I came to live in Mobile, Alabama on July 9th, 1998 to help direct an international student ministry known as Friends of Internationals. My entire focus in life was to love and care for the large international student community attending the University of South Alabama. Our family has a home that sits on the doorstep of the USA campus. We were very busy and enjoyed every minute of the ministry. There were challenges of course....trying to balance our own family responsibilities while often hosting 100 students for weekly dinners in our too small home...but we knew we were doing what we were called to do in spite of our own challenges of trying to make it all work. Despite knowing we were doing God's will, I would like to share in this blog about how sometimes we can become so focused on what is directly in front of us, we might miss out on something new or different that God wants us to be aware of and even involved in.
One evening more than a decade ago during our weekly international student Bible study group, I heard a loud knock on our front door. I went to answer the door to see a very tall young man I did not recognize. He began to ask me a question, "Are you Jim Mather?" I told him that I was and then he proceeded to ask me directly if I could help him! I asked him how he knew my name. It turns out that he had walked all the way from Providence hospital where he had a met an R.N. who knew me from a local church. His refugee family ( he was one of several children) from Sudan were refugees who had a lot of needs and he heard from this nurse that perhaps our family and ministry could help him. Honestly I had no idea how to help a refugee family but invited him to sit with our Bible study group.
Abraham introduced himself to our group and proceeded to tell his story of escape, danger and trial in fleeing the civil war in Sudan. Over a several year journey of harrowing experiences, he now sat in my house to tell of God's faithfulness and help in allowing him and his family to survive. We all listened carefully and our own faith was challenged and stretched. Since that initial meeting with Abraham, I realized that at times God wants to stretch us and be his hands extended beyond our own 'box' of even the good things we do for him. In time I connected in an ongoing way along with my wife with Refugee Resettlement which is a division of Catholic Social Services in Mobile. I helped connect Abraham's family with a local church that 'adopted' his family. In the next few years we prayed and shifted our ministry for a time to include helping to start an international church known as All Nations Community Church. That in time led us to pray for and receive a full time missionary to refugees into Mobile. Jeri Stroade relocated from Manhattan, Kansas to work here in Mobile where she now leads Dwell Mobile a non profit committed to holistic and ongoing assistance that supplements what Catholic Social Services does in Mobile. (www.dwellmobile.org) On average Mobile receives around 150 new refugees into our area though the number does vary from year to year. Each refugee has a unique story and faces challenges in adapting to a new world--- language acquisition, cultural adjustment, job searches and for children the immersion into a school system often far different from their own. Refugee children often face long waits in refugee camps or temporary settings where schooling might be either limited or even forbidden. To put it frankly, the life of a refugee is hard and uncertain. The trauma of having suffered literal war wounds and or the death of relatives and friends is hard to fathom unless you have experienced it. Many refugees suffer from some form of post traumatic stress syndrome.
Loving People in an Age of Terror
Refugee resettlement in Mobile has always kept a 'low profile' in our city for various reasons. The need to maintain privacy for their clients is a requirement of the law and serves to protect the vulnerable. In 1975 in the aftermath of the Vietnamese war, there was an upsurge of refugees into our community that began the official work of Refugee resettlement in Mobile. Wars and traumatic events are a part of the age in which we live. Something shifted though on September 11th, 2001. War came home to our own nation and the impact of our own "Post traumatic Stress Syndrome" began to leave it's mark on our national psyche. How can we love people in an age of terror? It's never easy to balance security and compassion. Jesus followers are commanded to 'take up their crosses' and follow him. Where is Jesus in the midst of this age of terror? Where is Jesus commanding his people to go? Who is Jesus commanding us to be? When Abraham knocked on my front door so many years ago, I had a choice to make. Would I slam the door on his plea for help? Would I invite him into my home? Would I trust God to lead me into a pathway where his love is extended? I don't want to guilt anyone into doing anything other than encourage people to really depend on God's leading and guidance in this new reality of loving people in an age of terror.
Responding to the President's executive order
We have in the last few days heard of a new executive order issued by the new President of the United States. This has a direct bearing on who is admitted into our country and even now it is uncertain how this order will impact refugees coming to our nation longer term. Emotions are running high, as so many people in harm's way wait and see what will transpire. No matter what the government does, I would hope that Christ followers might look to the example of Jesus and the word of God to guide their own responses to this changing reality. The wisdom of Leviticus chapter 19 still speaks to us all, "Do not exploit the foreigners who live in your land. They should be treated like everyone else, and you must love them as you love yourself. Remember that you were once foreigners in the land of Egypt, I, the Lord am your God." No matter how our government responds to the national security issues that are very real, we must ensure that our own hearts are not hardened by the challenge of terror and evil. Jesus warns us that when he returns many people's hearts will have turned from the way of love.....'sin will be rampant everywhere, and the love many will grow cold." ~ Matthew 24:12
I implore you who are reading this to check your own hearts and minds regarding the reality of what the way of Jesus is calling us to. Pray for all those in authority.... and continue to live in such a way that reflects the reality of God's love to those who are seeking a place of refuge from war and trauma. May God have his way in our fragile and broken world.
Sincerely in Christ love;
Friends of Internationals