OPC Committee on Diaconal Ministries
 
 
 
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 The Latest

Lighting A Lamp for the Stranger

by Rev. Chris Cashen, pastor of Trinity Reformed Orthodox Presbyterian Church in Lanham, Maryland, and member of the Committee on Diaconal Ministries.

Taken from the February 2022 issue of New Horizons magazine.

As Jesus opened his first sermon to his disciples, he told them:

You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. (Matt. 5:14–16)

That was the imagery given by our Savior: a light on a lampstand. Those who follow Christ are to shine before others.

How can the church today set up such a radical light on a stand that it cannot be hidden?

There are likely many possibilities and many answers to that question. Certainly, the first is being faithful in worship. But that might not be what Jesus meant when he likened his followers to a lamp on a stand for all to see “your good works.”

Light of the World

How can your local church be a collective light in your community, so bright that many are drawn to gaze upon the work of Christ and give glory to the Father? What is the most complete, well-rounded, full-orbed ministry of works and Word for your local church? What ministry can any church, regardless of size or gifts or talents, pursue that responds to the call of the Lord Jesus Christ to be light and, at the same time, builds up the people of God and their love for their Savior?

This article is going to ask you to consider a ministry to refugees. Taking it a step further, this article will challenge you to consider whether any other ministry of outreach can accomplish what a ministry to refugees can accomplish.

Lighting the Lamp

What is refugee ministry? Or better yet, who is a refugee? Here care needs to be exercised: casual definitions of refugees in news or social media can often be misleading. A refugee is a person who has been invited by the federal government to come and live in this country. As defined by the laws of this nation, a refugee is a person who has fled his or her native land in fear for his or her life. Each refugee, accurately defined, arrives in the United States with permission to stay—legally. Many times, refugees spend years in camps outside of their home country waiting to be resettled. And because refugees have fled—usually quickly—from some kind of persecution, they often have little to no personal property or wealth when they arrive on US soil.

Think about this from the perspective of a refugee. You have run for your life, crossed the border out of your beloved home, and lived in a tent with your family for months or even years on end. Finally, your status as a refugee is recognized and approved by the United Nations, and you arrive in a foreign land with a very different culture where almost no one speaks your native tongue. Now you need to find an apartment, find beds, find the bus stop, find work, find schools, find grocery stores, find doctors and dentists, and, in your spare time, learn English. That is the plight of the true refugee.

Given that description of great suffering and need, surely the lamp of compassion and mercy should be lit for these new neighbors.

Putting the Lamp on the Stand

Yet this lamp of compassion is often quickly covered with a basket. Many think that ministry to refugees requires special gifts and talents, such as being a linguist or a cross-cultural expert. Certainly, those gifts are helpful, but they are not necessary. Remember, Jesus said, “You are the light of the world”—not just of Virginians, or Californians. No, once this lamp is lit, it needs to be put on a stand for all to see. There is one gift needed for refugee ministry in the church of Christ: a love for the Lord Jesus. That’s it. If you are seeking to follow Jesus, if you love Jesus, then you qualify.

Some churches might work toward sponsoring a refugee family—a higher level of commitment. Or, individual believers might volunteer with a local organization that works with refugees. Perhaps a Bible study group or a prayer group could volunteer together.

The important thing to note, however, is that putting the lamp on the lampstand is relatively simple and straightforward. If you can drive a car, you are qualified to take a refugee to the grocery store, to a medical appointment, or to an English lesson. If you enjoy drinking tea, you have the talent required to sit in a refugee’s apartment and receive their hospitality. (Even if you can’t understand everything they say, you will be encouraging them with your presence and friendship!) If you have free afternoons, refugee children usually need help with homework since mom and dad don’t understand English and are not of much help in answering US geography questions. If you are mechanically inclined, older apartments, where refugees usually begin their lives in the United States, almost always have those four-pronged electric dryer cords that need to be exchanged for three-pronged cords.

Putting the lamp on the stand, then, is doing for others that which you do for your own family.

