I'm a UWMer serving with a partner ministry, GoTEN, in Phoenix, Arizona. Our team at GoTEN engages refugee families from unreached people groups. The primary people groups we connect with are among some of the least reached in the world: Afghans, Syrians, Iraqis, Somalis, Burmese, and Rohingya.
One special friendship that I’ve had during my time serving here is with a Rohingya family that immigrated to Phoenix from a rural village in Thailand. The Rohingya people are a stateless ethnic group and often described as “the most persecuted minority in the world.” My first encounter with the family was when they asked me to come with them to a meeting with their apartment manager. At the meeting, I learned that the family was getting evicted because they had butchered a cow in their apartment. Yes, you read that right! They were preparing a feast to celebrate an Islamic holiday, and they didn’t understand that butchering livestock wasn’t permitted in the apartment complex. Unfortunately, that cultural misunderstanding had big consequences for them as this family of seven was kicked out and could only afford a one-bedroom apartment nearby.
In Phoenix, our ministry approach is twofold:
Address the challenges that refugee families face when adjusting to life in the U.S. and
Equip and connect local churches with unreached people groups right in their neighborhood.
One of the primary challenges we help refugees overcome is learning the English language, which we do through English Centers located throughout the city. We also offer tutoring and sewing classes for refugee children. While teaching English meets an immediate need that refugee families have, it also creates a natural meeting place to build relationships with them. Our hope is that as friendships are naturally developed, they will deepen and grow outside of the classroom.
When our team is not teaching, we visit with refugee families in their homes. It’s in the home, that we get to know these families even more and often help them with more specific needs such as reading mail, giving rides to appointments, or helping them make phone calls. As trust begins to grow, it opens opportunities to hear their stories, share our own stories, and share stories from the Bible.
After the Rohingya family mentioned earlier were evicted, God put them on my heart, so I began to stop by their home once a week to visit with them. Initially, it was intimidating to knock on their door unannounced. I was worried that I’d come at a bad time. But every time I drove to their complex, I just prayed, “Jesus, if you’d like me to see this family today, please let them open their door.” By Jesus’ grace, I had many open doors with this family (literally). For over a year, I was able to visit with them weekly and would often bring a board game to play with the kids and try to have brief conversations with their mom, who spoke very little English.
While I don’t see this family as often as I used to, I believe God is still working in their lives and that He wants me to keep showing up for them as much as I can. They are not very open to hearing Jesus’ stories yet, but I have been able to share some Bible stories, which the kids enjoy. Please pray for this family to know Jesus and His peace.
UWM exists to serve and reach the lost such as these.