Imagine your family being uprooted and transplanted to a new country. You can’t read, write, speak, or understand the language. There is a different alphabet. The climate is different (COLD!). Your only means of transportation is the bus while living in the suburbs.
This is the reality for refugee families coming to Minnesota.
Arrive Ministries is passionate about helping our refugee neighbors.
The Great Commission calls us to go into the world to share the gospel, but sometimes the world comes to us! Here at Berean, we support an organization called Arrive Ministries, which exists to live out God’s command to love others. Arrive Ministries serves as the hands and feet of Jesus by resettling refugees and providing relationships, education, and tools to help refugee families acclimate to their new homes.
Partnering with Arrive Ministries is a great ministry for Small Groups.
Arrive Ministries asked our Berean Small Group, consisting of four couples, to come alongside a Syrian refugee family to help them navigate their first year in the United States.
Instantly, we knew this was what Jesus would want us to do. As followers of Christ, we knew the command in Scripture to love and help 'foreigners.'
Maddy, our contact from Arrive Ministries, met with our group for an evening of training, and we also read a book about understanding different cultures. Maddy also assured us that the family was eager to meet us. We were excited to meet them too, but honestly, there was a little fear about how we would communicate.
In March of 2022, we met the Hassan Family (pseudonym used for privacy) for the first time. By then, they had been in the United States for about three months. Maddy accompanied us as we met this family at their apartment in Burnsville. They were so welcoming and happy to have us in their home. The husband, Kahled, speaking broken English, told us their story about fleeing Syria to Jordan due to the war. The wife, Rima, spoke very little English, but we were impressed by her hospitality. She served us coffee, water, cookies, and fruit. With the help of her husband interpreting, we asked her how we could be of assistance. Rima said that she needed conversational English. She attended language classes four days each week, but the classes weren’t moving fast enough. Our Small Group ladies saw the need and jumped into action to start meeting with her weekly for conversation.
The Hassan Family also has two beautiful daughters, Fatima (12) and Zara (9). Upon meeting them, we were struck by their cheerful, engaging personalities. Since arriving in Minnesota, they’ve each had a birthday. Our group enjoyed gifting them new hoodie sweatshirts and cupcakes to help them feel special and remembered.
The need for us to come alongside refugee families is critical.
According to the United Nations' published figures, as of mid-2022, there were an estimated 103 million forcibly displaced people worldwide (roughly 25% of the current US population). This number covers refugees, asylum seekers, and internally displaced persons. Of these, approximately 32 million are refugees. More than seven in ten of all refugees have come from just five countries: Syria (6.8mm), Venezuela (5.6mm), the Ukraine (5.4mm), Afghanistan (2.8mm), and South Sudan (2.4mm).
We all grieve when seeing reports of the humanitarian catastrophe of the Syrian Civil War. What started with peaceful protests has been countered by government crackdowns and increasing violence by both the government and protesters. Since 2014, the country has been embroiled in a full-blown civil war. The recent major earthquake in the region only adds to the dire emergency in Syria, with the government unwilling or unable to provide critical assistance to relief efforts.
The average resettlement time for refugees is 17 years, and less than one-half of one percent are ever resettled.
Most refugee families coming to Minnesota are joining family or friends, but some have no one. "Our family" arrived in December of 2021 after spending ten years in a Jordanian refugee camp. Based on the statistics above, the Hassan Family is fortunate - even if their first taste of Minnesota was in the dead of winter!
A significant challenge for refugees is navigating the language barrier.
At first, the language barrier was one of the most significant challenges for the Hassan Family. Syrians speak Arabic, which is common in Egypt and Jordan but not among the more prominent Muslim population of African descent who've come to Minnesota. Arabic is only Minnesota's tenth most common language, so accessing Arabic resources has proved more challenging. We used Google Translate on our cell phones to type out what we needed to say and then passed the phone to have the Hassans read the Arabic translation. We were pleasantly surprised by how well that worked.
Refugees must also face the challenges of driving and transportation.
Some additional challenges for the Hassan Family were driving and transportation. Kahled had an international driver’s license and had driven in Syria and Jordan, but he needed to pass his Minnesota test. Several of the guys from our group had him practice driving through the streets of Burnsville to help him freshen up his skills. Due to Covid, everything was backed up for scheduling driving tests in our area, so one of us went with him to take his test in Duluth. The time driving to and from Duluth provided valuable time to learn more about this family and their experiences.
Rima, on the other hand, had never driven. Even getting a permit was like climbing a mountain because of the language barrier. We gave her a driver's manual, which she translated into Arabic on her computer, so she could study the rules of the road. When she felt confident, we drove her to the testing site. Unfortunately, she tried two times with no luck. On the third try, she took an Uber to the site all on her own and passed the test! Rima was so excited and texted us about the good news so we could all rejoice together. She is such a determined and intelligent young woman.
Then came the daunting task of teaching her how to drive. We started in the Berean parking lot so she could get the feel of the brakes and accelerator. Now, she's taken to the road, learning about stop lights, roundabouts, and performing tight turns. She’s not ready for the freeway yet, but that will come. One member of our Small Group had access to a driving simulator, which Rima used a few times. We all had some good laughs when "hitting pedestrians" and "driving off the road" while using the simulator!
