Sermon: Mission Sunday Reflections

06 April 2008


Reflection on “Refugee Resettlement Ministry”
Robin Murphy

Hebrews 13:1-2

I will be talking today about our Refugee Resettlement.  Jennifer Wurst is our coordinator for this round of resettlement, but she is at the Women’s Retreat, so I am happy to speak of this wonderful ministry.  I will share some thoughts from Patty Buchan, Jennifer and myself and will begin with 2 snapshots from Patty Buchan. 

Snapshot 1 is of Mutaz, the Abtans' 2-year-old son
“The first week the Abtans were here we took them to the mosque in Danbury .  Suhair and I went upstairs with Mutaz to pray in the women’s sanctuary. Mutaz was way too active for such a reverent space so he and I went looking for a place to play.

“We found several classrooms but no play rooms – until we found the room with all the shoes, hundreds of shoes lined up neatly along the wall.  Muslims remove their shoes before praying.  Mutaz arranged and rearranged those shoes.  Mutaz was happy and Suhair was able to pray in peace.

“And then the service was over, way before I could put all the shoes back where they belonged.  Everyone was very understanding, but I have never ventured back to the mosque, too ashamed to show my face.”

Snapshot 2 is of Suhair, the mom of this family 
“The Abtans had only been here for a few days when they came to our house for Thanksgiving dinner.  Suhair was quiet; she ate little and spoke even less.  I didn’t know what the lovely woman from such a different culture, was feeling.

“After dinner, our daughter Jessie sat alone in the dining room with our 10 year old grandson Brennan.  He has severe cerebral palsy, is in a wheel chair and cannot walk or talk.  Most strangers feel understandably awkward around him.  Alone, Jess tried to feed Bren a little food.

“And then I noticed Suhair come into the dining room.  She got a chair and quietly pulled it up next to Brennan.  Suhair didn’t say a thing. Her tenderness and care did not need words.

“And this young woman, from a world far away, went straight to my heart.”

Patty’s 2 snapshots exemplify our early days with the Abtans.  We and the Abtans were struggling with language, cultural differences, strangeness, trust.  But there was laughter and understanding in it all and bonds were being made. 

I would like to fast-forward to where we are today. My snapshot is more of Nafie.  As the father of his Arabic family, much of the responsibility falls on his shoulders.  He is balancing working full time, going to school, taking a computer class, handling the finances and driving.  He is at times tired and overwhelmed with it all, but it has not dampened his humor, kindness, intelligence, or his determination.  And he is dealing with so many women – we must be very strange to him!

The Abtans are part of an Early Self Sufficiency program where they must be self-sufficient within 6 months. That deadline is May 13th.  In just 5 weeks they must be able to pay their bills, provide their own transportation, seek their own medical help, and keep track of their finances. We are at that difficult phase where we HAVE to stop helping and make them do it themselves. 

For the past several months we have filled the role of helpers, and although that is challenging, it is also rewarding and feels good.  It not only feels good, but really – it’s easier.  Have you ever noticed that it is often easier to do something yourself rather than teach someone else to do it? These next weeks will be emotionally difficult on all of us as we try to separate and let them own their new lives. Somehow we will find a balance where our friendship can grow along with their independence. 

Jennifer Wurst sums up this ministry for us. These are Jennifer’s words:

“Psalm 146 verse 9 says ‘the Lord watches over strangers.’ In opening our doors and our hearts to refugees, we are indeed carrying out the work of our Lord.  This ministry is about helping a family regain their independence that was lost by circumstances beyond their control. 

“This experience has been challenging and joyful at the same time.  Think of the analogy of a mother bird waiting for her chick to spread its wings to fly and at some point the mother just needs to push the chick out of the nest – never really knowing if it is able to fly yet.... The joy is having the honor of watching a family assimilate into our culture as if we were watching a child take its first steps.

“This ministry has taught me not to sweat the small stuff - in the grand scheme of things our life challenges aren't anything compared to what the Abtans or other refugees have endured.

“Pastor Jen asked me how has this influenced my faith.  I now pray daily – I pray that peace finds its way to Iraq and other war torn areas. I pray for patience and strength as we work towards getting the Abtans to become self-sufficient. And I pray prayers of thankfulness – thanking God for the many blessings I have gained from this ministry (the blessing of all those involved and for their dedication and support, for the blessing of the cottage which can to be used for such a purpose, and the blessing of our refugee family).”

This ends Jennifer’s words. 

There is a saying, "think globally, act locally."  Our refugee ministry allows us to experience the world from our doorsteps.  It allows us to share our resources and our hearts.  We have grown along with the Abtans.  They are no longer strangers, but a part of our family. May this ministry be contagious!  Others have heard of what we are doing and are excited to become involved in their own churches.  May God be with us all, and with all strangers who are in need of God’s love and care.   


Reflection on Junior Youth Fellowship Heifer Project Trip
Kathleen Taylor
Luke 3:10-11

Good morning.  My name is Kathy Taylor, and I am new to this church.  My family and I have been attending since last year, and I am delighted that we will be joining as members next month.

As a special education teacher I have a great passion for children and their challenges, so I have in the past been very active with youth groups and their activities.  While attending some of our junior and senior youth group meetings my daughters and others have been discussing the concept of those that "have" and those who "have not."  Those discussions proved to be valuable to all of us, not just the kids.

