By Judy Kading
“The mission of the United Methodist Church is to create disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.”
I have often wondered what “the transformation of the world” really looks like. Likewise, I have questioned how “to create disciples of Jesus Christ” to make that happen. Does it only happen in the four walls of a church building? Does it only happen on Sunday morning during a moving church service?
My involvement with the many volunteers who participate in the various activities of Iowa’s Justice for Our Neighbors has expanded my understanding of this mission statement of our denomination. Recently with the initiation of the “refugee green card clinics” I have been reminded of how essential person-to-person contact is to really make this mission statement more than just words on paper.
The “refugee green card clinics” are a great time for volunteers trained by Brynne Howard, the Church and Community Worker attorney, to meet people who are refugees from violent conflicts around the world. The volunteers treat the refugees who come for help in filling out their adjustment of status applications with so much care and respect! The volunteers take time to explain difficult questions on the application forms, sometimes with an interpreter and sometimes in English that the refugees are just beginning to grasp. It can take at least a couple of hours to go through all of the paperwork demanded by applying for the “green card,” which is a requirement for all refugees after a year in the U.S. I have been surprised to see the same volunteers giving up a part of their Saturday two times so far and ready to come back again.
Some volunteers are good friends from the United Methodist Church like Rev. Kathleen Clark. Others come from different towns and denominations like Mary Aguilera from Marshalltown, an active Catholic. Others are young professionals who heard about the opportunity and wanted to reach out to refugees. I asked Steve Molitor why he spent a valuable Saturday morning as a volunteer. Steve explained to me that he is on the Young Professionals Committee of the Greater Des Moines Partnership and he wanted to “give back” to the community. When he heard about the Justice for Our Neighbors refugee green card clinic he thought it was “ a unique idea to sit down and help people.” He told me that we are connected to the refugee experience because we all came from somewhere else.
Steve’s thoughts represent what I saw at the January and March refugee green card clinics. I think that the concept of “giving back” to the community is another expression this idea of “transforming the world.” The refugees—men, women, children, singles and families—are given a real assistance with the completion of their complex immigration forms. They are greeted with a smile and treated as important people who matter. As always, due to UMCOR’s mandate when Justice for Our Neighbors was begun in Iowa, the services given are free. The contact with the volunteers, the community that JFON represents, I hope gives refugees the feeling that we are “welcoming the stranger” (Matthew 25). I hope you feel as I do that Justice for Our Neighbors is just one more way that the Iowa Annual Conference is fulfilling our mission statement.