First Federated Church mission group to help refugee families
By LINDA M. LINONIS
A mission group from First Federated Church will have the chance to see Middle Eastern refugees as more than anonymous masses of people shown in news reports.
They will meet refugees, face to face as individuals and families, during a mission trip planned for June 26 to 29 to Toledo, where many have settled.
Pastor Jack Acri said church members have participated in other missions trips for cleanup, painting and rehabbing projects. “They’ve all been worthwhile,” he said.
The plight of refugees has been in and out of news. That prompted the pastor’s wife, Anne, to suggest a project relating to that group. Around the same time, the couple’s son, Evan, a Bowling Green State University graduate, was at the campus and read about refugees and how a resettlement organization, US Together, was helping them. Pastor Acri said First Federated collaborated with Sylvania United Church of Christ and US Together on this refugee project.
“I wanted our youth involved to see these are real people who have experienced horrific situations,” Pastor Acri said. “We have a degree of safety in homes with our families,” he continued. He noted that was not the situation for Syrians, Kurds, Iraqi and Burundi refugees. “Some have endured torture and deaths of family members,” the pastor said.
The pastor, his wife and two other adults from the church will make the trip with five members of the church’s youth group. They’ve dubbed the project the Hand in Hand Cultural Exchange. The pastor said it will be a learning experience for those involved.
“I wanted our youth to see that there is an alternative to all of the hate speech. These families are refugees of war. They had to leave everything behind,” he said. “Now they are starting again at the bottom of the economic ladder, and they are dealing with the challenges of language barriers and culture shock.”
The church also partnered with the Students Against Drunk Driving group at Jackson-Milton High School to collect first-aid kit supplies, household cleaning products and school items. The church will collect items through June 24.
Jeanne Reyes and Rochelle Morelli, co-advisers of SADD, wrote via email, “... we encourage our members to help within the school and community throughout the year. We wanted to emphasize extending that spirit and volunteerism beyond our community and supporting our mission of making positive choices in all aspects of their lives. Our Blue Jays will eventually leave our little nest, and this supply drive is an eye-opening experience that one choice can impact many individuals.”
Pastor Acri said he believes the mission trip will be a special experience. “No matter what their religious or ethnic backgrounds, these families are our global neighbors. They are trying to rebuild their lives and make a home in a place where they no longer fear for their family’s safety. And we want to provide hope in some small way with gifts ... and have fun getting to know one another,” he said.
He added that he hopes mission participants realize “how people can make a difference for one another.”
The church mission group will spend time and eat meals with refugees. “I think this will show that there are differences, but those are much less than what makes us alike ... how we all want to live in comfort and safety,” Pastor Acri said.