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Answering a Call to Serve Houston’s Growing Refugee Community

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January 12, 2017

by Rev. Hannah Terry, Associate Pastor, Westbury United Methodist Church, as told to TMF

Answering a Call to Serve Houston’s Growing Refugee Community

Sometimes God can bring people together through the most unlikely circumstances. For our congregational community in southwest Houston, it started with a phone call from a local apartment manager.

The woman called Westbury United Methodist Church and asked our church receptionist if someone could lead a Bible study at their apartment complex, which mostly housed refugees from Africa.

That single invitation from a neighbor made a profound impact on clergy and lay leaders at the church. We realized God was calling on us to share our congregation’s abundance, to step out of our comfort zone and start building relationships with our neighbors. We responded by reaching out to create a residential ministry, which also meant having a few church staff, including myself, move into the neighborhood. This was crucial in learning how to be in ministry with a community of people who not only spoke very little English, but also had enormously different life experiences than most of our existing congregation.

This initial interaction became the catalyst to create the Fondren Apartment Ministry (FAM) by Westbury UMC, serving the growing refugee community in Southwest Houston. FAM has become a safe oasis of spiritual, emotional and community support for individuals and families trying to start over in a completely new and bewildering country. Grants from TMF have been crucial in providing resources that enable us to be in ministry with our neighbors as they strive to make a positive transition to a new country.

As the Associate Pastor responsible for running FAM, part of my mission has been to live in an apartment complex, along with other young adults in intentional Christian community, so we can see how God is at work in the neighborhood and build positive, trusting relationships with our neighbors. I’ve heard first-hand the heart-rending stories from residents about what drove them to flee their native countries, and the struggles they’ve endured since moving to the United States. We’ve also learned the importance of discovering the gifts that these residents bring to our ministry, as well as their needs.

While this work is tremendously rewarding, emotionally and spiritually, it can also be challenging, and at times, overwhelming. That is why I am so grateful to have been invited to join TMF’s Ministry with the Poor Learning Community. Being part of this Leadership Ministry group has truly been a life-changing experience for me. I’ve been able to share my experiences with people who understand the stresses and challenges of working with those living in poverty, who also suffer all the indignities of life on the periphery of our society.

More importantly, I’ve gained tremendous knowledge and received amazing counsel from other members of the group. They’ve helped me through challenging circumstances, including one in particular I would like to share.

In 2015 we had 10 students in our confirmation class at Westbury UMC, including four refugee boys from both the Hutu and Tutsi tribes who had recently come to the United States from Africa. At the beginning of the confirmation class, we learned that one boy was being excluded from activities by boys from a different tribe. These kids had endured experiences in their home countries that many of us could never imagine. And with those experiences comes emotional baggage, including tribal strife.

Thanks to the support of my peers in the Ministry with the Poor Learning Community, I received advice and guidance on how to work through the situation, as well as how to help and support our Confirmation Class counselors.

At the end of the class, all four boys were baptized and confirmed together. They developed friendships through the love of Christ.

What’s truly miraculous is how the relationships between the boys have trickled up to their parents. While the families had known each other, their tribal history initially influenced how they interacted. Today, those families worship and participate in church activities together. 

We know that God was in our neighborhood. We just needed to engage our neighbors, learn from each other, establish trust and build solid relationships. That’s what enable us to work together to help bring about the world that God imagines. And it wouldn’t have been possible without the support of TMF.

Editor’s note: Our TMF blog shares stories and essays inspired by our purpose: to help individuals, families, congregations and like-minded organizations achieve their God-inspired potential. Rev. Hannah Terry, Associate Pastor at Westbury United Methodist Church, discusses how TMF Grants, and TMF’s Ministry with the Poor Learning Community, are helping the Fondren Apartment Ministry see miraculous transformations in the lives of neighbors starting their lives over in a new country.


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