Woodlands Church wants to be a place where we welcome other cultures to our local community, including former refugees. In January 2022, a Refugee Co-sponsorship team was formed at Woodlands. Since that time we have worked with our community to help newcomers in practical ways: finding housing and furnishings, learning English and finding jobs, transporting to appointments, connecting them to community resources.
Timeline of Woodlands Involvement
The Global Outreach Lead Team began discussing the Syrian refugee crisis. We learned that we had to be located within 50 miles of a refugee agency to sponsor a family, and the closest refugee agency was in Appleton. We began praying.
Woodlands sent a team to Athens, Greece, to observe and learn from the churches there about their ministries to Syrian and other refugees.
More than 12,000 Afghan refugees arrived at Fort McCoy under Operation Allies Welcome. Over the next five months, volunteers from Woodlands traveled to Fort McCoy to meet and serve the families housed there. The emergency phase of resettlement ended in February 2022.
ECDC opened an office in Wausau, WI, less than 50 miles away from us. In February, Woodlands agreed to form a co-sponsor team to help resettle an Afghan refugee family in the Central Wisconsin area.
We welcomed the Bangamwabu family to Stevens Point! Our team had been preparing for their arrival since January. Their home was ready for them and our team was excited to come alongside the family to help them transition to central Wisconsin.
We completed our initial 9 month commitment to help the family as they resettle. They and other refugees from the Democratic Republic of Congo have been attending Woodlands and have become a part of our Woodlands community!
Why are we participating in refugee resettlement?
A refugee is someone who has been forced to flee his or her country because of persecution, war or violence. A refugee has a well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group. The USA accepts an average of 112,000 refugees a year. For more information about refugees in WI, click here.
Global migration including refugees has reached astonishing levels with an estimated 281 million people on the move in 2021. Our response is first, Biblical, given that our Lord Jesus was a refugee and that the Scriptures instruct us to welcome and care for the stranger. Our response is also to be good citizens and to ensure by our warm welcome, that the integration of our new neighbors is the most successful as possible. Finally, we have personal motivations that range from obedience to empathy to generosity to a deep desire to learn from each other and, as a result, all be brought closer to God.
Our deepest motivation comes from Scripture.
Jesus was a refugee in Egypt (Matthew 2:13-15) and God instructed the Israelites throughout their history to remember that they were once strangers in a foreign land. We read in Leviticus 19:34, “The stranger that resides with you shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself; for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.” And, again from Deuteronomy 10:18-19, “He enacts justice for orphans and widows, and he loves immigrants, giving them food and clothing. That means you must also love immigrants because you were immigrants in Egypt”. These instructions to care for the underprivileged are for God’s followers today.
Migration has and continues to shape our world.
Whether voluntary for economic or educational reasons or involuntary for reasons of war, famine, or persecution, migration has had a tremendous impact on our world. Today, it has reached new, all-time levels with more than 272 million people displaced from their homeland, including over 26 million registered refugees. We are called to serve these populations.
Responsibility as citizens.
Our country’s fabric is multicultural. We have welcomed the stranger from all over the world since our founding. When new neighbors move into the neighborhood, good citizens welcome them and show hospitality. When those new neighbors are from far-away places, as immigrants or refugees, it’s an even more important responsibility to reach out and help them to become part of their new community.
For resettlement to be successful, new arrivals must experience a sense of belonging and place as part of their new identity and status. A researcher at a University in Toronto identified “warmth of welcome” as one of the most influential ingredients to helping the displaced to integrate into their new society, above things like employment, housing and English classes.
A summary from resettlement team members.
We feel blessed to be living in America and we are motivated to share those blessings. One team member stated that love is a verb and we want to live generously. Several mentioned rising above the political controversies and actually doing something. In whatever ways these immigrants or refugees got here, now is the time to act. One member said, “I have no excuse to hold up to God for saying ‘no’”. Several team members have military experience and there is a sense of mission and gratitude for the experiences of help and support they received in the foreign countries of service. Many of our team members have had overseas, cross-cultural experiences, which have given them a desire to serve in similar ways right here in our backyards. Those same cross-cultural experiences have taught us that becoming part of a new place is challenging and we want to help make the journey easier. Finally, we recognize that God’s world is a magnificent place, full of people speaking thousands of languages in thousands of cultures that all express the image of God. It is a privilege to learn from each other and to be brought closer to God as a result.
1-USCIS (US Citizen and Immigration Services)
2- IOM Global Migration Report 2020. Global Migration Data Analysis Centre, International Organization for Migration. Berlin, Germany. 2021 reports say 281 million.
3- Das, Rupen and Brent Hamoud. 2017. Strangers in the Kingdom. Ministering to Refugees, Migrants and the Stateless. Carlisle, Cumbria, UK. Langham Global Libraries. (p.111)
Drafted April 11, 2022
Interested in getting involved with
Stay Informed! Subscribe to our Community of Hospitality newsletter. In this newsletter, we’ll send regular updates on how we as a church are responding to this crisis and other local opportunities to be involved cross-culturally. Subscribe here.
Email Ginny Davidson or Gordon Williams for more information.
We have an immediate need for drivers and vehicles to transport our refugee family and other Congolese refugees interested in attending church on Sundays. This will be for the second service.
If you would like to help sign up using this form.
DONATE to Woodlands Church. Checks can be made to Woodlands Church: Refugee Resettlement. These financial gifts will be used to support ECDC (the refugee agency we work with) and the family we support.
DONATE to the Community Foundation of Central Wisconsin: https://cfcwi.org/refugee-resettlement/. You can give to Woodlands Church or one of the other teams in Stevens Point. Ask to see if your employer will match your donation.