Serving in ‘Little Arabia’
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“Refugees and asylum-seekers come from all walks of life, from professionals to the uneducated, some fluent in English and some not,” says Arnold. “Many have experienced horrific things and are suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. Some were captured by ISIS and had their belongings confiscated. For American Christians to befriend them, and give them a sense that they’re loved and someone cares about them, can make a huge difference.”
The ministry Arnold helps, Voice of Refugees, helps a number of people from Afghanistan, Egypt, Syria, and Iraq. Refugees are those forcibly displaced because of a well-founded fear of persecution in which they must leave and not return to their homeland. Asylum-seekers have come into the U.S. through normal means and are seeking asylum while here. A third group comes on special immigrant visas, set up for people from Iraq and Afghanistan who served with the U.S. military or diplomatic corps stationed there.
Every month, Arnold and the ministry, based out of a local church, serve around 100 families. Each week more than 40 grocery bags of food are distributed for free. They welcome newcomers, provide transportation when the need is urgent, offer English instruction, and help the new arrivals locate furniture for their apartments, learn to drive, and create job resumes.
“Most need a place to live, and they have no credit history and little ability to find and furnish a place,” says Arnold. “They need to be able to communicate, to get around, to look for work.”
Their greatest need, he says, is for relationship with Jesus.
“From that flows everything else,” Arnold says. “We have had people make decisions to follow Christ, from backgrounds where that’s a major decision.”
Ryan D. Clark, 29, of Voice of Refugees says that typically refugees are extremely lonely.
“It’s debilitating and paralyzing emotionally to lose everyone in your life and not be within walking or driving distance to friends and families,” Clark says. “The issue becomes not just about learning English and buying furniture, but about being so traumatized by this loss.”
Arnold and others help connect them with Christian conversation partners, which help to provide a sense of community. A retired volunteer teaches driver’s training and has helped more than 50 people obtain licenses.
“A lot of great conversations happen while driving people around,” Arnold says.
Arnold, a Vanguard University graduate, served as a short-term missionary with AG World Missions in the Balkan area of Europe. There, he and wife Simona, encountered refugees fleeing the conflict in Yugoslavia, and coming from Rwanda, Iraq, and elsewhere. That served as the Arnolds’ initial exposure to the plight of refugees.
While driving in 2009, Arnold saw a Middle Eastern couple walking on a sidewalk and felt the Lord prodding him with the thought, What about refugees here in the U.S.?
That led the Arnolds into U.S. Missions, eventually working with Voice of Refugees. Steve does much of the ministry’s communications, writing refugees’ stories, mobilizing prayer support, and planning outreaches. The ministry also holds large holiday events and a summer program where teams from Vanguard, other Christian universities, and local churches serve. While kids enjoy art classes, ukulele lessons, sports, tutoring, and leadership training, parents take English classes.
Every Monday, volunteers sort and bag a truckload of groceries.
“My sense of calling is to people who have been forced from their homes and homelands,” Arnold says. “Scripture is very clear what God’s heart is toward people who’ve been persecuted and uprooted.”
The impact, he believes, extends back to their home countries.
“It’s amazing to see people from other religious backgrounds coming to a rented facility at a church, and joyfully talking about coming to church,” Arnold says.