We've loved the conversations that happen while in the car. As Rima’s English has improved, we’ve had deeper conversations. We’ve talked about concerns for her children in school, TikTok, and our American culture. She’s asked us about our daughter’s recent wedding.
We were able to ask her about Islam and its customs, and have also shared a little about Jesus. Our conversations about faith have been organic and good.
After beginning to drive, the Hassan Family needed reliable transportation. Kahled's friend, who was in the car business, got him a good deal on a reasonable family car. We became increasingly impressed by the initiative Kahled and the family showed in getting established in Minnesota.
Let's not forget about the challenges of getting a job.
Because of the language barrier and limited access to transportation, many refugees face challenges in securing employment. We were amazed by Kahled’s drive and energy to locate and find work. He was an experienced furniture upholsterer in Syria and was intent on finding similar work in Minnesota. Within a week, Kahled proudly landed a job doing exactly what he was skilled at. He was elated, as were we! He now had transportation and a job and was already focusing on longer-term goals of setting up his own shop in the suburbs.
The Hassan Family learned from us, but we also learned from them.
During the early days of walking with the Hassan Family, our group tried to connect with them weekly. We quickly learned the Arabic custom of removing our shoes as soon as we stepped into the house. Once, we also had to wait outside the door to allow Rima to cover her head before we entered. We also learned patience. Rima and the girls struggled with English early on while Kahled did most of the talking. However, they always persevered, and Rima was such a generous host.
One of our early concerns was what the Hassan Family would think if we invited them to any of our homes. After their experiences in the refugee camp, would a visit to one of our homes give them the idea that we were living in luxury? We prayed about this and finally agreed that it was important for them to see our group as we lived. So, we began offering Saturday afternoon invites to our homes. They gladly accepted and enjoyed those invitations!
Walking alongside this family has been a pathway to share about Jesus.
One day in May, I (Brian) invited Kahled to join me for a hike at the park. We had a great conversation. The Islamic festival of Eid al-Fitr just occurred, which is the feast that ends Ramadan. I asked him about the significance of both Eid and Ramadan.
The Islamic calendar is based on the lunar cycle, so the period of Ramadan varies from year to year. It is a month of fasting, prayer, giving, and self-evaluation observed by Muslims around the world. According to tradition, Eid al-Fitr originated with the Islamic prophet, Muhammad, and the festivals were initiated after the migration of Muhammad from Mecca, where he fled persecution.
During our hike, I was able to share the key elements of the Christian faith, beginning with our common ancestor Abraham.
While Kahled is a practicing Muslim, he was open to hearing about Jesus and his redemptive work on the cross.
We discussed the key difference between Islam and Christianity: Muslims do not accept that a relationship with God through Jesus Christ can be based on grace through faith. In Islam, one achieves redemption solely through works. The conversation turned to the New Testament and the Apostle Paul. With Kahled being from Damascus, it was easy to share how God appeared to Saul on the road to Damascus, as told in the book of Acts.
I was glad that this walk at least provided a bridge to share the gospel.
Serving this family has provided an opportunity to invite them into the church.
As a Small Group, we were able to invite the Hassan Family to School-A-Palooza at Berean in August. School-A-Palooza is an outreach event hosted in our church to help families with free backpacks, school supplies, clothes, shoes, winter essentials, haircuts, breakfast, and more to prepare them for a successful start to the new school year. Not only is it an opportunity to share hope through material items, but also to share the hope of Jesus. As our group was volunteering at this event, the entire Hassan Family showed up and got Fatima and Zara well-equipped for the school year. We also had a great visit together under the breakfast tent.
Doing life with this family has been a true blessing.
Recently, we gathered in one of our homes to celebrate the one-year anniversary of the Hassan Family living in the United States. We celebrated with appetizers, fruit, and a decorated homemade cake. Our ladies had a fun craft for the girls to make a heart-shaped basket. And, of course, there was candy to put in the baskets. The guys connected Kahled’s phone to the TV, and we all enjoyed photos of his completed upholstery projects. It was neat to see the talent of such a hardworking young man. To top it off, the Hassan Family brought gifts for us as a thank-you.
We’ve known the Hassan Family for one year, and they continue to amaze us with their resilience and perseverance. They are polite and so thankful for their new life in Minnesota and grateful for the ways in which we’ve come alongside them.
Though our journey with this family began with some anxiety and many unknowns, it has blossomed into a growing friendship. Oftentimes it can be so easy to remain in our cultural comfort zones, but I'm so glad that God persuaded us to step out.
Over the course of the year, we have learned so much about them and their culture and have established bonds that we pray will only continue to deepen. In trying to bless this family, we are the ones who have truly been blessed.
God wants to use you too!
As you've read a little of our story, perhaps God is tugging on your heart too. Maybe he's nudging you to connect and bless a refugee family by partnering with Arrive Ministries, or maybe he's calling you to a different kind of ministry. Whatever it is, it will be worth it!