Ready, Set, Go!…But How? Practical advice on serving refugees & immigrants

You want to serve your refugee and immigrant neighbors?

That is fantastic! How do you go about accomplishing that goal? Sometimes the topic may feel so big or politically charged that you are not sure how to take action, how to go from the idea to the actions. Here are a few things to consider…

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Drowning Girl

Imagine you bought yourself a new watch. It works so perfectly (and looks so good on your gorgeous wrist) that you decide to buy yourself a fancy shirt to go with it. Then, you talk yourself into buying a whole new outfit (because you have worked so hard recently and you deserve to treat yourself).

New shoes, fresh underwear, bling.

You look amazing.

And you feel amazing.

But while you’re out for a stroll around the lake (looking like a million bucks) you see a young girl drowning. You can tell that she’s exhausted… seconds from going under.

Tell me, what would you do?

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7 Things to Know About Working with Refugees

Refugees face many challenges when they arrive to the US. The cultural, linguistic, and institutional differences can create significant barriers for them, but as Christians, we can help them overcome those barriers and adjust to their new lives. Welcoming refugees in our city is the first step, but here are some tips for communication and compassion for those looking to get more involved.

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Supporting Foster Families: Act Instead of Ask

Questions, questions, and more questions.

When you step into the world of foster care, you’re stepping into the great unknown. You don’t know when the phone will ring asking you to take a placement. You don’t know how much time you’ll have to prepare for that placement. You don’t know the child, the case, the issues, or the outcome. You just don’t know.  And for those of us who have said yes to being foster parents, we’ve learned this is a part of our journey.

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L-O-V-E

L-O-V-E.

Arguably, the most powerful word in existence, and even more so in action. Love is a force like no other. It covers a multitude of sins and darkness, including hatred, racism, fear, and indifference. Love gets so watered down, as we use it to describe our emotions about one thing or another, but true, pure, unconditional love comes from the Father and can only be felt when we give ourselves over to the Creator (who Himself is love) and made us in His image. Continue reading “L-O-V-E”

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Wall-Breakers

The day’s light was just beginning to dim at the onset of a crisp, autumn evening.

The cool air made for perfect weather for a walk around the neighborhood. Children’s laughter echoed down the car-lined streets as friends gathered to play in the grass beyond the sidewalks. Some parents and other adults, recently returned from a day at work, trickled outside to share in the enjoyment of the beautiful evening.

As I strolled down the road, another gentleman was just reaching the sidewalk. We exchanged names and pleasantries and briefly talked about the nice weather, work, and family before our paths took us in different directions. I rounded the bend and squeezed to the side of the pathway to allow space for two young women, one of them pushing a baby stroller carrying a bright-eyed infant, to pass by on my left. They smiled warmly and said hello in passing.

I noticed one of my son’s friends playing soccer with some other boys from the neighborhood and stopped to greet him. I asked how school was going and listened as he told me about a recently acquired Pokémon card. His mom, a friend of our family, invited me in for tea, but I had to decline. I already had plans and couldn’t take her up on the offer this time. We said goodbye with the promise of getting our kids together to play sometime soon.

It is a wonderful neighborhood filled with loving families, friendly faces, energetic children, and joy in life.

But, how did you picture that neighborhood?

What did those faces look like in your mind’s eye? Where would you find this place? Who are the people who live there, what do they do for a living, and what is their background?

This brief story is an account of one evening walk that I had through a neighborhood in Pittsburgh. What I didn’t tell you is that the people I mentioned were from the Congo, Syria, and Nepal living in the United States as internationally displaced refugees. I did my best to paint a picture through my words, but they are not at all embellished or untrue in their description. This neighborhood is a welcoming and friendly place where I and my family love to spend time.

Is this what you would imagine as a description of a community largely comprised of diverse refugees?

These are our neighbors, and though they are typically very welcoming, hospitable, and generous, many of these people have never had an American friend or even had an American visit them in their home or apartment.

It’s not actually there, but you can almost see the wall that divides this neighborhood from the rest of the surrounding community.

