Saturday, April 2, 2011

Living is Giving

In the last few weeks the Westminster Presbyterian Church congregation has undertaken a heart-stretching design project, outfitting an apartment for a refugee family.  Those who have helped in the renovation have verified the truth of Christ's upside-down kingdom:  It is in giving that we receive.

The family of six (including two parents, two younger children, an older expectant teenager and her young child) are being resettled in Lancaster County from a refugee camp on the border of Thailand.

Originally, from Burma (Myanmar) which is southwest of China, the family came from the Karenn State, one of the poorest areas in the country and the focus of civil war.

According to a Vision Beyond Borders worker, Patrick Klein, "More than 500,000 people have been killed in Burma (Myanmar) in the last thirty years.  More than 3,300 villages have been burned to the ground by the Burmese military, and thousands of children have lost parents...About one million Burmese refugees have fled across the border to Thailand...Even refugee camps in Thailand are not safe from Burmese soldiers.  They frequently cross the shallow river separating Thailand and Burma to poison water supplies and kill or kidnap refugees."

Klein said the genocide is an ethnic cleansing, but also has a specifically anti-Christian agenda.

A Burmese official boldly stated recently, "Soon there will be no Christians in this nation.  You will only be able to see a Karenn person in a picture in a museum."

Facing such persecution and genocide, it is no wonder Karenni refugees are waiting for visas to emigrate from Myanmar and immigrate to the United States.

A number of caring Westminster church members have embraced our Karenni refugee family. Elder Jim O'Conner together with his wife, Connie, initiated the effort with Church World Service, a non-profit organization that resettles approximately 300 immigrants every year in Central Pennsylvania.
Jim and Connie O'Connor 
The resettlement effort has been coordinated by a new church member, Janet Reedy.  Janet has paired the coming family's needs with volunteers, as well as linked the congregation with relatives of the immigrants who are already settled in Lancaster.
Janet Reedy
Builder, Pete Alecxih, Jr., had his crew renovate an apartment in Lancaster city for housing.  They gutted the kitchen, repaired damaged walls, retrofitted the bathroom, installed new windows, and resurfaced floors in a matter of a couple of weeks!  Now the family will be Pete's tenants.
Pete Alecxih, Jr. 
 Elsa Martin gathered furniture and linens,
Elsa Martin
while her husband, Gary, spruced up the yard for the family.

Other members scrubbed, painted, and furnished the apartment. For example, the apartment received a wonderful leather sofa, some occasional chairs, and a great circular table from David Teply's firm.  Others donated a kitchen table, chairs and hutch, beds and dressers, linens, pots and pans, glassware and dishes.  Grace Hagey organized donations of food staples. In short, the Karenni family have been provided with everything they need from car seats to toothpaste!

Below are the before and after pictures of the apartment.
Living room before
Living room before
Living room after
Living room after
kitchen before
kitchen before
Diane LaBelle and Grace Hagey organize the refurbished kitchen with Janet Reedy. 
kitchen after
bathroom  before
bathroom after
master bedroom before
master bedroom after
upstairs children's room before
upstairs children's room after
small upstairs bedroom before
Small upstairs bedroom after

What a difference paint, new floors, windows, cabinets, fixtures, curtains, and repurposed furnishings make.  The depressing place has become an inviting home. 

However, setting up the apartment is just the first step; assimilating this family will be a major undertaking for the next months.  Bob Hivner and Kim Melton have volunteered to help them learn how to manage their finances. Heather Cunningham will make sure their health needs are met, and Ellen Hivner will help the family learn English as a second language.  

With love and patience, it is hopeful that the family will be mostly independent within a year. How rewarding will that be?

Actually, our reward was seeing the family enjoying their new home.  

With so many participants, no one was overwhelmed.  To a person, the helpers enjoyed the extreme make-over.  

In reality, volunteers were mirroring their Lord "who though he was rich, yet for our sakes he became poor."  Think about it; Christ became a refugee for us.  Luke 9:58 says, "The foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the son of man has no place to lay his head."  He left heaven's palaces and came to a "world of woe".  Why?  So that we who are poor might become rich.

What a privilege to follow his example.  Furthermore, those who helped received more than we gave.  We gave time and received the friendship of others.  We gave supplies, but had our hearts filled. To paraphrase Christ's words: Those who give are more blessed than those who receive.

Our reward:  a happy six-year-old little girl holding her new doll and claiming this bed as her own!

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