Pilgrim’s Refugee Service Project

By: Pastor Kristian Johnson

Breaking Down Walls

I’m so excited to share the story of how Pilgrim has partnered with Refugee One and Bethany United Church of Christ to welcome refugees! One of our school parents, Shermi, approached me four years ago and said, “It is terrible to hear all of the hate being spewed toward people of different faiths and countries. And it is awful that we are not willing to receive refugee families fleeing terrible violence and persecution…can’t we do something about this?”

Along with our friends from Bethany UCC, we’ve now welcomed two refugee families from the Rohingya people in Burma! It has been a phenomenal experience. Here’s what we’ve been up to:

  • Pilgrim students and high school alumni have served as tutors and mentors to the families
  • Pilgrim school families have banded together for an annual Chili Cook-Off fundraiser to raise money for the project. This event is a wonderful combination of spicy foods, sweet treats, live music, and epic trash talk between chefs. This resulted in a lot of fun!
  • We have raised over $20,000 for Refugee One throughout this partnership, and we are preparing to receive a third family!

Making New Friends

The first family we sponsored consisted of a single mom with a 17-year-old daughter (so we thought), named Dina, and two small twin girls. We picked them up from the airport in February of 2017. They knew no English when they arrived, and because they had been living in a refugee camp for five years, Dina did not have adequate schooling. Our two churches helped the family as they learned English, adjusted to apartment life, as well as learned to use technology, take public transportation, and shop for groceries. Dina learned English very quickly, entered public high school as a freshman, became the primary translator for the family, and helped care for her younger sisters when their mom went to work at a meat packing plant.  

Thanks to Pilgrim’s support, this family is now completely independent and living in Milwaukee! Dina is currently a senior in high school. Dina recently called Becky, one of the “Pilgrim Moms”, to give her an update, “We’re doing great! The girls are loving school and my mom is now married and has a good job. But guess what? Because of the chaos of my home country, I was never sure when I was born…I just learned that I wasn’t 17 when we arrived….I was 13!!!

Becky was moved to tears thinking about how much Dina had to deal with before the age of thirteen. She rose to the challenge with such strength, resilience, love, and resourcefulness. It is equal parts sad and inspiring.

Future Service

We are truly blessed to be a part of this service project. We’re thankful for the people who’ve shown us what it means to be part of a global community. Furthermore, we are reminded that we are all connected and dependent on one another. It is amazing to celebrate what we have accomplished together!

Finally, as we prepare to welcome our third family, we want to let you know that there’s room for more members on our service team! This project is welcome to all, regardless of church membership or faith affiliation. For more information, contact churchadmin@pilgrimchicago.org.

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