From Congo to Chicago
When we ask God for opportunities to serve, it is a healthy and likely, amazing first step into the unknown.
Have you ever prayed and asked for opportunities to serve? Perhaps you were especially motivated after Bible School, after being baptized, or from another special moment when your faith peaked. When we ask God for opportunities to serve, it is a healthy and likely, amazing first step into the unknown. I speak from my own experience, and the opportunities continue to flow in unpredictable and surprising ways.
About ten years ago, the Lombard (Chicago) Ecclesia received our first contact from a baptized sister from Congo. Her name is Kiza, and Bro. Lucas Scheepers of Pretoria, South Africa, baptized her. Her family of eight was accepted into the United Nations US refugee resettlement program and found themselves in Chicago and in great need.
Our government provided this family with housing for three months and simple job and culture training. But after that initial support, all refugees are basically on their own and need to quickly adapt by finding work to avoid homelessness. That is more than a challenge for refugees in a new and challenging environment!
Before receiving a phone call from Kiza, I sought an opportunity to serve. Our family had returned from a trip to Sydney, Australia, and saw how an ESL (English as Second Language) class turned into a successful preaching program. The idea of this program was very appealing since our church seemed suitable and able to organize ESL classes. Well, my prayer about starting an ESL class soon pivoted entirely in a different direction, as Kiza’s family was in our backyard and had serious needs.
We immediately arranged to have someone drive each week, pick up the family, and bring them to church. This effort was at least two hours of extra driving for someone each week. But it was a great opportunity to meet our new friends and learn much more about them. The Lombard Ecclesia is very good at welcoming visitors, and we had many people help just by being friendly.
We started a dedicated Sunday School class for the new attendees, as only one family member was Christadelphian, and the others appeared to have a Pentecostal slant. We also started having lunch after service each week since the family could use extra food, and all seemed to enjoy spending time and becoming acquainted.
After a month or two, it became apparent that driving two extra hours each week would not be an ideal long-term solution. Our interaction was limited to just a few hours each week, and this family needed much more support. Fortunately, I work for NOW Foods (a vitamin company), and we were on a hiring binge. We hired four family members to work the midnight shift and found apartments within walking distance.
This development was a significant solution for all. The new location was also very close to a number of our members’ homes. So many members became involved with support, food, time, finances, and friendship. Our dying, white, suburban church took on this “opportunity,” and we’ve been growing, thankfully, ever since.
About six months after the first phone call, another family from Congo made contact. They knew Kiza and the first family from South Africa and began an amazing journey that continues today. Thanks to the Great Lakes Bible School, the Emena family of ten relocated from Fort Worth, Texas. This new family took a train from Texas directly to the Bible School in Wisconsin with all their worldly possessions and never returned. The Emena family have been diligent attendees and supporters of God’s work in the Chicago area. We often wonder where we would be today without them!
Our new friends from Congo were very good at bringing friends to church. We began to see more visitors than usual and learned to be extra welcoming. We printed many copies of a first principles book in Swahili and gave that to the many visitors who struggled with English. We still have extra copies in case anyone would like some!
Two additional husbands of the first family women arrived later and joined our Congolese members. Another large Congolese family from Iowa relocated to our area after hearing of jobs and church support. Soon after, we heard about two young Iranian brothers arriving in Phoenix.
Bro. Tim Galbraith of India advised Milad and Masih to relocate to Chicago because we could also support them. They soon moved to Chicago and were followed by another Iranian family of four living in Kansas City, who had known Milad and Masih when they were refugees in Sri Lanka. Next, two more Iranians arrived, separately, from Turkey, though both sisters’ husbands were left behind.
About two years ago, our first brother from Cameroon miraculously arrived in Chicago, unconnected to any others. He was our first asylum seeker, as he flew from Cameroon to Ecuador and then made his way north and eventually into California, where he declared asylum. His name is Bro. Charles Amin, and he had been a principal of a Christadelphian school for the blind in Cameroon.
We followed a similar script by eventually helping him find a job and relocate after he gained legal status. His story alone reflects a true act of God, including how he won his court cases and just recently received his green card. Bro. Charles has been an amazing addition to our church, and he soon attracted others from Cameroon without even trying! Today he shares his two-bedroom apartment with three other men from Cameroon he knows or is related to. He is the only baptized Christadelphian, but all four have been attending meeting regularly and are very involved.
On January 18, 2023 President Biden announced Welcome Corps. The US is starting a new private sponsorship program to imitate what Canada has been doing for a long time. The program details are at welcomecorps.org. The idea is that US citizens, groups, or churches can pay $2,275 per person and act as a guarantor to bring refugees to the US from other countries.
“Sponsor groups welcome refugee newcomers by securing and preparing initial housing, greeting refugee newcomers at the airport, enrolling children in school, and helping adults find employment.” And a whole lot more! The opportunities to serve have just opened to huge new levels. According to World Relief, this program is just starting, with an expected rollout in the summer of 2023.
I know a business friend in Guelph, Ontario, who personally sponsored about 100 Syrian families a few years ago to move to Canada. He is quite wealthy and able to do this financially, but he saw a great need and knew he could help. He didn’t do this for religious reasons but simply to help the helpless. He organized churches into support groups to provide housing, language and job training, schooling for kids, and much more. From a distance, this personal effort is stunning. Imagine what opportunities God is presenting to all in the USA in ways you may have never considered for your church.
The Lombard Christadelphians have multiple members who still have spouses and children “stuck” by red tape in other countries waiting for an opening like this. Some spouses have been waiting for five years, so this program is incredibly important. We expect to support our members financially and with support for jobs, housing, and other needs. Our ongoing relationship with multiple immigrant charities, such as World Relief, should help. What an exciting and promising legal change that can dramatically energize your life and your church!
Lombard Ecclesia, IL