As a pastor’s kid in The Wesleyan Church, I remember when our missions focus included the 10/40 Window: the band of latitude 10 degrees south and 40 degrees north which wraps around the equator. The band encompassed North Africa, the Middle East and Central and Southeast Asia, and they remain even now the least evangelized countries in the world—the most restrictive to Christianity.
My husband, Jeff, and I co-pastor Faith Legacy Church (FLC) in Sacramento, California. We share our lives with immigrants from these 10/40 Window countries in the hopes of building relationships that earn their trust, so they will be willing to hear the gospel.
Two years ago, FLC began ministering to refugees almost by accident. A government-funded charter school asked to rent part of our campus to teach ESL courses (English as a second language) Monday through Friday.
Their request has changed our church and hearts forever.
Most of our congregation had never even spoken with a Muslim before we began hosting this school. Now with more than 100 Afghan students, mostly from Afghanistan, enrolled in morning and afternoon classes, a stop at the church during the week means waving at women in hajibs and parking next to people of a different race and religion. Our congregation is learning about the struggles, pain and courage of these people who fear ISIS, the terrorist group that has destroyed their homes and villages.
The prayers I remember praying as a young girl are being answered today in the form of massive immigration from closed countries such as Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq and Iran to the United States. The Lord is sending thousands of refugees to a nation founded on Christian principles and full of churches able to help in a myriad of ways.
We have reached out to our neighbors in three specific ways:
- We host Conversation Club every two weeks, where church members talk with small groups of refugees to help them practice English. Each volunteer hosts a table, and there are about 35-40 people practicing English each club meeting. People show us pictures of their children and we learn about their lives, hopes and dreams for a future in America. We, in turn, share our lives with them and discuss our traditions and holidays, speaking of our faith in respectful ways.
- A few times annually we host student dinners and parties. Our biggest event is Thanksgiving, when we prepare a dinner tailored to their dietary restrictions—purchasing a halal turkey from an Afghan market and modifying some recipes to match their taste preferences. During dinner, we give a short synopsis of the first Thanksgiving, mentioning our earlier refugee status in this nation and our reliance on the indigenous people who made our survival possible. We express our wish to extend the help we were given to them. We also mention our respect for how hard they work to learn our language and to become productive citizens here. It is amazing how touched they are by our recognition of their struggle.
- We opened a free community clothing store three years ago. Our congregation donates gently used clothes every week, and word has spread so others are bringing donations as well. The clothes are sorted by gender and size, and the store is open the second Saturday of every month. More than 100 families, mostly Afghan, have registered with us to shop, some of whom line up hours before the store opens.
Photos and stories of these events are regularly shared with our congregation to help continue to break down barriers and fears, and to remind ourselves that we serve a God who chose to come to earth as a Middle Eastern refugee! We offer our people opportunities to participate in ministries designed to create a more compassionate heart toward refugees. We are always looking for ways to deepen relationships in order to earn more opportunities to tell others about Jesus. Our goal is to share Jesus’ love with those he has sent to us and to love them without fear.
We celebrate this 10/40 opportunity God literally brought to our doorsteps and the ongoing richness these relationships bring to our church. We are growing deeper daily.