Legal Help and Love for Refugees

Imagine…

After suffering immense persecution in your homeland, fearing for your life and the life of your children day in and day out, waiting for years in an overcrowded and disease ridden refugee camp, you finally arrive at your new home in the United States.

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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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At the Intersection of Human Trafficking and Immigration

In recent days, our news feeds have been flooded with images of children separated from their parents and debates about how open our borders should be. Regardless of where we stand politically, we can’t ignore the fact that there are refugees gathered at our backdoor. They aren’t from the other side of the world, and these refugees are fleeing a different kind of war. It is a war that demands the blood of their sons and the innocence of their daughters.

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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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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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Ordinary People Living Out an Extraordinary Calling to Love

Imagine 2017

Over 600 completely average people joined us for Imagine last weekend. We joined together because we believe that the gospel of Jesus Christ is that He came to seek and to save sinners just like us. We also believe that the whole of the Gospel is much more radical: it invites us to live as a disciple of the One who fed the hungry, clothed the naked, welcomed children, and spent time with those society deemed unworthy and outcasts.

 

This past weekend, over 600 ordinary followers of Jesus joined together to learn how to better seek justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God (Micah 6:8). We recognized the fears that often paralyze us, and we leaned into the truths from Scripture: that the same way our Savior walked right into the “Samarias” of His world, we are called to the “Samarias” of ours…the places others would rather avoid: the streets, the group home, the orphanage, the prison, the abortion clinic, the rehab center, and the strip club. He walked in, bent down, and looked people right in the eye because relationships transform. He not only calls us to follow Him, but equips us as we do.

 

“Imagine made me realize that my fear of stepping out is normal, and reminded me that God can use anyone.”

“Some moments my heart was breaking and at the same time my fears are lessening. Opening my mind to what it means to truly love others as God loves us!”

“It gave me further conviction to open up to more possibilities that previously scared me.”

 

Throughout the weekend together we considered the idea of “What’s my one?” Our God is an intentional God seeking out the one lost sheep, the one lost coin, and the prodigal son (Luke 15). He has designed and equipped each of us with a different, yet complementary role to play in living out the Gospel (Romans 12:3-6). As each attendee prayerfully considers, “What’s my one?”, together we are able to make an impact in our world.

Here are just a few of the “ones” God led attendees to:

  • Haiti
  • Foster Dad
  • Short-term missions
  • Mentoring
  • Cambodia
  • Refugees learning English
  • Sex Trafficking
  • Strengthening a culture of life in our churches
  • China special needs adoption
  • Foster mom advocate
  • Homelessness
  • Encouraging adoptive families

 

Our prayer is that each person to whom the Lord spoke one thing would respond with prompt obedience to this call. Imagine what would happen if followers of Jesus took a stand for the hungry, the hurting and the fatherless. Let us bring that to life each and every day of the coming year!

Our deepest appreciation to each speaker, exhibitor and to the team of volunteers who planned and executed this event. Our time together was encouraging, refreshing, and equipping. We look forward to seeing you at Imagine 2018.

 

We’d love to hear your story of how God is using you, a completely ordinary person to live out His extraordinary calling to love.

Email us at connect@imagineconferencepgh.com

For encouragement and practical help living out this calling year round, be sure to subscribe to our blog.

 

 

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What to Expect at Imagine 2017

It’s Friday, November 10th, at 6:00 pm and you’re pulling into the parking lot in expectation of a great weekend at Imagine.

We’re ready for you! For SIXTEEN months we’ve been planning, praying, and preparing for an amazing weekend where people can gather with other believers, be equipped and encouraged in our call, and take a step of obedience to live out an extraordinary calling to love!

But do you really know what to expect?

 

A warm welcome!

First and foremost we are glad you’re joining us. You’ll find plenty of free parking, and warm welcoming smiles as you enter the Wexford campus of North Way Christian Community. Come right in. Pick up a registration packet, a cup of coffee, relax, and visit some exhibitors (more on our amazing exhibitors later).

At about 7:00 pm make your way to the sanctuary. We’ve designed an evening of worship that will roll out the red carpet for the Holy Spirit. We’ll share stories from people just like you who will encourage you to take that first step in living out Jesus’ love. You’ll also hear from our powerful keynote speaker who will challenge you with Biblical truth.

We pray that you will use this evening as a time to allow God to speak to your heart.

As Jesus followers we are called to live out His extraordinary love. This can be challenging, scary, tiring, messy and complex, but it is always worth it. We want this evening to be a time of refreshment for you, a time to have your heart broken for what breaks God’s, and a time of revelation as He reveals to you your part in His plan.

And we’re just getting started. Be sure to come back tomorrow!

 

Saturday: Dig Deep

After a restful night’s sleep, head back Saturday morning for a jam-packed day. We’re starting bright and early with a continental breakfast. Grab a plate and pull up a seat at a table. Join the conversation with a friend. Didn’t come with one? No problem, make one! Share your story and what God spoke to you last night. Join us in the sanctuary for some opening thoughts and to orient your day in prayer.

Now let’s head to the breakout sessions! There are over 20 breakout sessions to choose from.