What a joy when a local congregation engages in this kind of ministry together—demonstrating the powerful love of Christ as a community to those in need! This kind of ministry to an individual or family brings together the body of Christ in unity and oneness in a way that few other ministries do. When we share together the love and joy of Jesus, something happens to those who are serving.

Lighting the House

Once the basket has been removed and cast aside, the lamp is able to be seen by all. Indeed, it will light the house. But which house is lit? I was told many years ago, if one aims at nothing, it will be hit every time. So what are we trying to hit—what is the goal of a ministry to refugees?

When Jesus fed the five thousand, what was he aiming to hit? Was his goal to fill some stomachs? He certainly did feed the hungry, even as he fed their malnourished souls with the words of life. But in the end, it seemed that Jesus’s target that day was a bit more focused: He was preparing his disciples for future ministry. Christ was changing their hearts from ones that snapped “send the crowds away” (Matt. 14:15), to ones that professed, “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28). Through the supernatural event of feeding five thousand with bread from heaven, the disciples were being made more Christlike.

Similarly, the goal of any refugee ministry is to light the house—and the house is the church. As we approach a ministry to aliens and strangers, we might hope to fills the pews of the local church—that is, to generate conversions. And certainly, as good deeds are done in and among new neighbors who fled from Afghanistan, Syria, or the Congo, they are to be coupled with the Word and prayer that these souls would be saved. But, interestingly, Scripture does not reveal what number of souls were converted from the feeding of the five thousand. So let the light be that which shines brightly first within the walls of the local church. Watch as the ministry gets going and see how it draws in others within the body, and then take note of how you and others are changed. How infectious is the joy that comes from serving others as Christ served you?

Refugee ministry is not unique in this aspect, but it does powerfully changes the hearts of the local congregants as they love those who have experienced great hardship.

There, then, is the challenge. Refugee ministry is that lampstand upon which the light of the church can be set—a great blessing to the community, and even more so to the church.

The Democratic Republic of Congo, Myanmar, and Ukraine were the three top countries of origin of refugees resettled in the US in 2020.

Further Resources

To learn more about what the OPC’s Committee on Diaconal Ministries is doing to minister to refugees, or to read in more detail about becoming a light for refugees, find a four-part series of articles by Christopher Cashen on opccdm.org. Listen to the CDM’s podcast episode on refugee ministry at thereformeddeacon.org or by searching for “The Reformed Deacon” wherever you listen to podcasts.


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Meet Your Fellow Deacon: Jack Frahm

Meet Jack Frahm, Deacon, Covenant OPC, San Jose, CA

Jack Frahm admits that some aspects of being a deacon are a struggle for him. Sitting down to talk to people is outside of his comfort zone. “I’ve really had to grow as a deacon by taking the time to build relationships with people—to actively listen. It’s so much easier for me to ask, ‘what’s the problem and how do I fix it? Let’s do it.’ And sometimes that’s not what’s called for. It’s more of a need for a shoulder to cry on.”

Jack has lived within 30 minutes of the same place for over 30 years—somewhat ironic, since in his teens he couldn’t wait to move away and explore! “I grew up in Covenant Orthodox Presbyterian Church on Leigh Avenue and lived a block away from the church. My parents’ house was just down the street so we would often walk to, church, and functions at the church and I remember thinking as a kid how I just couldn’t wait to get out of the Bay Area. I wanted to travel!” Obviously, God had other ideas.

Growing up, Jack admittedly gave his parents a run for their money; adopted when he was five years old, he pushed the limits of his parents’ Christian, loving, guidance and at 18, Jack found himself in serious trouble with law enforcement. His father reassured him, “You’re my son, and we’re not going to abandon you.” That was a turning point in Jack’s life—a pivotal moment. Soon after, Jack made a public profession of faith at 20 years old. Jack married his wife, Michelle, 25 years ago and they have three children, Caleb, Ethan and Grace; the boys in college and Grace, a senior in high school.

