Building Relationships with Refugees in Our Community

Fellowship Nashville Neighbors Volunteers meeting with Refugee Family
Fellowship Nashville Neighbors Volunteers meeting with Refugee Family

Siloam Health, one of our local partners, is launching a new initiative this spring in Nashville that invites a small group of people to walk alongside a newly-arrived refugee family to help them transition into life in the U.S., called “Nashville Neighbors.” This initiative allows volunteers to help a new family adjust and address many of the challenges of living in a new country while also having the opportunity to develop relationships with their refugee family.

Groups commit to walking with a family for six months, with members rotating to meet with the family twice a month during that time. The group assists the family with a health literacy curriculum, helping them understand topics like when to call 911, going to the doctor vs. going to a pharmacy, basic nutrition, pedestrian safety, etc. This gives volunteers a great opportunity to learn the family’s story, develop a friendship, and show Christ’s love to them. Also during this time, groups can share life with the family in various ways, as our pilot group invited its family to the group’s Christmas and Super Bowl parties.

This past fall (November 2017), a Fellowship Group from the Brentwood campus served as one of the pilot groups to start the initial phase of Nashville Neighbors. Recently I sat down with Tim and Liz Myers, members at the Brentwood campus, and chatted with them about their experience walking with their refugee family as a small group through Nashville Neighbors.

How would you describe your experience serving with Siloam Health in the Nashville Neighbors program?

Liz: This has been a unique adventure to connect with a new culture without leaving Nashville. You don’t have to leave home to serve an underserved, unnoticed population and have a multicultural experience. Through Siloam Health, this has provided a connection that we would not have on our own to reach out to that population. It has been really enlightening to see this in our community—people with serious needs that we’re already equipped to serve.

Tim: It has been great for our Fellowship Group to have exposure to Siloam Health, visit there for training and see how this organization itself is demonstrating the gospel through serving the underserved in Nashville. Furthermore, it’s been really cool to see Siloam Health serving refugees in Nashville and start creative opportunities to invite the local church to come alongside them in serving through the Nashville Neighbors program. The uniqueness of this program has been great in being able to have contact with refugees in our city and have an international experience locally.

What have you learned from your experience?

Liz: It’s been meaningful to learn that refugees are indeed our neighbors. This initiative has helped us to be biblical neighbors in our community and to take the call of the Good Samaritan and actually walk it out. It’s so easy to isolate ourselves in our community and in our relative independence that we forget those in need right next door to us.

Tim: I’ve learned how much help newly arrived refugees need. It can be shocking. It’s easy to assume that the government programs are really walking alongside them and taking care of them and teaching them to transition into the U.S. easily. I think there is an intention with these government programs, but practically it can’t be done. Refugees have some overwhelming barriers when they arrive, particularly with the language, that cause everyday challenges that we take for granted. The program really helps you be in specific contact with the family to help meet their specific needs. There are so many needs that can’t be covered without help from people like us, so it’s a perfect way to serve a family and demonstrate Christ’s love.

What has really impacted your hearts in this process? How has it changed you?

Liz: This has given me courage to step out in faith in other areas where I don’t have experience and out of my comfort zone in so many ways. This has all been very new to me. When you see the Lord being faithful, you can have the attitude of “YES.” It encourages you to look outside your normal patterns of service and giving.

Tim: It’s served as a good reminder to me to try not to be so selfish with my time and resources. A lot of time we think we’re doing so much to provide for our own family, but this really puts you in contact with and forces you to invest in a totally different family with their own needs. It gives you a chance to pour yourself into them. It’s easy to serve where you’re comfortable, but this has been stretching and a type of service where you are truly putting yourself aside and serving the Kingdom of God.

The Fellowship Group and Refugee Family playing a game at their Christmas Party
The Fellowship Group and Refugee Family playing a game at their Christmas Party

How has this experience affected your Fellowship Group?

Liz: This has really bonded us as a group because we’re pursuing a common goal outside of serving ourselves. It encourages meaningful participation beyond just social to the service aspect of our small group. It has been amazing how the Lord has revealed different gifts among our group through this process. Everyone joining in has so much to offer, and it has allowed people to utilize their gifts in different ways.

Tim: We had a goal as a Fellowship Group to be more intentionally outward with our faith and to keep each other accountable, and this has given us an opportunity to corporately do that as a small group because we’re working together to serve and develop a relationship with an unchurched family.

Why does Nashville Neighbors matter? Why should it be important to Fellowship members?

Liz: It matters because the program Siloam Health has developed is really in alignment with the command to love our neighbor. It should be important to us as Fellowship members because they are in our community and gives us an avenue to love others in a way we have not experienced before.

Tim: As we’re called to give our lives away at Fellowship, this has given us as a small group an opportunity to do that. Nashville Neighbors matters because it meets a real need that our refugee community has. As a church, this gives us an opportunity to meet their practical needs in an apparent way that comes from the love of Christ, in hope that this love becomes real to them. An experience like this forces us to recognize our priorities in everyday life and make the adjustment to make an initiative like this a new priority.

What has been a joy for you in this experience? What has been a challenge?

Liz: It has been a joy to make new friends. Even though we’re from different cultures, we are indeed really similar. We share a laugh and share food together. The ups and the downs are quite similar even though we’re different. Realizing that you can’t and shouldn’t solve all of their challenges and issues of transitioning in the U.S. is something to be aware of; any help you provide is a blessing.

Tim: We’ve had some specific joys in helping the family with dental work that they could not have had otherwise. I recall how fun it was this December to sing Christmas carols in the car with the daughters of the family after our small group Christmas party, trying to learn English while singing. It’s challenging to determine how much of a burden to carry with them, since they have so many needs, versus trusting they will overcome some of these challenges on their own. There is no black and white in where our participation starts and ends. It’s a balance of being diligent to help and being wise in how much you can help.

How have you seen the refugee family impacted by this experience?

Liz: The family has received so much practical help in understanding American culture. The joy and blessing of friendship has been huge too. They really need friends. They really are unseen, and this gives them an opportunity to be seen and noticed. There is great comfort in knowing you’re not invisible.

Tim: They’ve received practical benefits in learning about U.S. healthcare, going to the doctor, pharmacy, etc. This initiative has given them a sense of community and they’ve felt noticed by community. They’ve expressed to us that they’ve appreciated that. We are called to demonstrate love to all of God’s children, and our hope is that this family has felt Jesus’ love through us and that our desire to befriend them has come from Jesus’ love for us.

There continues to be opportunities for small groups to serve at Siloam Health with Nashville Neighbors. To learn more about the Nashville Neighbors Initiative, contact Katie Richards ( .