How can the crisis of an Iraqi refugee family’s house fire help churches engage young women in missions involvement amid their busy twenty-first century lives?
Several congregations in the Knoxville area are discovering the answer through hands-on interaction with such ministry groups as Love World, Welcome House Knoxville, and Knoxville Internationals Network.
Kimberly Poore is a member of the Love World team at Wallace Memorial Baptist Church in Knoxville. The missions group, which launched in 2019, is geared toward young women ages twenty-five to forty. She said the leadership team seeks “to educate and also provide mission opportunities for other Wallace women within our church.”
Love World’s missions focus includes ministering alongside Welcome House Knoxville, a nonprofit ministry that provides temporary housing for immigrant and refugee families in the Knoxville area.
The ministry’s primary aim is “building long-term relationships through short-term housing,” according to welcomehouseknoxville.org. Providing “safe and loving space for individuals and families in transition to permanent housing” allows volunteers “to share the love of Jesus through the ministries of hospitality and friendship.”
Cindy Hood, the founder and director of Welcome House, noted that long-term housing often is difficult to find for many refugees, especially for larger families and single women with children.
After visiting a similar refugee ministry model while on a family vacation in North Carolina, Hood said she returned home with a burden to partner with Bridge Refugee Services, Knoxville’s local refugee resettlement agency. Following discussion with leaders at Central Baptist Church of Bearden and Knoxville Internationals Network (KIN), she began working to establish Welcome House Knoxville as a nonprofit ministry.
Renting an unused missionary guest house from a local church, Welcome House officially opened in 2019 to provide short-term housing for refugees or other internationals. The ministry also recruited Sunny Ikojoh, who came to the US as an international student, to serve as the minister of hospitality for guest families.
MEETING NEEDS IN TIMES OF CRISIS
Since opening Welcome House’s doors, “we’ve had several single moms, mostly from Africa, with toddlers,” Hood said. Most recently, they hosted the refugee family of seven from Iraq whose rental home was destroyed last summer in a house fire.
Volunteers from Welcome House, Love World and KIN all came together to help meet that family’s urgent need in the midst of crisis.
“At supper time, they were cooking. The mom stepped out of the kitchen and when she came back in the kitchen was on fire,” Hood recounted. “It was too much for them to put out themselves and so they just really escaped with what they were wearing. They had a few trash bags of just some things they grabbed, but most things they lost in the fire.”
After the family spent a sleepless night in a local business where the father works, KIN’s director put them in contact with Welcome House, where they spent their second night. “We put out on our Facebook page what their story was and we had churches, individuals give through our website, and we were able to give them gift cards,” Hood said. “A volunteer took them shopping to buy clothing, shoes, personal necessities.”
The Iraqi father asked Hood several times if his family would be safe at Welcome House. “I assured him that yes, it was going to be very safe and that Sunny would be taking care of them—and he has,” she said.
“We are a ministry that wants to show the love of Jesus through Christian hospitality,” Hood emphasized. “However, we don’t require that someone is a Christian to live in the house. But we also are very willing to tell them why we’re helping them. . . . I feel like the best I can do is be the hands and feet of Christ in a very practical way.
“When I got the call about the Iraqi family, they needed to move in the next day,” Hood said. “So I got in contact with Kimberly Poore and she made a couple of phone calls, and she and another woman were able to meet me and my family—my husband and daughter—and Sunny at the house, and we just went through and cleaned the house super quick.”
When refugees or other international guests move into Welcome House, “I want it to feel like you’re at a friend’s house and you can relax,” Hood said. “There’s food in the refrigerator, there’s clean towels, clean sheets. You don’t have to really think about taking care of yourself for a few hours or a few days. You can just exhale.”
EQUIPPING AND EDUCATING VOLUNTEERS
Jani Whaley, executive director of Knoxville Internationals Network, said her group’s goal is “to reach the internationals through the churches by equipping and educating church members and small groups so that relationships can be built and the Gospel message can be given.”
With a database of three hundred volunteers, she said KIN often helps find volunteers for the Welcome House for cleaning and getting supplies.
Recounting the night of the house fire, Whaley said the Iraqi family had been living down the road from her. “I saw the fire trucks; I saw the fire and I didn’t even realize that there was a refugee family that lived in that house,” she said. “It was just a few hours later I got a call stating a refugee’s house just burned down and there’s five children involved.”
As a former short-term missionary to the Middle East, Whaley said, “I have a heart for all internationals, but there’s something special about those Middle Eastern people that just really tugs at my heartstrings.”
After connecting with the family’s teenage daughter who speaks English, “I went over there within the hour and met the family and talked to the father and met all the children and developed a friendship right then and there,” Whaley said. The next day, “I went over to their house personally and loaded them up in my car and just picked through the rubble of their house. We took them to the Welcome House and got them situated.”
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Source: Baptist Press