Jack has been serving as a deacon for nearly ten years at Covenant OPC, San Jose, California. Even before officially being ordained as a deacon, he felt drawn to helping, “[Going] to the church workdays, helping to clean up after committee meetings, ushering, doing all the different little things that you can [to] help at church and then an elder comes along and taps you on the shoulder, ‘have you ever considered being a deacon?’ And so it kind of just seems like a natural outflow of how I feel, that all church members should be relatively active with their local church. Doing things, helping in any way they can. I’m kind of a handyman; ‘Jack of all trades’. I often get teased because I’m mechanically inclined and if something is broken, I’d rather fix it, rather than throw it away. I think the gift that God has given me is wanting to fix things and a willingness to just jump in and figure it out.” 

Covenant OPC is no stranger to outreach in their community. For several years, the deacons at Covenant led the church in ministry to the downtown homeless community until lack of participation made it impossible to continue. Since then, the deacons then began leading the church toward working with a faith-based ministry called, CityTeam

Through CityTeam, Covenant OPC has adopted a low-income housing community in an apartment complex. Covenant supplies all the food for a year and the congregation hands out food in the hopes of creating some relationships. Jack and his diaconate is encouraged, “We’ve gotten to the point where we’ve had to turn some church folks away that want to help. We get 20 or so folks from our congregation who want to participate in the program. This ministry began during the pandemic, and like many other things, has been a challenge. The model for the program is a sort of marketplace where folks come down from their apartments, come through and pick things up from the table, offering an opportunity to interact and share the gospel. With the pandemic, we’ve had to alter and deliver boxes of food to apartments; ring a doorbell and wait the few minutes hoping that someone will come to the door while we’re there so that we can talk.” 

“The challenge has been in how to take it to that next level of making sure that the gospel is presented. Please pray that the opportunities continue to grow and continue to be fruitful. There are now other churches that want to partner with us to help at this food pantry, and if it gets to the point where we have 30 or so people, we may be able to open another pantry. We could possibly serve two different locations!”

Covenant’s four-man diaconate is made up of diverse backgrounds, which lends itself to healthy conversation and decision-making—even as meetings have been restricted to meeting virtually. Jack, Miguel Alvarado, Steve Trigero and Juan Valle don’t always agree, but Jack says they work well together and he’s thankful for them.

Jack has been encouraged in his diaconal service at the generosity of the congregation and their willingness to try to help folks. But Jack also admits, from time to time, he is more discouraged than encouraged, giving him an opportunity to pray for wisdom in how to better serve.


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Showing Mercy in One of the Poorest Regions of the World: Karamoja, Uganda

 

by Mark Van Essendelft, OPC Missionary Deacon to Karamoja, Uganda


“Which one of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”  The expert in the law replied, “the one who had mercy on him.” Luke 10:36-37

