, just as we are of theirs,” said Rick. “They view Jesus as one of their main prophets, and we can share in that together. We’ve never really had anyone express a problem with our praying for them.”
Even when Fremont does feel like home for the Afghan people and other internationals, there is another problem: economic insecurity and poverty. The Bay Area is a very expensive place to live, with rent payments oftentimes being upwards of $3,000 a month. And, with the large family sizes that these immigrant families often have, rent can be even more expensive. Families can get usually get enough money to pay their rent, but have very little left over. The Samples work hard to provide basic needs such as food, so that these families don’t have to pay for it themselves.
“If we tried to help all of these families with their rent, we’d run out of money really quickly,” said Lita Sample. “But we can find other ways to help by buying food, and healthy food at that. It’s not just canned goods and non-perishables; it’s also fresh fruits and vegetables that they might not be able to afford on their own.”
Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic has only made the problem of poverty worse. With many of these refugees and immigrants coming from places where education was not guaranteed, many work as taxi or rideshare drivers, hotel workers, or in other jobs that require little background education. Most of those jobs have disappeared, along with the Samples’ ability to interact with them in person. This has resulted in a pivot for the Samples, as well as an increase in the spending aspect of their ministry to help provide food and nourishment.
“We are going around and doing contactless delivery to these families,” said Lita. “Although we can’t interact with them physically, we can at least still help meet their needs. We’ve also made sure to produce and provide masks to these families during the pandemic so they can be protected.”
The Samples’ work is not only comprehensive, but also greatly appreciated. They work hard to meet a variety of basic requirements for the people who need it most. They work to cultivate real relationships with these families, hoping to demonstrate to them that their work is not just performance. The fact that they care deeply about these internationals is recognized in their community as well as within the larger CBF community.
“I appreciate the work of Rick and Lita because of the holistic approach they offer. They look out for children and families by trying to provide a better life for the immigrants and refugee populations,” said Ellen Sechrest, manager of global missions engagement. “They are invested in the community with their long-term presence and not only aid families with food and clothing, but with friendship.”
You can learn more about and support the work of Lita and Rick Sample at www.cbf.net/sample.