Over the past five years, schools, non-profits, businesses, and individuals have all stepped into the space of welcoming refugees to Portland – and with them, the local faith community has been at the forefront of this work. From a variety of denominations, religions and traditions, the faith community has consistently been a game-changer in ensuring that newcomers in our community have been welcomed and heard.
Committed to the cause of caring for new neighbors in our city, they’ve rallied to partner in mentorship with newcomers, filled hundreds of Restart Kits with essential goods that are needed when people first arrive, given financially to make sure this work continues, and been a consistent presence in the lives of refugee families. This work would not happen without faith communities in Portland.
One community that has shown up as a partner to Refugee Care Collective and to the resettlement community in countless ways, is Bridgetown Church. From the very beginning, the people of this community have shown up through forming long-term relationships with new neighbors, distributing food to some of the most vulnerable in the resettlement community, giving financial support to Refugee Care Collective, and so much more. They have been some of the volunteers that our resettlement agency partners have commented on – how they invest long-term and come alongside families in the ways families are asking for.
We recently had the opportunity to hear from Brooke Nolte Shellman, Justice Director at Bridgetown Church. Today, we’re sharing some of her encouragement and wisdom for other faith communities about what it means for faith communities to partner with refugee care in our city.
Why is refugee care worth investing in?
We are interconnected and only as well and strong as our neighbor next to us. When we invest in the lives of our neighbors with refugee status, we invest in our whole community. We are empowered to know the profound joy of partnering with Jesus and our neighbors, as we participate in cultivating beauty and hope in our neighborhoods in the act of drawing near to one another with a generous and open spirit. It is worth the investment because our collective wholeness is at stake, and we are truly better when we know and value our interconnectedness.
How has engaging in refugee care helped shape the faith community you lead in?
I hear over and over again from folks that as they intended to give and help, they were actually given much more in return. In walking with families, my faith community has experienced the transformative power of proximate, mutual relationship. We’ve learned and have been transformed by the power of loving, sacrificial, hospitable community exemplified in our refugee families. To have had the privilege of being welcomed into the lives of families who have had to leave the home they love behind, and discover a profound sense of belonging and acceptance within their family, has provided an upside-down-like lesson in radical love and hospitality. We are a more generous, hospitable, and loving community because of the impact of our refugee families in our lives.
Why is it important for faith communities to show up for the refugee community?
To put it simply, we see all throughout scripture that the people of God are to show up for the one considered to be a “foreigner”. The fact that scripture states explicitly that God “loves the foreigner residing among you” and “to not mistreat or oppress a foreigner”, in more ways and in many times beyond one, tells me that the refugee community is very near to God’s heart. That God expects – commands – his people to extend compassion, mercy, love, hospitality, and justice towards individuals and families with an identifier of “foreigner” tells me this is important. How could this community not be of importance to God? Jesus was born and ushered into refugee status. God incarnate knows and deeply cares in an embodied way. But also, our refugee community is comprised of fellow humans who, simply by existing, hold within them the image of God – full of inherent dignity, value, and worth – and are to be acknowledged and treated as such. When their experience is deviant of that, the faith community has a responsibility to show up in ways, through word and deed, that consistently remind our whole community of that truth.
Would you speak to why you value presence/faithfulness/commitment when it comes to justice work?
I think that at the heart of injustice is broken relationship – broken relationship with God, self, others, and creation. In seeking justice, we are seeking to (re)concile and heal severed and unwell relationships. While I know that sounds too simple, I also know that the work of establishing healthy, flourishing relationships is the hardest, most time consuming work. It takes commitment. Sacrifice. Costly love. Discomfort. Trusting presence. And a lifetime of daily showing up in those ways to God, yourself, and those around you, particularly to those oppressed and pushed to the margins. To seek justice is not a peripheral activity that we do on the weekends, it’s core to the gospel and what it means to daily walk as a disciple of Jesus, carrying within our person in every space we occupy the hope, compassion, tender love, and merciful action of Christ.
Thank you, Brooke and Bridgetown Church, for your partnership and the role you’ve had supporting refugee families in rebuilding their lives.