Being willing to change our perspectives and opinions is never easy, even when a person wants to be open to discerning God’s will. Human nature pushes against His pulling, yet it is possible for the callousness of our hearts to regain their softly supple state, showering others in compassion and love. In anticipation of Volunteer Appreciation Week, I was able to capture the story of one of our incredible volunteers: Rodney. His story demonstrates how the penetrating love of God can pulverize our preexisting perceptions and plans for our own lives, pulling us along His perfectly designed path. Sometimes, all it takes is a little push in order to respond.
Rodney began volunteering for World Relief Memphis in Spring 2019, but prior to this, was unsure of his level of comfort with refugees and immigrants in this country. “Well, I kinda got to the point to where (I felt), we need to stop people from coming into the US because they are coming in illegally, and you’d see the big headlines saying that an illegal alien broke into someone’s house or you hear something about MS13 without context. You get to the point where you start to put people into the same category.”
He recalled first having cause to question this when WRM’s ministry partner David Frazier spoke at Rodney’s church, First Evangelical Church. “My son heard (him) speak. There was a little questioning of what he believed about refugees and should the wall be built? When James came and told me what (David Frazier) had said, I invited him to come to my Sunday school class to speak on that. And he really pulled back and showed me the facts about who refugees really are and what processes in terms of vetting and stuff like that that they do go through.”
From there, David recommended he take our two introductory orientation programs at World Relief. These classes, coupled with encouragement from David, peeled back Rodney’s views and revealed who forcibly displaced immigrants truly were.
“The first thing that really got to me was the young lady who led the first class. She gave out index cards and we wrote different things on them like clothes, or house, or something like that. Then you had to go through and eliminate what was less important than other things until you got down (to just a little). Then you realize, this is what these refugees have had to do. They’ve had to give up things in order to (strive for) a better life or escape danger where they were. It just made me think, what would I have to give up? It gave me a respect for people who have made the choices they have made and opened my eyes up to the fact that the people that are here are not trying to – as my son puts it – stay in their own groups. They are trying to learn English, trying to assimilate, and trying to get jobs. These aren’t people coming just to get something, they’re coming to learn: they are coming to contribute.”
After the classes, Rodney immediately felt compelled to begin his journey as a volunteer. Starting on Wednesday nights at the Connect Language Center’s Café English conversation sessions (pictured above), he began to make connections and experience the beautiful personalities of our refugee and immigrant program participants in person. He described fondly how he began to laugh and joke with the people there and felt a palpable sense of shared humanity and love for each other. Tugged by the weight of God’s planning, he signed up for Thursday nights as well, immersing himself further into the lives of these new neighbors.
This is only the beginning of Rodney’s volunteer story, but already serves as a stark reminder of the love and compassion God calls us to have towards all people. After being pushed by a man he respected, God’s path opened clearly for Rodney to step through. And he still continues to step deeper into even stronger new relationships! (To read Part 2, click HERE)
By Nathan Spencer
Join World Relief Memphis HERE as we respond to the local impact of the COVID19 Crisis, equipping and coordinating volunteers and churches (like Rodney and First Evan) seeking to love their neighbors by responding to urgent refugee and immigrant community needs.