I'd like to share with you a great experience I had with our junior youth group.  In mid-March, the youth group packed up and took off to Rutland, MA to take part in the Heifer International Project.  I, along with three other chaperones and 16 wonderful youth, learned quite a bit about what is available for the "haves" to do for the "have not's" in our community and around the world.

The Heifer International Project is a non-profit humanitarian organization that is working to end world poverty and care for the earth.  Their mission is to provide livestock, trees, training and other resources to struggling families in many areas of the world.  The agreement of those who receive the gift is to "Pass It On" to other families, and that is the key to their sustainable approach.

Our youth saw on film real life examples of struggles that children of other nations and their families have.  The kids also witnessed what the living loans of animals can do for those who have limited resources and hope.  All of this information that the kids and I received was inspiring to us and helped us see that any one of us can make a difference in our world.  

When we keep the mission simple in nature, using land, animals, and resources -- we that have can help those that have not, and many others like them -- giving them hope for their future.  The light of hope in the eyes and voices of the young instructors leading us at Heifer was passed on to our youth within minutes of our arrival.  The joy in our kids' smiles while working on chores with animals, meeting and listening to the stories of a woman from Kenya , and caring for newborn goats filled me up with hope and determination to work hard for others.

This small part of heaven in Rutland, MA that drips with kindness, compassion and hope for the future is something that people of all ages should experience.  During this experience I felt closer to God and filled with his spirit.  Our mission trip was extremely humbling at time, educational, a lot of fun, and we all came home filled to the brim with God's love and the spirit of hope for communities in our nation and around the world.  Amen.


Reflection on Mission Time in Africa
Kierstin Quinsland
Micah 6:8

During my time in Africa , I worked for three months at a children’s home for HIV positive orphans, then I spent three weeks working with a small farmers’ cooperative in Kenya , and then in Senegal I spent two months tutoring English as a Second Language at a home for runaway boys.  Nyumbani, the orphanage, was started by an American Jesuit priest 15 years ago with just 4 children, and has now grown to 100 kids.  Every child is HIV positive, having gotten it from their mother, and at Nyumbani, they are given anti-retroviral drugs twice a day, which are paid for by the US Agency for International Development.  If the kids start taking these drugs early enough, and they take them every day for the rest of their lives, they are able to develop normally and live healthy lives. 

There was one child, Ken, who died while I was there, from complications from tuberculosis, and because he had not started any treatment for HIV until he was 12.  This affected all the kids deeply because they know how lucky they are to be living at the home with free care.  They are mostly energetic kids and love having volunteers there, since our job is mainly to play with them, read to them, and help with homework.  It amazed me that even kids like Justin, my favorite, who was 4 and had been abused, neglected and malnourished by his remaining family before being admitted to Nyumbani, within four months was happy, healthy, and even pudgy.  The kids are so resilient—they just need the medicine and social support in order to give them the same opportunities as other Kenyan kids.

After my work at Nyumbani, I went with a team of international volunteers to live and work with a small-scale farmers’ cooperative. We mostly worked on the passion fruit farm or in the peanut fields, wherever our hosts needed an extra few hands.  We also led a discussion about HIV at the secondary school, which was an incredible experience, and the questions the kids asked were so telling of the lack of truthful information available to them, and the myths surrounding the disease that affects nearly family in some way.

In Senegal , I worked at Empire des Enfants, a place whose project is to serve street boys, who mostly come from nearby countries, to beg on the streets of Dakar .  Many have run away from their Koranic schools because of harsh treatment.  Empire takes a boy in temporarily, usually a few months, until his parents can be found.  Since I am American, I was asked to tutor a 17 year old boy named Modou in English.  Having come from a very rural village, he only spoke his tribal language, so he was learning French to get by in Dakar , as well as English.  He was also just learning to read and write, and I was always amazed at how eager he was for every lesson.

These three ministries were very different, in their populations, their goals, and in the amount of outside help they receive—but all three of them were great examples of two things:

The first is people working to help the poorest in their own communities.  Almost all the staff members of the Children’s Home in Kenya and the Runaway Boys Home in Senegal were from the local areas.  Some were nurses and social workers, and some were neighborhood people who came in once a week to do things like teach music lessons or read to the kids.  It impressed me that there was such a high commitment to the poor from people who were generally their neighbors, many from the same backgrounds and facing the same conditions.  And at the Small Farmers’ Cooperative, local families with one or two crops had come together as a community in order to share tips, tools, and information, and to get a fairer price at the markets.  Their work was an great lesson in the spirit of community and shared welfare, and the fact that people are not just waiting around for aid, but are actively working to help themselves.

Besides seeing people working to help the poorest in their own local communities, I saw people from all over the world working to help the poorest in their global community.  Seeing other volunteers and donors from so many countries taught me a lot about worldwide concern for developing countries.  It also showed the responsibility and commitment people feel when they are able to help those they see in need.  For me, this responsibility comes with belief in the church.

By supporting my work in Kenya and Senegal , this congregation has acted in this spirit of global unity and helping—the long tradition of Christian solidarity with the poor.  In a book about Paul Farmer, the doctor who has done so many great things in the developing world, Farmer says, “lives of service depend on lives of support”.  This congregation has been my support throughout this work, and in doing so, you have done the work of social justice, the work that God calls us to do.


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