Congolese refugees and CBF field personnel build Beloved Community in Raleigh
In 1994, the first time the Pew Research Center polled Americans about the effect of immigrants on the country, 63 percent agreed that immigrants are “a burden on our country because they take our jobs, housing and health care.” Not 25 years later, American attitudes have become vastly more positive, with an identical percentage of Americans now agreeing that “immigrants today strengthen our country because of their hard work and talents.”
Still, that means at least 37 percent of Americans have never met a refugee like Felix Iyoko, said Cooperative Baptist Fellowship field personnel Marc Wyatt who, with his wife Kim, are cultivating beloved community among immigrants and refugees in North Carolina through Welcome House. With support from the CBF Offering for Global Missions, the Wyatts and Welcome House have formed together with Iyoko, a pastor and church starter from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), and his wife, Nicole, to resettle and empower immigrants in the Research Triangle of North Carolina.
Iyoko, now planting his 14th church, was educated and ordained as a pastor in the DRC with multiple degrees and extensive training in theology. When he and Nicole arrived in the United States in 2013, they had already undergone the trauma of the executions of multiple family members by Congolese rebels, three days on foot in the African bush without supplies, and years of vetting by the U.S. while seeking asylum. Yet, their ultimate priority as residents in the U.S., Iyoko said, is to continue living out their God-given calling—namely planting faith communities for Swahili-speaking refugees and launching a nonprofit organization called Raleigh Immigrant Community. This new nonprofit provides housing, education and job assistance to newly-immigrated families. Iyoko said he mourns all that he has lost, but that God has restored him and called him to seek the restoration of his fellow immigrants in the U.S.
“The main idea is for people to not depend on the community, but to be a blessing to the community,” Iyoko said.
“So we started Raleigh Immigrant Community to work with different agencies and the government to solve those problems—especially those of housing, education and jobs—and to help people settle down in the communities where they’re living. My hope is for this community to be a great blessing for this country. I am always believing in God that everybody in this community may succeed in their life, and have a chance to make it and serve as an example, even and especially for the natives of this country.”
Naturally, Kim and Marc Wyatt encountered Felix and Nicole while setting up an apartment for a newly-immigrated family from the DRC. Nicole and Felix literally jumped up and down when they discovered their new neighbors were Congolese, Kim said, and have since become one of their closest partners and friends, working with the Welcome House hospitality team to connect new arrivals with social resources, childcare and education. As they continue to partner in renewing God’s world, Welcome House and Raleigh Immigrant Community are forming together to connect with new immigrants in the Research Triangle and empower them with resources to thrive once again in the U.S., as many of them did in their home countries.
As part of a symbiotic partnership that the two organizations have developed, Welcome House now connects Felix and Nicole with resources and building space for their budding church starts for other Swahili speakers. In turn, RIC helps the Wyatts to communicate with and initiate relationships with Swahili-speaking refugees already living in the Research Triangle who can benefit from the job training, English classes and housing assistance that Welcome House provides for new immigrants. When most Americans speak of refugees, Marc said, they don’t imagine a highly educated, highly credentialed pastor who increased his church attendance by 150 percent in one week. No matter how disoriented and in need immigrants like Felix and Nicole are when they arrive in the U.S., Jesus followers must begin to see infinitely more than victims.
“They might arrive in this country with the title “refugee,” but that’s not their name,” Marc said.
“They have the character that God has given them and that their family has instilled in them. They have dreams and hopes. They’re strivers. Refugees are a group of people who had to flee their homelands because they were persecuted and were in fear for their lives. They are not welfare recipients and they don’t expect others to take care of them. They believe they need to take care of themselves and have an obligation to their community. They move very quickly when given the opportunity; and, when the playing field is level, they accomplish great things.”
Beloved Community starts by welcoming one person home. You can change the world through the love of Jesus Christ by supporting the CBF Offering for Global Missions. The Offering is the primary source of support ensuring the long-term presence of CBF field personnel like the Wyatts serving around the world.
When you give, you help care for and support refugees like Felix and Nicole, you share the Gospel and create Beloved Community. Give today at www.cbf.net/presence.
Watch a video story below about Felix and learn more about the ways CBF field personnel are cultivating Beloved Community at www.cbf.net/belovedcommunity