Followers of Jesus have wrestled with the question, who is my neighbor?, since the time Jesus walked the Earth. Members of Meridian Street United Methodist Church are actively engaging in new ways to connect with their neighbors, locally and around the world. Meridian Street member, Sylvia Hill explains, "About a year ago our House Group talked about helping to support a family from Syria. There was so much information on television and the newspapers on Syrian refugees fleeing their country, mostly by walking. That is about the time there was a very sad photo of a young Syrian child's body washed up on shore in a failed attempt to escape. That's when we all said "we must help." We as Christians have the responsibility to help our fellow man."
Working through Exodus Refugee Immigration of Indianapolis, the small group went through training and background checks, making the commitment to support a new refugee family arriving in Indianapolis in September of 2016.
Out of the church's desire to welcome the neighbor, this past Sunday, Meridian Street UMC hosted the "Flight From Syria: Refugee Stories" event welcoming over 250 people of Christian, Jewish, and Muslim faiths to share a meal together, learn about the conflict in Syria, hear the stories of refugee families, and take action steps to welcome new neighbors in the community of Indianapolis.
"Looking back we won't be able to say we didn't know or we didn't see. Because we did know and we did see," said Nora Basha, a member of Syrian Refugee Support of Indianapolis (SRSI) and medical student at IUPUI, describing the conflict in Syria as the worst humanitarian crisis of our time. The Syrian crisis has caused nearly five million people to flee Syria as refugees and over six million people are internally displaced.
Three refugee families shared the struggles and hardships of fleeing the Syrian conflict. After the mother of the first family spoke, her youngest boy, no older than seven, asked for the microphone. He looked out to the crowd, thanked them for coming, then explained that he was so happy to be here because while they were fleeing the war in Syria they sometimes "ate grass to stay alive."
The second family shared the hardship their brother's family had faced due to the recent travel ban. The brother's family had endured the two year vetting process where they were screened by multiple U.S. and international agencies, underwent medical checks, and background checks. After selling their possessions and preparing to travel, their admittance to the United States was delayed because of the travel ban. The brother's 9-year-old daughter was ill and passed away before they arrived here a month ago. The brother was scheduled to speak at the event, but when he saw the size of the crowd he became emotional and couldn't speak.
The Batman family was the first Syrian refugee family settled in Indianapolis around two years ago. Explaining his decision to leave his home country, he said, "Our sole purpose in coming was for our children. For them to live and learn. For them to listen to their teachers and peers, not to the sounds of the bombs. I feel very responsible for my children, to teach them and give them the best life possible."
Questions from the crowd centered around what the best ways are to help incoming refugee families are. Megan Hochbein, Director of Outreach & Immigration at Exodus Refugee reiterated what others had shared saying that the two greatest challenges newly settled families face are overcoming the language barrier and driving. Exodus can always use volunteers to visit families to help them practice English or learn how to drive. She concluded that the best thing everyone can do is, "Kindness. Offer kindness." Hochbein said helping someone on the side of the road, donating household goods to a new family, or just smiling and saying hello, can show someone they are welcome here.
There are refugee families who are our neighbors in local communities and around the world who are in need of welcome. After greeting the refugee family at the airport and helping them settle into their new apartment, the Meridian Street house group continues to assist the family with transportation and education. Pastor Matt Landry stated, "They heard the call of Jesus to welcome everyone as Christ himself. The challenge is for all of us to listen for and act upon that call."
Written by Candace Landry, member of Meridian Street UMC
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