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A million ‘God stories’

June 23, 2017
Members of Third Christian Reformed Church in Kalamazoo, Mich., learn to prepare a Syrian meal.

Members of Third Christian Reformed Church in Kalamazoo, Mich., learn to prepare a Syrian meal.

From June 19-30, we will be sharing stories of Christian Reformed churches and individuals across the United States and Canada who have opened their hearts and homes to those fleeing from war and persecution. The following is the latest story in this series.

Third CRC in Kalamazoo, Mich. - When the Alnajjar’s family home in Homs, Syria, was destroyed by a missile, they made the difficult decision to join the mass of refugees fleeing Syria.

Leaving behind the successful family business and the only life they ever knew, they suddenly faced an uncertain future in an unfamiliar place.

On the other side of the world, members of Third Christian Reformed Church in Kalamazoo, Mich., responded to the growing number of displaced people all over the world by becoming refugee sponsors through Bethany Christian Services. They were matched with the Alnajjars.

Annelies Baker, co-leader of Third CRC's sponsorship ministry, said that initially she wasn’t sure how the church would respond. “God has provided. Every time there was a need, there were a million ‘God stories’.

“[The church’s response] has been overwhelming,” she said. "We are a community that welcomes them. The people at Third are being the hands and feet of Jesus."

Mohamad and Khawla Alnajjar and their three children Soubee, Rana and Omar arrived in Kalamazoo in October, 2016, with just a few suitcases.

After having met the family's initial basic needs, the sponsorship team now helps to coordinate many aspects of life and resettlement. Dozens of church members have come on board by donating time, funds and expertise, utilizing the network and connections they have, and supporting the efforts in prayer.

They have been learning from the Alnajjars and the process itself along the way.

Baker started including updates on the family in the church prayer line, also highlighting the members who are involved in a given area.

"It personalized the face of millions of refugees in the world for our congregation. It's not just someone on the news," Baker said. "Because of the prayer line, people said, 'I want to help. What can I do?'

“That wasn't my intent, but it drew the congregation and they've really taken this ministry on."

In an e-mail to church contributors, co-leader Mary Jane Baylor wrote: "Now, after much tireless effort and generosity, struggle, ups and downs and perseverance they have sufficient food, clothing, a safe and secure home, gainful satisfying employment, driver's license and reliable transportation, better medical and dental health, adjustments into a new educational system, improved English language skills and friendships with a network of people at Third Church and in their new community!"

The official six-month sponsorship is over, but the church plans to continue in that role until the family is independent.

Just as the Alnajjars have been learning and adjusting, so have the people of Third CRC. Baker said the congregation is motivated by the call in Micah 6:8 to act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with God.

"We didn't do this to convert them," she said. "We do this because it's the right thing to do. If we can show them what it means to be Christian by showing unconditional love and support, it completely blows them away."