In Karamoja Uganda you don’t have to look far for opportunities to “show mercy,” as it is one of the poorest regions in the world.  The constant temptation is to “pass by” like the Pharisee and the Levite, and then excuse ourselves because we are too busy, or someone else should take a turn.  To the extent that the Lord has given us faith, I hope to share with you the opportunities that we have taken in 2021 to “show mercy” in Karamoja in 2021. 
            Sadly, KEO (Karamoja Educational Outreach) has remained closed due to the continued lock down by the government due to covid.  Though many more affluent citizens have continued with online schooling, once again the poor are suffering here in Karamoja. We have kept the teachers on payroll, and Angela has organized their time into weekly instruction, discipleship, visits to encourage struggling, poor and sick church and community members, etc.  The teachers have also been teaching literacy to some of the employees on the main compound.  Recently, the teachers painted the walls and ceiling in the school so it will look very pleasant when the schools do open. We are hopeful the school will open early next year. 
            Leah Hopp has continued to head up the health outreach. In addition to things like hygiene and preventable sicknesses, they have been promoting Covid-19 prevention methods and vaccines in the community.  She has also been doing a research paper in which she is gathering and organizing the statistics from our clinic which will give the Ugandan government and others a better understanding of the demographics of the local community, which to this point no one has done.  
            Chris Verdick has had a busy year between administrating the clinic, gearing up for new clinic housing, recruiting, and hiring new employees, and having a new baby in the home. So far on the new clinic housing Chris has overseen the installation of the perimeter fence, and we hope to drill the bore hole soon and then start construction by the end of January 2022. One encouraging thing is that we have finally, after four years, gotten the title to the land across the road where the clinic is and where the new clinic housing sight is.  We are currently in negotiations with the former owners of the land to sell a portion back to them.  One discouraging thing is that this year we lost one of our prized nurses (who we hoped to see fill more of a leadership role) due to some poor life choices.  The clinic also led a vaccination effort for the staff and community and had 100% of the staff vaccinated by September.
            As far as my work on maintenance, we have mainly kept to smaller jobs this year.  We have dug a trench around the clinic to keep the water away from the building (cracks were developing.)  We have started to fix the cracks in the walls and hope to paint the interior walls early next year. We have almost completed two-bathroom renovations in the main house, which were long overdue. We also fixed some structural issues in the main house due to poor drainage. We have also repaired a lot of the existing fencing on the missionary compounds which is showing its age. This will continue into 2022. A shelter which was started over ten years ago was finished and roofed, and we re-thatched several houses.
            The following are some of the things we have done with the diaconal funds of the mission this year: We helped get treatment for Apuun Paul, a former KEO teacher, who has cancer on his neck.  We have helped a local young man who was shot through the hip get some medical care. Unfortunately, the only way he can be further helped is a hip replacement, which is not possible with the funds we currently have. We helped some orphans that the local church assists to relocate their housing close to their caretaker.  We often help with transport for various reasons, but one notable time this year was bringing a young woman, who is a church member, to the hospital and police after she was raped by a man with HIV.  She is mentally handicapped and is the eyes for her blind mother.  Also, she has a daughter who is about 11 years old who is also the result of a rape. After much work and prayer on her behalf, we have learned that she did not get the HIV and the man has been arrested. Praise God for this!!!
            The farm project was relatively small this year (acres planted), and most of the crops did not produce well due to an extended dry spell during the growing season.  The peanuts we planted produced very well however, to our surprise! The farm project, though it is not a money maker, does give us inroads with the local community. Though many may look at it as an opportunity for mere work, through it we have been able to bring God’s Word daily to people who don’t otherwise come to church, and we have cultivated some sweet relationships which by God’s grace will yield fruit for eternity. 
            My diaconal work with the local church has been challenging at times, but I think is moving ahead. Preparing them for autonomy at the local level is one of our goals, which we made good strides toward. This year the church cultivated a one-acre plot for feeding the orphans and a five-acre plot to help support the local church.  This went very well.  The mercy committee, which is comprised of church members who are voted in by the congregation, meets every Friday.  Being able to send people who are begging from us at the mission to this committee has reduced the begging of missionaries significantly. It is much more effective at discovering and helping truly needy people, because local members know much better the needs of people who come.  By teaching and practice, I have been training the members of the mercy committee on wise principles of helping those in need.  We are in the process of totally separating the church funds from the mission.  (Up to this point all funds have been held by the mission and all accounting done for them.) Starting in January 2022, we hope to implement a cash box system with accounting sheets and double signatures for each transaction. 
            This is a sample look at some of the many ways that the funds from the CDM are spent here in Karamoja.  I wish all supporting churches could read about what God is doing here in Karamoja. The work is slow but sure!  It is amazing how these many small acts of kindness in word and deed bear fruit from often the least expecting people.  All this could not be done without the support of many church members, who I will probably never meet on this earth but share with us in God’s global mission!  I am so thankful for them, and for the involvement of the CDM who oversees this work!  To God be the Glory!

 

On behalf of the Karamoja station,

Mark Van Essendelft             


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