Mission Highlight: Iowa Presbyterians Helping Refugees

Jun 10, 2024

The Refugee Ministry is alive and vibrant in the tri-presbytery community! The need to support refugee families in Iowa is strong and many of our churches have felt called to this ministry over the past few years. Some worked independently, some banded together, and some are still planning efforts today.

God Moments

First Presbyterian Church (Cedar Falls)

On April 31, 2024, an extremely joyous group went to the Cedar Rapids airport to pick up their “newcomer family.” This arrival, this pick-up, this welcome, had been planned and coordinated by members from First Presbyterian Church for eight months! Those eight months were long in some periods but way too short in others. They were filled with organizing, fundraising, discussing, apartment hunting, furniture shopping, and more. God’s hand was gently guiding them the entire time.

First Presbyterian Church is part of the North Central Iowa Presbytery. NCI Presbytery is proud to highlight churches that are reaching out in mission ministry, not only in our own communities but across the globe. First Presbyterian followed God’s call to sponsor a refugee family all the way from Venezuela into their neighborhood.

This particular mission began when First Presbyterian Church member, Rhonda Braley, learned that the Mennonites (who share their church building!) were considering adopting a refugee family. The news came to her, completely by chance, in a get-to-know you game played at her work. Rhonda recalls this as a true God moment.

First Presbyterian took this tiny bit of information and turned it into an amazing success story of collaboration, community outreach, friendship, and love that knows no boundaries. Rhonda recalls always dreaming of sponsoring a family but knew she didn’t have the time, energy or resources to do it alone. Upon reaching out to the Mennonites, they quickly invited First Presbyterian Church to join them.

The group needed a name to use on the many forms that were going to be required in the sponsorship process. 902 Main Sponsor Group was born! 902 Main Street is the street address of First Presbyterian Church in Cedar Falls and, thus, the building they share with the small Mennonite congregation; a name that seemed very fitting!

902 Main Sponsor Group met almost weekly. It was decided they would work with Welcome Corps, a new government program that provides guidance to private groups that want to sponsor a newcomer family. Welcome Corps had training videos for them to watch, went through background checks, had worksheets to guide their discussions, and applications for them to fill out. They encouraged them to say newcomer, as opposed to refugee, as a more inviting and welcoming term.

Next, it was required that 902 Main be assigned to a refugee resettlement organization. Alight (Humanitarian Aide & Disaster Relief) was chosen and another relationship was formed. Alight could not only answer questions posed directly by 902 Main, but held monthly zoom meetings, enabling 902 Main to learn from other sponsor groups around the Midwest.

On May 1st, 2024, the day after their flight landed, more members of First Presbyterian got to meet the family. A mother and her 12- and 15-year-old sons from Venezuela, greeted them with huge smiles. The threesome had just spent their first night in the apartment 902 Main had found, furnished, and arranged. The hearts of 902 Main were so full for them already, at that first meeting. The family was beautiful and hopeful; eager to learn and start their lives in Waterloo, Iowa.

While the family has many struggles yet to come, there is no doubt 902 Main has made an unmeasurable difference to their lives. The work is not yet over and, God-willing, the relationship will never be. 902 Main is ready and willing to keep the partnership strong. In their collaboration with the Cedar Falls Mennonite Church, First Presbyterian Church has illustrated what can be done when resources, manpower, and ideas are shared with our very own neighbors.

If your church is interested in learning more about sponsoring a refugee (newcomer!) family or would like more information about working with Welcome Corps or Alight, please contact Rhonda Braley.