Last week in Dallas, The Bethany Fellows visited a neo-monastic community and heard about the Daraja ministry. Daraja is the Swahili word for "bridge.” They work to build bridges with recently-resettled refugees in the Dallas area. They seek to empower sisters and brothers in Christ by extending hospitality, advocating for justice, and providing training opportunities for refugees in an attempt to help them find prosperity and abundant life in America as soon as possible. After federal and state social services run out after six months, it is up to volunteers to pick up where they left off.
During the presentation, all I could think about was my mom. My mom is a Daraja. She is a bridge to many. She helps navigate the waters of American society with those who have come from other countries or have been recently released from prison. And she does so without being asked.
When I was little, I was embarrassed and impatient when my mom would talk to people, finding out their life stories, asking many questions and listening for what seemed a long time. Now, I give thanks for the woman who has shown what true ministry looks like.
Although retired from teaching long ago, my mom regularly tutors a young man from Mexico and edits his papers. She teaches ESL at a local library even as she takes Spanish to help her communicate with those she meets in the Hispanic neighborhood close by. She wishes to help those she meets from Guatemala find jobs and make ends meet.
Last year, my mom accompanied a Cambodian couple she met at a nail salon, as they became United States citizens. She regularly inquires about their two-year-old daughter who lives back in Cambodia, and she encourages them to take classes at the university, because she realizes they are intelligent and full of potential. She has studied the history of The Killing Fields and has heard their stories of pain and suffering. Through my mother, I have a relationship with these parents, too, as we discuss our toddlers eating, sleeping, and playing habits. We look at each other’s Facebook pages to watch our children grow up. One day, we hope to have a play date.
Working with Missions Behind Bars and Beyond, my mom attends Nurture, Support and Accountability Groups (NSAG) meetings with recently released offenders who wish to establish a life outside of prison. She has a regular coffee date with one gentleman whom I now consider to be a friend of the family, and she invites him to church. We have discussed theology and exercise. My mom has taught me not to judge but to see each person as a human being created in the image of God. She might not use those words, but her actions reflect this belief. She helps bridge the divide between the haves and the have-nots, the welcome and the unwelcome by helping him find a safe place to live and furniture to fill the apartment.
And this is all my mom currently does, over and above volunteering at Best Friends Day Center for dementia patients, Mother-to-Mother, which bridges the gap between low- and middle-income parents, church circles, Christ Care groups, and book clubs, as well as taking care of my girl almost daily. She also continues to keep in touch with the Iraqi refugees with whom she took to doctors’ visits and shared meals.
The number of lives my mom has touched is immeasurable. Her way is gentle and kind, unassuming, always looking to how others may live out their calling to be accepted and loved. I learned very early on about working for justice and praying for peace, campaigning for political leaders who can make a positive difference, and practicing care for creation by watching how my mother has lived her life.
I give thanks for ministries like Kentucky Refugee Ministries here in Lexington and Daraja in Dallas, but I am most grateful for my mom, a Daraja in and of herself, who has shown me what building bridges and personally walking across them with those in need looks like.
Former international fashion model Rev. Sarah Renfro seeks to boost the body image of young women by educating them on the myths of media and focusing on divine within. She also preaches and teaches about marriage and divorce, motherhood, ministry, and mental illness.