Parishioner Reflection: Our Refugee Ministry
In the past weeks the focus in our house has been squarely on Central America. On Oct. 14th we were glued to the coverage from the Vatican as the martyred Oscar Romero, former archbishop in El Salvador, was made a saint of the Catholic Church. And now as I write this we are saddened to watch another caravan of refugees fleeing Central America and facing hostilities and threats as they try to make their way north to a better life for themselves and their families.
We find ourselves wondering what can we, as the Body of Christ, do for our brothers and sisters in Central America? What is our role in this situation?
At Church of the Good Shepherd we have been engaged for the past two years in discernment, prayer, dialogue and action. A group of parishioners has gathered on a regular basis to learn and listen to one another as we endeavor to be a part of the solution. Partnering with AWE, the Asylee Women Enterprise, we have formed a relationship with Lesli, a mother of three children who fled Honduras and arrived in Baltimore in a desperate situation.
Before we get too deep into all that Good Shepherd has done perhaps a little vocabulary might be helpful. Refugees and Asylees are both descriptors of people who have fled their home country for a variety of reasons but fear and desperation are at the heart of their need to leave their homes. Refugees are evaluated and processed outside of their home country for repatriation to a third country. When they arrive in the US they have work permits and support from resettlement agencies that are contracted through the US government. The Episcopal Migration Ministry is one of these agencies.
Asylees are in a different category. These are people who have fled their home countries and arrive at the US border or an entry point (such as an airport) and request asylum. They receive no support or work authorization from the government. Lesli, “our” mom, has been waiting for over two years for her asylum process to be completed.
So what have we at GS done? First we prayed and discussed. Then we formed a partnership with AWE who identified Lesli’s family as a family that could especially use a partnership such as the one we were proposing. AWE has a daily program that includes English classes, communal meals and access to clothing, food and diaper banks. For single women there is housing available in convents throughout Baltimore. Lesli arrived pregnant with two young children. She needed more than AWE could provide on its own.
Our mighty parish has supported Lesli first and foremost by getting to know her and her great kids. We helped them settle into an apartment and we have formed relationships with her and the three children. We have provided English lessons and trips to Dutch Wonderland. We have celebrated birthdays and holidays. In short, we welcomed her into our midst. We have enjoyed her amazing cooking and we helped her find a job as soon as she was authorized to work. Lesli is currently working at Goucher College and has a just finished her second week of work! PRAISE GOD!
So where are we now? Lesli and her family continue to benefit from our support and there is a need for afterschool care now that Lesli is working. Lesli needs an immigration lawyer to help with her asylum case. She and the children love going on outings of all sorts. Spanish is not needed as the children are especially adept with English.
And AWE? Our partnership with AWE has the potential to provide blessings for many more people. The plight of asylum seekers in Baltimore is serious and there are ways we can be involved. We are collecting non-perishable food and warm winter clothing for the women of AWE - click here for a complete list.
The Refugee Welcoming Committee welcomes your participation in a multitude of ways. Please pray for the plight of all people forced to flee their homes. Pray for their protection as they go through the refugee resettlement process or the asylum-seeking process. Pray for justice in their home countries and in their new homes. Pray for AWE - a welcoming presence here in Baltimore that does wondrous things on a shoestring budget. And pray for discernment for your role in the work that we are doing with AWE. Thank you for supporting this work through your generous support of Good Shepherd.