Refugees find a home in Open Arms
    March 31 2010 by Melissa Lilley, BSC Communications

    WINSTON-SALEM — Jumping in the car to run an errand doesn’t seem like a big deal. Playing baseball or going to a game probably doesn’t seem like anything out of the ordinary, nor does riding an escalator or turning on the water faucet. Yet, for hundreds of Karenni refugees, these ordinary things are exactly what represents a new life and a new start.

    Days when Tim and Jody Cross go to the airport are some of the days they enjoy most, for it means welcoming a new Karenni family. Sometimes they bring other Karenni with them to the airport and watch with fond amusement as the Karenni demonstrate how to get on and off the escalator and everyone holds on tight. Tim and Jody have now welcomed more than 30 Karenni families to the United States, specifically the Winston-Salem area.

    The Karenni represent about nine different people groups who speak different languages and dialects in Kayah State in Burma, or Myanmar. Nearly 80,000 refugees are legally leaving the country and coming to countries such as the United States, which is now home to about 10,000 Karenni. They are coming from refugee camps, where in some cases 20,000 people live in a one-mile radius. They live in huts, where they have no running water, limited food and sickness is normal and expected.

    BSC photo

    Tim Cross, along with his wife Jody, work with refugees arriving in Winston-Salem.

    Tim and Jody recently began ministering to their first Bhutan family. Thousands of Bhutanese refugees have lived in camps in Nepal for more than 15 years. Most Bhutanese are Hindu. Unlike the Bhutanese, most Karenni are Animists, with the second largest religion being Catholicism.

    Karenni are taught to work hard and to do good things to please the spirits, so they tend to have a hard time understanding that receiving Jesus Christ as personal Lord and Savior is about faith and not works.

    This makes it easy for the Crosses to know their mission: share the gospel. Tim and Jody are Mission Service Corps (MSC) missionaries, which means they are self-funded missionaries whose placement comes through the Mission Service Corps Office of the North American Mission Board. About 19 MSC missionaries serve in North Carolina.

    In 2000, Tim and Jody went on a mission trip overseas and God so burdened their hearts for the nations that one year later they were back overseas. For about five years they worked with refugees in Belgium and for two and a half years with immigrants in London. Two years ago when they took a one-year stateside assignment, “we had no idea what God was going to do in that year. This whole ministry unfolded before our eyes,” Tim said.

    With hearts still burdened for the nations, Tim and Jody realized that the nations were in fact coming to them, coming to their home in Winston-Salem. They started Open Arms Refugee Ministry and already can tell stories of lives changed. For example, just a few months ago a volunteer shared the gospel with Phar Meh, a Karenni woman who prayed to receive Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Not long ago her husband also came to faith in Jesus Christ. After 18 years of work, colleagues have finished translating the New Testament into the Karenni language, and Tim and Jody have sent draft copies to Karenni groups in other states.

    Tim and Jody do whatever they can to build relationships and have the opportunity to share the gospel. Once World Relief contacts them with the name of a new refugee family, they get to work. They see to it that the kitchen in their apartment is stocked before they arrive and they collect furniture in order to bring the family home to a furnished apartment. They help them write a resume, look for a job, drive them to doctor’s appointments, take them grocery shopping, drive them to English classes at Calvary Baptist Church (where Tim and Jody are members), participate in the Karenni worship service each Sunday at Calvary and meet with them in their homes for Bible study and prayer.

    Local churches are an essential part of Open Arms. Local church volunteers work alongside Tim and Jody, and they come to “own” the ministry for themselves and make it an important part of their lives. They begin to understand that they are on mission, too.

    “God has called you, whether you leave your neighborhood or not,” Jody said.

    For Tim and Jody, and the churches serving with them, ministry in the neighborhood means ministry to the nations. This is where they are called to give their lives. “Every day is about being dead to yourself,” Jody said. “This is not my life; it’s His life. Keep your life constantly on the altar.”  
    3/31/2010 5:24:00 AM by Melissa Lilley, BSC Communications | with 0 comments

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