Lessons Learned from a Congolese Pastor

Story Katie Lynn-Vecqueray, Colorado Wyoming Region, Volunteer

Sometimes, the greatest and most powerful gift is hope. Hope may come in many forms, but it is especially prevalent in the lives of individuals who have been internationally separated from loved ones. These individuals feel compelled to determine the fate, safety, and well-being of their families and friends. The Red Cross Restoring Family Links program intends to offer this peace of mind.

Within the United States, refugees and migrants are often unaware that tracing services exist to assist them in reestablishing communication with those sought overseas. It is therefore essential that Restoring Family Links conduct outreach campaigns to inform these populations that familial reconnection may be potentially and successfully facilitated.

In working as an RFL intern in the Colorado/Wyoming region, I have learned to appreciate the depth and solidarity that refugee and migrant communities exhibit. Their relationships are built upon their religious and cultural identities, identities that serve as foundations in the midst of assimilation’s uncertainties. I have learned that without an understanding of both the community members’ personal and collective narratives, it is difficult to appreciate and connect with the heart of the community’s shared strength.      

Within church communities and congregations, individuals find strength through a sense of belonging and through faith. Congregation members rely on the support of fellow individuals to face the hardships of past experiences and future fears. As I conducted outreach to Denver populations, I recognized the centrality of these religious institutions. I realized that if I could reach one individual with the message and hope of our services, I could potentially reach many more within a congregational setting.

With this insight, I sought connections to different church organizations. Through RFL’s partnership with Ecumenical Refugee and Immigration Services, I was offered a contact for a Congolese church, Come to Jesus Ministries. Although hesitant to initially communicate with the community, I contacted the Ministry’s pastor. His gracious acceptance of my emails and phone calls sparked a shared interest that was grounded in mutual service and sincere respect. I coordinated with the pastor for weeks, inquiring into the needs of his church members and offering him resources to share with individuals he believed might be receptive to RFL offerings.

An imperative of conducting outreach requires the ability to take the lead of the communities and leaders who serve as liaisons between community members and Red Cross services. In working with the Congolese church, I learned to respect the pace of the pastor’s outreach efforts as he conducted them on my behalf and with my guidance. He explained the importance of introducing RFL casework and services to his members through initial announcements from church members who were trusted within the community.

Over a month’s span, the pastor and I coordinated our efforts to cultivate interest in potential new cases. When the time came for our RFL caseworkers to attend the church’s Sunday service, trust had been established, and individuals within the congregation were eager to open a case. The members had found hope, and it had come through a process of friendship, understanding, and the heart of service.

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