This is your chance to dig deep. We’ve gathered speakers who not only know about their field, but are actively engaged in it. Whether you want to learn more about human trafficking, serving refugees, understanding some of the racial tensions in our world, adoption or foster care, what it means to be truly “pro-life”, short term missions, caring for children with incarcerated parents, parenting kids who have faced trauma, poverty, addiction . . . there’s something for you. Be sure to check out the list of breakouts now, so you know how to plan your day.

We’re providing you lunch too, and an opportunity to connect with people whose hearts are burning with similar passions as yours. If you prefer to eat quietly and process all you’ve been learning, that’s fine too.

After lunch join us for a special General Session. Because it’s really easy to be overwhelmed with fears and what-ifs, we invite you to hear the stories of four everyday people from the Pittsburgh region who God called to step out of their comfort zone. And because our God is faithful, you’ll hear how He’s met them, provided for them, and continues to walk with them on their journeys.

 

Exhibitors: Connecting God’s Call for You with a First Step
Between breakout sessions visit the Imagine Exhibitors. We’ve gathered over 45 amazing exhibitors for you to connect with.

To clarify, we don’t have vendors. We invite local and national organizations who are on the front lines of serving our neighbors near and far so that as God whispers a direction to your heart, you can connect with someone right there and step out in obedience.

If you’re on the front lines already, we recognize sometimes you’re the one needing some support – our exhibitors offer those services too. You will not want to miss the wide variety of quality organizations that are there to engage with you.

 

The end –just the beginning
As Saturday afternoon draws to a close, and you drive off the campus, it is our prayer that God has spoken at least one thing to your heart, and that you will respond by taking that one next step.

Can you Imagine the difference we will make in our city, country and world if we each live out this extraordinary calling to love?

We can. It gives us chills.

 

Be sure to register for the Imagine Conference!

 


Erin Brothers, Co-Director of OrphanCare Ministry, North Way Christian Community

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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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Refugees in the Bible

The existence of refugees is nothing new.

Today, the refugee crisis in Syria continues to make headlines, but in 2003 it was over 2 million refugees fleeing the war in Iraq. In 1994, 2.5 million Sudanese fled the war in the Darfur region, and in the same year, over 2 million people left their homes to escape genocide in Rwanda. Around 2.7 million refugees escaped the Bosnian war in 1992, five million left Soviet-occupied Afghanistan in 1979, and the dictatorship of Idi Amin forced thousands of Asians from Uganda in 1972. During the late 1970’s over 3 million people fled from Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos with around 1.3 million resettling in the United States. In 1948, the Arab-Israeli War resulted in around 5 million Palestinian refugees. Still, the single largest refugee crisis in world history occurred in 1945 during World War II as over 40 million Europeans fled their homes and countries. Well over a million more refugees resulted from World War I in 1914, 2 million Jews escaped persecution in Russia in 1881, and, in 1783, over 10 million Muhacirs fled persecution in their respective countries to settle in what is modern-day Turkey.

The list goes on and on, yet these are only some of the major refugee crises in the past 250 years!

So, let’s look at some of the earliest refugees in history, as recorded in the Bible. Adam and Eve were effectively refugees after their sin resulted in their expulsion from the Garden of Eden. Cain was similarly banished to wander the earth while Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca, and Jacob were at one point or another forced to live in different lands to escape famine. Moses and the Israelites fled from persecution in Egypt, Naomi fled from famine, David fled from Saul, and Elijah fled from King Ahab. The Israelites were displaced in exile to Assyria and then Babylon before Nehemiah began the return to Jerusalem. Ezra, Esther, Mordecai, Ezekiel, Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were all forced from their homelands for different reasons.

And then there is Jesus who was born in Bethlehem rather than Nazareth because of a government ordered census which required temporary displacement. Shortly after his birth, Jesus, along with Mary and Joseph, fled to Egypt to escape the murderous orders of Herod. Have you noticed the incredible notoriety of these Biblical refugees?

Not only does God care deeply for the refugees in the world, he uses them in tremendous ways. God also uses forced migration to further His kingdom and spread the gospel.

In Acts 8, persecution of the early Christians displaced them into different regions. The result of this was that,

“those who were scattered went about preaching the word” (Acts 8:4).

So, while I would never claim that God causes refugee crises, he surely uses refugees and the scattering of peoples to spread the gospel message and increase our faith in Him.

Beside all of this, we can consider ourselves Heavenly refugees. Ever since Adam and Eve were expelled from the garden, mankind has lived apart from God’s manifest presence and the amazing homeland that was originally created for us. Jesus’ sacrifice offers the opportunity to restore that relationship and return us to an eternal life with him in Heaven. Though we remain here on Earth as a result of sinful exile, “our citizenship is in Heaven” (Philippians 3:20).

Being considered spiritual refugees in a foreign land, unified in the belief that “in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith” (Galatians 3;26), we await the time when we will return home with our Heavenly Father.

God cares enough about our “refugee status” to redeem us through Jesus’ death and resurrection, he cared about the many refugees in the Bible as he provided for them and used them in his plan, and he surely cares about the millions of refugees in the world today.

Register for the Imagine Conference


Adam Gebhart, founder and Director, Agapao Refugee Ministry

 

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