While many are familiar with the Mission’s emergency services and long-term programs, fewer are aware of how the Mission serves refugee families in the Denver area. Arrival in the United States certainly provides a degree of security for those fleeing turmoil, however a new home brings new struggles for employment, affordable housing, and healthy community. The Family Refugee Services (FRS) program was created to fulfill the Mission’s purpose of serving individuals’ physical and spiritual needs within the refugee community.
FRS began in 2003 and is part of the Mission’s permanent housing program. The program works in partnership with Lutheran Family Services, and most frequently serves families from Africa, Asia, and the Middle East. Families receive assistance with their first month’s rent and are paired with long-term mentor teams, who help them integrate into our Denver community. The program also provides monetary incentives for families to achieve self-sufficiency goals, such as maintaining employment, opening a bank account and enrolling in ESL classes. Additionally, the Mission organizes youth programming for refugee children and encourages families to access its Ministry Outreach Center for basic necessities. While financial and material assistance are important components of the program, the principal goal of FRS is to provide a welcoming community for our refugee families and show them the love of Christ.
José Kabeya, originally from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, became the program’s coordinator in 2011, having spent nearly a decade reaching out to refugees through his church. Under his leadership, the program has expanded its volunteer base with local churches and, as a result, has grown from serving 20 families to 60 families annually.
A natural storyteller, José is quick to share success stories of families at the program. He recalls how one family from Burma achieved stable employment and housing over time despite a large language barrier. Beyond gaining stability, they embraced the Mission’s efforts to show them community and “became like family to [José] and to the mentor team.” Personal relationships with mentor families helped the parents restore their marriage, and the family witnessed the healing power of prayer after everyone rallied in prayer around their son’s illness. José is glad to add…
“The children were so excited to learn about Jesus!”
FRS also hosts interns every summer and semester. For interns Lauren Stoner, Jenna Randolph, and Anthonia Irechukwu, the most rewarding experiences have come through building relationships with the refugee families. They each note that conducting check-in and mentorship meetings with families has challenged them to communicate across language and cultural barriers. Lauren laughs in describing her efforts to teach cooking skills to a single mother from the Central African Republic, whose English abilities are very limited and whose five children make every moment eventful. The family enjoyed the chicken and roasted vegetables, but the greater victory was seeing the mother gain confidence with her oven and stove.
Despite the challenge of helping families adjust, Anthonia says that visiting with the families is the highlight of her week. Lauren adds that many of her relationships with families have progressed from service provision to good friendships. Jenna notes that working hands-on with refugees has given her a “fresh perspective on the refugee issues that we see on the news.” Assisting with youth programs, such as the recent Denver Broncos Jr. Training Camp, has also allowed them to make the refugee children feel included in their community.
The interns have also been impacted by refugee families’ struggles to afford basic necessities. José says that refugees’ greatest material needs are furniture, baby care products, and clothing. One of the most difficult costs for refugees is furnishing their apartments after they find affordable housing, while families with multiple children often struggle to afford diapers, wipes, and other early childhood necessities.
However, when asked about the future of the program and its greatest needs, José emphasizes above all else the power of churches to make collective efforts in welcoming refugee families. He notes that across Colorado, individual Christians and faith-based organizations – such as Lutheran Family Services – have led the way for decades in serving refugees. But as his continual efforts to engage churches demonstrates, José hopes that church bodies will rally around refugee families to invite them into their larger community. José powerfully sums up the importance of community networks:
“If you were in a completely new country, and you did not know the language or culture, even one person inviting you into their community makes all the difference. Imagine if it were not just one or two people, but a whole community that welcomed you in!”
Interested in becoming a mentor with one of our refugee families? Learn more here