As you know, under Rex McKee’s leadership, St. John’s has made the decision to partner with other Episcopal churches and the Minnesota Council of Churches (“MCC”) to help resettle families fleeing Afghanistan. Tim and I decided to volunteer to be the point people in St. John’s work on refugee resettlement with Sts. Luke and James and St. Paul’s for a family of eight from Afghanistan.
We (Jenny & Tim Rowe) had both considered our potential role in this ministry independently but hadn’t really talked about it as a couple. We were in a Justice and Service meeting recently and I switched off our Zoom audio, turned to Tim, and asked him what he thought. We agreed: let’s do it!
Without being immigrants ourselves, we know a thing or two between us about how our city welcomes people. Tim and I encounter refugee and immigrant families all the time in our work as educators and the work I used to do as a lawyer. Refugees are usually supported for the first 8 months or so, by multiple agencies, as they develop connections to our community. That’s the 30,000-foot view, anyway. At closer range, the importance of closer connection becomes even clearer.
A brilliant paralegal I used to work with in legal aid described his own experience as a refugee to me by comparing it to being in the hospital for a critical issue. You start out in the emergency room, where you have no idea what’s going on (his words, not mine!). You need to trust people both to work in your interests and honor your capacity. You move to the ICU, where you’re more engaged but you have all kinds of tubes coming out of you and you’re not able to get out of bed without assistance. Then you make your way through the ward you’re assigned and on to discharge. If you’re lucky, at every stage you’ll have attentive doctors, nurses and maybe even family members and friends to make sure your recovery is smooth. Then, as you gradually emerge from the crisis, you want to be independent. You want agency in your life in this new consciousness.
Although imperfect, I’ve always found this metaphor compelling. If we’re honest with ourselves, very few of us at St. John’s know what it’s like to leave a country, forever, under duress. However, we might very well know something about the hospital experience: we ourselves might have felt the vulnerability, the fear and the strong desire to get to a point where we can get moving through the world under our own power again.
The comparison forces us to consider what our humanity means to us and others, to think about how God sees all of us. It forces us to consider our connections to each other.
Tim and I are ready to do this work because our community, St. John’s, is ready. As of now at least ten people have contacted us, looking forward to the work ahead and ready to take church outside our walls.
Some of this work will be easy for us, even convenient. It’s nice to be able to rehome some furniture we don’t need or write a few checks knowing exactly how they will be spent. Some of the work will be more challenging. There might be a short notice need for a ride or childcare. There will be groceries to buy and supplies to deliver. Each of us will do what we can.
We’ll get to know a family who will be both very interesting and probably also very familiar. We’ll get to know our neighbors from other Episcopal congregations. And we’ll get to know ourselves.
The family we’re working with were initially placed in a refugee facility at a military base in New Mexico. They had some Afghan connections near St. Cloud and came up here as soon as they could. The people they’re staying with are themselves refugees, resettled with the assistance of Minneapolis Council of Churches. St. John’s, along with Sts. Luke and James and St. Paul’s, will assist MCC in helping this family connect to life here in Minnesota. Currently MCC is working on setting up housing. If the housing is within a reasonable distance from us here in the Metro Area, there will quickly be more to do.
Please feel free to contact me on firstname.lastname@example.org or Tim on email@example.com if you’d like to join our growing group of St. John’s members in this welcome circle. We’ll update everyone in the group soon on the next steps!