Nadifa (not her real name) was born in a troubled season. She spent her first years of life in a canvas tent in a refugee camp in Ethiopia. At age five, Nadifa got on a plane with her mom and two younger brothers, and arrived in a new and unfamiliar world called Phoenix, Arizona: one with light-switches and microwaves, carpets and vacuum cleaners.
Nadifa’s family was the first to be sponsored through the efforts of CRM staff members Steve and Melissa Hubler, who create pathways for local churches to engage in mission. Through their work, small groups of Christian sponsors “adopt” refugee families, meeting them when they arrive, furnishing apartments for them, staying connected in relationship, and offering practical help in learning to live in a brand new country.
As the end of summer approached, Nadifa’s sponsors realized that no one was helping her prepare for school. It was a big, time-intensive project, but the sponsor moms took it on anyways. They helped Nadifa’s mom do the typical American “mom stuff,” getting school supplies, a backpack, and school clothes; they took the family to meet people at the school and got Nadifa registered. A few days later little Nadifa would walk through those big doors for her first day as a student—a first day of school in a still unfamiliar country, where she and her mom couldn’t even yet speak the language.
When the big day arrived, Nadifa was terrified. Her mom had just started a job, and wasn’t able to take her to school. So her sponsor moms walked her there instead. It was a labor of love in its simplest form.
One of the sponsor moms shared an inside glimpse:
“[At the end of the day], I waited with the teacher until all the kids were picked up. She said Nadifa did great, followed along, and even repeated several phrases after her. Nadifa and I walked back through the park hand in hand. It was actually a very precious time.”
“Nadifa is a slow walker. It was just her and I. It was so quiet so I started singing to her. Jesus Loves Me, The ABC's, My God Is So Big, etc. (and she'd repeat some of the ending phrases after me). Absolutely precious. She had her yogurt drink her mommy had packed for her in one hand, and my hand in her other hand, and a big ol’ yogurt mustache on her face.”
“We get back to the apartment and I go through Nadifa's backpack and have her mom sign all the necessary paperwork, then repack her backpack for tomorrow. I told her one of us would be meeting her at 7:15 a.m. the next day. I gave her a hug, said bye and I was on my way.”
“[As I reflected on the day, God showed me that] we are making an impact in that apartment complex. Other refugees are noticing us and coming to us for help. There is a huge mission field open to us here and a huge invitation for other believers to join in the work...because we simply can't do it all alone.”
Reaching out in practical service to refugees has had a significant impact on the sponsors as well. A mother of five who is now a sponsor shares how serving refugees has challenged her:
“I have to tell you, I didn't think it was going to turn out this way. I have to be honest here, I was hoping for the easy American-style drop-off donation to charity. Where I could pat myself on the back and say, ‘Hey, I helped some refugees,’ then move on with my life and the next 'charity mission' idea. Man oh man, I don't think that is the deal God was planning at all.”
“These are real people, with real needs, living right in our own town, these are literally ‘our neighbors’! Think how much like the Good Samaritan this story really is: opposing religions, cultural enemies, we have plans and places to go, she is hurt, scared and alone.”
“The Veggie Tales version of the Good Samaritan (where I get a lot of my theology), has a song that goes, ‘Busy, busy, dreadfully busy, much, much too busy for you.’ BAM! A smack right between my eyes. Not sure what or how to do any of this; I just don't want to be the priest who walks to the other side of the road on this one.”
In the last few months since Nadifa’s first day of school, the work has grown to include 200 Christian sponsors helping 70 refugees, a concrete example of CRM’s commitment to mobilize the Church for mission. While studies have shown that many American churches are responding fearfully to the refugee crisis, Steve and Melissa’s network has grown in a few short months to be the largest group of refugee sponsors for their partner NGO in the city of Phoenix.
These “good Samaritans” of Phoenix are ordinary people willing to risk and willing to devote the time and energy required to love some of the most vulnerable people in their city. And Nadifa’s yogurt-covered smile is just one sign that it’s already making a difference.
Steve Hubler and his wife, Melissa, live in Phoenix, AZ. He coaches church planters and develops new pathways for missional engagement.