From Kenya to New Jersey: ministry and mission with refugees

Pastor Jim Butler | November 3, 2015

Photo: Jim Butler

Photo: Jim Butler

As the Care and Community Pastor of NextGen, an American Baptist Church, I’m privileged to help lead our mission experiences both abroad and in New Jersey.  At NextGen we believe that vision, mission and action are at the core of a thriving faith community.

Last August we took a group of youth and adults to Soweto Academy in the heart of Kibera, one of the largest slums in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi.  Our commitment to Soweto Academy is our longest running overseas mission project.  We’ve partnered with Bishop Chris Okumu, the founder of Soweto Academy, rebuilding classrooms and other facilities that serve 500 students from first to 8th grade.

Far from Nairobi, near the Somalia border is Dadaab, home to the largest refugee camps in the world as Somalia’s civil war battles on after 25 years of conflict. Although we didn’t travel all the way to Dadaab, we did visit Church World Service, and the Resettlement Support Center in Nairobi. We learned how CWS prepares case files for U.S. Refugee Admissions Program candidates in sub-Saharan Africa, and helps those whom the U.S. government approves for resettlement with departure arrangements.

Our NextGen team was able to receive an in-depth understanding of the processing for the refugees. The facility and folks in Nairobi are top notch and their passion for the refugees’ plight is truly heartfelt, refreshing and accomplished with humility.

This visit to the CWS Nairobi office gave our mission team great inspiration to do our part as NextGen to welcome refugees through joining our own local CWS resettlement office in Jersey City.

Thus far we have brought donations of food, furniture, and clothing. We have also had the honor to meet newly arriving refugee families. We continue to build our team to partner with CWS Jersey City, and the families of refugees that will resettle in the U.S.

The story of one family in particular stands out to me. A father and daughter were in the wrong place at the wrong time when a bomb went off, causing permanent deafness to the child and leaving the father lame. This family was ripped apart because of war, which left them helpless and hopeless. CWS and faith communities like NextGen Church are working in partnership to restore healing, sanctuary, love and hope to families like these.

Yet, our country has more work to do. The U.S. lags far behind our European counterparts in welcoming Syrian refugees; wherein Germany alone is planning to take in 1.5 million Syrians this year, the U.S. has only resettled two thousand. For a nation made of immigrants, and one that has been an international leader for decades on refugee resettlement work, we can and should do more. As faith communities we are called to this work, which is why so many of us are providing donations and volunteering to co-sponsor Syrian refugees. We are also joining Refugee Council USA, in advocacy efforts to tell the Obama Administration to raise the level to 100,000 Syrians to be resettled in the U.S. and ask that Congress find the funds to appropriate accordingly. Learn more how you can be an advocate at rcusa.org.

Through donation drives, service and advocacy, we are working together to welcome refugees. Vision. Mission. Action.  These words capture the essence of NextGen’s purpose beyond our church walls. Now entering into our 7th year anniversary, we continue reaching out to those both near and far; this has been our ministry since inception.  Our mission combines worship, prayer, physical labor and most of all an opportunity to connect and simply share God’s love and compassion with all, and we are glad to be partnering with CWS. To learn more about NextGen visit nextgenministry.net


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