written by Beverly Hester and Nina Phillips
Tom’s phone rang on the morning of April 16. We were already in the midst of lockdown and social distancing in Charlotte. It was his new friend from Burma, whom he had met at Refugee Support Services on Central Ave. His friend was asking for help in filing an application for unemployment. Because of the widespread closure of businesses due to the pandemic he had just been laid off from his job. Tom had never filed for unemployment as he had never lost a job, so this was a new experience. However, he figured his proficiency in English gave him a decided advantage, so he ventured into this new experience with his new friend.
So has gone the experience of the people of St. John’s as we have responded with compassion to immigrants in our midst. We moved out of our comfort zones with a family from Latvia after WWII, we welcomed refugees from Cuba in the mid to late 1960s, in 2001 we “adopted” 40 Lost Boys of Sudan, and we have developed close friendships with two men from Vietnam. We now share worship space with congregations from Liberia and Sierra Leone and with our friends from South Sudan.
With immigrants from around the world continuing to come to Charlotte in search of better lives, in the fall of 2019 the Immigrant Support Study Group was formed at St. John’s, with the endorsement of the Mission Resource Team. The team’s purpose is to explore the needs of those who a part of the immigrant community in Charlotte and ways in which St. John’s might become involved in welcoming them, building upon our rich history of welcoming the stranger.
This exploration has led us into conversations with several organizations in Charlotte that are integrally involved in working with the immigrant community. One of these is ourBridge for Kids, located on the campus of Aldersgate in east Charlotte. OurBridge serves 150 immigrant and refugee children from kindergarten through 7th grade and their families by providing after school and summer activities, offering love, acceptance, education, and respect to each child and family with whom they work. Working with other community organizations and honoring the coronavirus restrictions, ourBridge staff and volunteers are delivering nearly 9,000 meals each week, along with educational and self-care packages, to students and their families in addition to providing virtual tutoring.
During January our group began planning for an exciting educational event to be held “in the round” in Broach Hall in mid-May. After weeks of planning, we realized in late March that this event would have to be postponed due to the coronavirus. While we look forward to re-scheduling “Journey to Understanding: Stories of Immigrant Children and Families” when it’s safe to do so, we’re planning other ways to share information. Beginning this month of June, through brief video conversations, we’ll introduce several people who are either immigrants themselves or who represent immigrant-serving organizations. Through their stories, we’ll hear about the resilience of people who come to this country as immigrants and the contributions they are making to our community as well as some of the challenges they face. These videos will be posted on St. John’s website and Facebook page.
We’ll also post articles about immigrants’ experiences and contributions to our community, including more information about the work of ourBridge for Kids and other organizations that serve immigrant and refugee individuals and families.
We hope that you will join us on this journey toward a greater understanding of what God is calling us to do in relating to our immigrant neighbors.