For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me (Matthew 25:35).
Louisville’s Metro Disciples Congregations Heeding Christ’s Call to Love the Stranger
Many Disciples congregations throughout the country recognized June’s World Refugee Day and the Refugee and Immigrant Welcome Sunday on June 18 to celebrate their communities’ welcome for refugees and immigrants. This celebration made for a poignant juxtaposition to the turmoil, chaos, and injustices surrounding current US immigration and refugee practices and policies.
Welcome Sunday provided congregations an opportunity to affirm and recognize the life-changing work they have done and are continuing to do. It offered a glimpse of hope when we acknowledged that faith communities continue to feel compelled to respond to the plight of refugees and immigrants, both from compassion and because our traditions are clear about the call to do so.
One congregation in Louisville, Jeffersontown Christian Church (J’town CC), found reason to lift-up the work they have done with refugee resettlement, the many lives changed through their efforts over the years and, refugee and immigrant contributions to the places where they live and work. Also affirmed was the congregation’s commitment to work toward justice for the “least of these” and the “strangers among us.”
Working with Kentucky Refugee Ministries since 1994, J’town CC Senior Minister, Rev. Dr. Doug Meister, reports that J’town CC has sponsored resettlement efforts for five Bosnian families, three “Lost Boys of Sudan,” a family from Columbia, and, most recently, a family from Iraq. A total of 26 persons have been resettled. Over the years, two of the refugees have passed away, and at least 6 children have been born. With support and through hope, hard work, and determination, each has succeeded in self-sufficiency and successful integration into the community.
The church’s Welcome Sunday included an after-worship dinner with many of the refugee families in attendance. Many strong relationships continue between members of the congregation and the persons they helped resettle, and the love, support, and friendships shared are now reciprocal. Those who began as refugees became “family.”
Recently, one of the Lost Boys of Sudan was featured in the Disciples Home Missions Refugee and Immigration Ministries newsletter. Peter Beny, one of the refugees sponsored by J’town CC, led a workshop with DHM Refugee and Immigration Ministries Director, Dr. Sharon Stanley-Rea, sharing his story with those in attendance at the Kentucky Disciples Women’s Ministries Spring Conference in April of this year.
Beargrass Christian Church and Douglass Blvd Christian Church in Louisville also have been highlighted by DHM’s Refugee and Immigration Ministries for the work they have done and are doing on behalf of refugees and immigrants in the community.
Over the years, Beargrass has sponsored 11 refugee families and “puts wheels to their welcoming through their creative “Pedal Power Project” in collaboration with KRM—which has provided over 3,000 bicycles to refugees in the area since 2013!”
Rev. Dr. Derek Penwell, Senior Pastor of Douglass Blvd. Christian Church in Louisville, was recognized for his efforts in providing another essential gift communities of faith must offer refugees- a public voice of welcome. Derek provides a strong voice for justice through his many writings and publications and commitment to advocacy.
We recognize and celebrate the many congregations in Kentucky that are committed to living into the vision that Kentucky Refugee Ministries has set before them which is, “To compassionately welcome and serve the world’s displaced people and encourage the hope that lives within each human being by providing an atmosphere of hospitality, responsiveness, mutual respect, trust and tolerance” and to the Disciples Home Missions Refugee and Immigration Ministries’ goal, “To respond to Jesus’ call to welcome the stranger through refugee resettlement, ministering with immigrants, and advocacy.”
To learn more about the stories shared above, click on the following link to read DHM’s Refugee and Immigration Ministries Disciples Refugee and Immigrant Stories.