Although Noah Rinehart grew up in Memphis, he had never heard of World Relief and didn’t know much about refugees. But once a community service coordinator at Rhodes College recommended it to him based on similar evangelical beliefs, he was intrigued. He ended up interning for six semesters and the summer of 2017, and the resulting experience was less about an academic interest and more about development of his practical life skills and personal growth. He appreciated the chance to broaden his horizons and spend time outside of the Rhodes community, providing perspective and a welcome change from a rigorous and sometimes elitist academic environment. As he learned to navigate government offices and cultural barriers, he also saw the intense challenges faced firsthand by refugees which would cause them to flee their homes. Their challenges do not end with arrival in the United States, but change as they must learn to navigate bureaucratic hurdles, apartment leases, employment contracts, and quite often a language barrier too.
The relationships Noah built with other interns, staff, and program participants were highlights of his experience at World Relief. One of his favorite memories is being in the car with the other summer interns as they drove to an apartment complex where many resettled clients live. When they arrived, an older Syrian man whom they knew through World Relief was riding around the parking lot on a tiny child’s bike! When he recognized them, he just waved with no explanation. They were not even there to visit him, but his playfulness gave them a good laugh and turned an otherwise ordinary day into a memorable one.
Several clients stood out in Noah’s memory as he reflected on his time at World Relief. He remembered a mother and daughter from East Africa with whom he spent a lot of time at their appointments. He was impressed by the mother’s gracefulness and composure. She was never in a hurry for anything, even when they were running very late! While at the DMV one day waiting for an ID card, he struck up a conversation with the daughter, who was getting ready to start ninth grade at a new school. As it ended up, he had attended a school in the same district. He was able to encourage her and tell her about her new school, making her transition to high school a little easier.
As a religious studies major at Rhodes and a Christian, the faith-based aspect of the internship appealed to Noah. He was amazed to learn the sheer number of times the Old Testament admonishes Israel as God’s people to care for the stranger and foreigner among them, and how that command applies to God’s people today, the church, as well. He enjoyed learning more about the church’s role in serving their neighbors, and in many cases their brothers and sisters in Christ. Sometimes it was difficult and discouraging to engage in this space, as he had a front-row seat to seeing churches’ varied reactions toward questions of immigration. On one hand, he was encouraged by those who had chosen to step up and care for their neighbors the way that God calls the church to love them– all of them. But on the other hand, he was also discouraged by those who rejected the call to action and continued to perpetuate hurtful and exclusionary policies toward the foreigner. He came to view loving the stranger as a non-negotiable in the Christian faith through this experience and has taken this view with him in his post-grad endeavors in college ministry.
Being able to work with other Christians operating under similar priorities was one of Noah’s favorite parts about the internship. The staff serves refugees because of Jesus’ commands to love their neighbors, especially the most vulnerable in our communities. The nature of service work is confronting hard situations daily, but Noah was grateful for a supportive office community who helped him think about these challenges in a healthy way, without being consumed by the weight of it all. When he worked here in 2017, the challenge was lowered quotas and declining public support for immigration, but he felt like the office was overall optimistic and flexible to the required changes. He was inspired by the sense of hope he still felt as the general attitude was to trust in the Lord’s provision despite the fact that lowered visa numbers made for a discouraging couple of years. Through this experience, he came to appreciate turning off the news and actually engaging with immigrants in our communities. He found that the relationships built in this way are the ones which are most impactful and mutually transformative.
We are always looking for interns to join our team and learn more about what we do. Noah recommends this internship to anyone looking to grow in their cross cultural abilities and to see the heart of God as they engage with refugees in the Memphis community. Sound like you or someone you know? Check out our internships page to learn more and apply.
Sarah Barnett was the former Mobilization Intern for World Relief Memphis and is a senior at Furman University in South Carolina. She majors in Political Science and Spanish and is passionate about influencing where people and policies collide.