Hundreds of thousands of people are packing their families in the night, leaving behind prized possessions and beloved homes with the hope of finding safety.
A refugee crisis has shaken the world, and tremors are felt in Gainesville.
First Baptist Church of Gainesville is preparing for that future need by partnering with the organization World Relief in Atlanta to create a volunteer ministry to serve refugees. World Relief is a nonprofit dedicated to serving refugees by partnering with local churches. After training and approval, First Baptist could host a refugee family, aiding the family to become self-sufficient in a new nation and culture.
“This came up last fall as the refugee crisis, especially in Syria, kind of came to the forefront of world news,” First Baptist member Rachel Freeny said. “There was a real desire to be a part of welcoming refugees and doing what we can to help them.”
Freeny said World Relief was “a natural fit.” The Atlanta area has already started hosting refugees, particularly in Clarkston. Refugees are selected by the organization based on the likelihood they will succeed in a community, and refugees could make their way to Gainesville, pending approval.
In March, Freeny and associate pastor Liz Coates hosted a volunteer interest meeting at the church. More than 15 individuals attended, Freeny said, and the meeting “went really well.”
“I was very excited to see how many people are passionate about this cause and who really want to be part of helping these refugee families and welcoming them here to Gainesville,” Freeny said.
The interest meeting was the first step in a lengthy process that requires training and approval. A training session will be April 14 at First Baptist, and Freeny hopes to see some expanded interest.
“There are a couple of other Gainesville churches that are actually interested in going through the training as well, so we’re hopefully going to be collaborating and going through training together,” she said.
Chestnut Mountain Presbyterian Church already held a training session, and Coates echoed Freeny’s hopes for increased interest and concern.
“It is a huge need right now and maybe other churches will ... feel compelled to look into this,” she said. “We’ve had a great response from our congregation.”
The two-hour training gives volunteers some insight into being a refugee and the process of resettlement from beginning to end.
“It’s how people become refugees, what life is like for them, the process of getting approval to be relocated to a new country,” Freeny said. “It’s actually an incredibly long and difficult process that can take up to seven years, and only about 1 percent of all refugees actually get placed in a new country.”
Trained volunteers will learn how to help refugees adjust to life in a new culture. World Relief will provide much needed assistance, but with the help of First Baptist volunteers.
“There’s a lot that churches can do,” Freeny said. “They need things like English tutors and people to show them where to grocery shop and how to get housing and transportation set up. It’s all the little things you don’t think about that we can just do.”
The ultimate goal is for refugees to become self-sufficient, Freeny said.
Every individual volunteer has to be trained to work with the refugee family, though there will be other ways for the church and the community to help.
Freeny said the most important thing is having an open mind and open heart to the experiences of resettled refugees.
“It’s good for us to understand what these families have been through, because it’s a very traumatic experience that we have no way of truly ever understanding,” she said. “But it’s a step in the right direction.”