Two Churches Help Migrant Family Put Down Roots

Darwin's family

Creekwood UMC, Custer Road UMC assist a family find their footing in a new country 

Rev. David Lessner, senior pastor of Creekwood UMC, and Rev. Dr. David Rangel, Associate Pastor of Custer Road UMC, tell how two churches came together to help a family find new life and put down roots in their community

Rev. Lessner: In December 2023, on a day when our congregation came in pajamas for a day of worship and fun, a gentleman named Darwin walked in from the cold after worship, asking our door greeters for assistance. 

Darwin spoke no English. Not a word. But he had a slip of paper that read, "Samaritan Inn, Allen Community Outreach, Methodist Church." 

I can only assume that he received these names from someone along the way who recognized the propensity of these organizations to help those in need. 

His family had touched foot on American soil four days prior, as he was fleeing Venezuela under the special asylum program. He brought all of his paperwork with him. He was here legally. But his sponsoring family decided that four days into their new home, Darwin and his family were no longer welcome. 

No English, very little money, no home, very few clothing items. Just a passport, some legalization papers, a wife and two kids, and a piece of paper that led him to Creekwood United Methodist Church after a four-mile walk in near-freezing temperatures. 

Church member Kelly Loter and I stayed with Darwin for more than two hours, calling every resource we could possibly find to help him and his family. We had to use Google Translate’s AI real-time feature just to speak, passing the phone back and forth. However, it was Sunday, and most things were closed, full or very far away. Our best hope was all the way in Denison, but we couldn't help him enroll until Monday, leaving Sunday night a big question mark. 

Creekwood has a fund called "Brother's Keeper" that people give to for occasions such as this, and we were able to get him a week-long hotel stay (just in case) and a month-long cell phone plan with data so he could use Google Translate. We gave him some cash out of our pockets, bought him and his family about a week's worth of groceries, gave him our cell numbers and left with the promise that we'd help him throughout the week. 

Darwin proved to be industrious and found work the next day, followed by more and more. He even found someone willing to loan him a car. In the meantime, our efforts to help Darwin kept striking out over and over again. It turns out it's not very easy to be a (legal) migrant and start an entirely new life - especially without the built-in help that we often take for granted. But something switched when Darwin texted me and asked, "Do you know of a Spanish-speaking church that we can attend?" 

One of the strengths of The United Methodist Church is our connectional system. The church I pastor is not a stand-alone entity, but part of a global denomination, which at its best, shares resources, collaborates and utilizes a vast network of people to do God's work. Of course, I knew some Spanish-speaking congregations ... and for some reason I hadn't thought about that. I quickly e-mailed David Rangel at Custer Road UMC, as they were the closest neighbor to where Darwin was staying. David was excited at the chance to meet Darwin and his family, and he let me know that they would be attending Custer Road the next week.

Creekwood went ahead and paid for another week in the hotel, and then we didn’t hear anything for a while. Kelly and I assumed he was OK, or else he would have texted us. 

Rev. Dr. Rangel: During this time, Darwin and his family were accepted into Custer Road’s emergency refugee benevolence program. Part of the program encourages families to follow specific steps guiding them toward financial stability in a new country. This is a holistic approach that truly focuses on achieving financial stability and spiritual and moral support. We walk alongside our families until they reach a place of financial stability. This is monitored by weekly follow-up or more frequent check-ins.  

This benevolence journey can take up to three months. If we could describe this program in one sentence, it would be that it is a synergy toward stability between the church and the individual. The program provides applicable community resources based on the current needs of the family. For Darwin’s family specifically, we worked through getting the children connected to the proper schools and school districts. We talked about medical resources and vaccinations for children. Other discussed resources included banking, cell phone providers, apartment visits, furniture donations, clothing and employment.  

During this time, we also formed a strong alliance with the apartment complex and the management team at Bel Air Oaks in Plano. This team was extremely supportive and played a huge part throughout the family's living transitions. The approval process was one step in the right direction. However, there were still a few hurdles we had to jump through. We had to ensure the family was set with electricity and rent funds. The benevolence ministry supported the family with two months of funds to help sustain them until Darwin’s wife could also begin working.  

We share all of this to say that the process is not easy, and each family must have grit and determination along the way, working closely with the benevolence coordinator, Jazmin Rivera. The deadlines are quick and the turnaround time on some action step items is sharp. A process that typically takes one month or longer was accomplished in a two-week timeframe. The family was able to sleep in their new home just in time for Christmas! No more sleeping in hotels or shelters. The benevolence coordinator continues to work with the family. The check-ins are not as constant, but she ensures no unexpected needs arise for the family during this transition. The family is so grateful to the church that their gratitude shows by their willingness to serve. 

Rev. Lessner: A few weeks after the day I met Darwin, I received an e-mail from Pastor David letting me know that Darwin and his family have joined Custer Road UMC, are serving as part of the hospitality team, have been baptized and have found a great community. 

In a season when we celebrate resurrection by dying to ourselves and rising with Christ, I'm thankful for communities that offer new beginnings and hope. I'm thankful that someone like Kelly Loter, because of his faith, would stay for two hours busting his butt to help someone at his own personal expense and time. I'm thankful for a church like The United Methodist Church that proudly declares "you're not alone!" and "you are welcome!” For me, it's a glimpse of Easter. 

May the possibilities of new life and hope be rich in your life today, and may you let God show you the possibilities you can help make happen tomorrow. 

Published: Wednesday, April 17, 2024