Not long ago, I sensed the Lord speaking to me as He said,

people are building walls that are making it harder for others to get to Me.

My heart was broken at this thought! To the contrary, it is our responsibility to be wall-breakers, to bridge the gap, and to welcome our neighbors with Godly love and compassionate friendship.

Take a step out in faith and go for a walk…it’s amazing where God will lead you!


Adam Gebhart, Founder and Director Agapao Refugee Ministry

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Stale Bread

I looked down at the stale loaf of white bread in my hands.

Something happened here that I don’t understand, I thought.

I’m in a remote village in southwest China, a couple of hours by car from the nearest “foreigner store” that would sell white bread. I thanked my translator, feeling a mixture of shame, gratitude, exhaustion, and confusion. I’ve tried desperately to be laid back, fit in with the crowd, and go with the flow. What have I done to make my hosts feel that the breakfast that every other person in the entire complex eats every morning, isn’t good enough for me? I walked back to my room in the hospital dormitory, looking out over the dusty mountains as I ran back through every conversation I’ve had in the past 24 hours. The constant emotional drain of being misunderstood once again washed over me. Then it hit me like a slap to the face… I said too much. This is not the first time that my talkative personality would be my downfall.

Let me back up and provide some context. Four years ago I went to China on a long-term mission trip. I worked with an organization that provided medical services to low-income families. The organization was just starting to branch out and offer special education services as well; which was one of the main reasons I chose to work with this organization, being a speech pathologist by trade. During the time I was with them, I was offered an incredible opportunity: Train the first group of Chinese speech-language pathologists at this extraordinarily rural hospital. Ever the adventurer, I’m always up for a good challenge.

Due to the organization’s needs, I would go to the hospital on my own. My team… the ones whom had served in China for a number of years and understood the culture…they would stay in the city and continue their work.

Back to the bread.

I had been at the hospital a few days before the stale white bread showed up. The afternoon before, the hospital-provided translator and I went to lunch together. I stood looking at the food in the cafeteria and exclaimed how excited I was to eat. I told her that I didn’t eat much for breakfast, was hungry, and the food looked great.

That was it. That right there. It doesn’t sound like I was complaining, right? At least not to an American’s ears.

In America, if I wanted to say that I didn’t like the breakfast, I just come right out and say, I didn’t like breakfast. In general, Western society tends to engage in direct communication to get our point across. This is not as true of Chinese culture. If you didn’t like breakfast, you wouldn’t directly complain about it. That would embarrass your host and be rude. Instead, you would use an indirect form of communication. As I reflected on this interaction, I think my translator took my mentioning that I didn’t eat much for breakfast to be me telling her that the breakfast was inadequate for me. She must have sent someone out to pick up what she felt would be a more traditional American breakfast.

Ugh. So much for going with the flow.

This day and age a lot of people might ask why we need to learn about cultural differences? Do these seemingly small blunders really matter? I think they do matter. They matter when we want to honor, respect, serve, and truly love our neighbors. When I recount this stale white bread story, I can’t help but think about how Jesus had to cross socio-cultural barriers for us. I think about the way that God became man-how He came to us.

He was born as a human, assimilated to our world, ate the food we eat, and communicated to us in our language. He attended our festivities, sat and ate with us, and spoke in parables just so we could relate and understand.

We live in a global world.

All of us engage with people from cultures other than our own. It may be at work, at church, in our neighborhoods, or even on mission trips. People from all different cultures are all around us. But if we’re blind to our neighbor’s cultural differences, we could end up offending our neighbor in our efforts to show love.

I hope you’ll join me this year at the Imagine Conference. Amongst the various other break-out sessions, we’ll have speakers experienced in cross-cultural engagement helping to lead us through a conversation about culture and teaching us how to relate to our neighbors from different cultures. Let’s imagine what it looks like to love our neighbor in a way that will be truly meaningful to them…and avoid eating some stale white bread in the process.

Register for the Imagine Conference!


Becca Densmore, Mission Council Representative, North Way Christian Community – East End

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