Mission Highlight: Iowa Presbyterians Helping Refugees

May 21, 2024

The Refugee Ministry is alive and vibrant in the tri-presbytery community! The need to support refugee families in Iowa is strong and many of our churches have felt called to this ministry over the past few years. Some worked independently, some banded together, and some are still planning efforts today.

Picture taken at Northminster Presbyterian Church in Ames, for a gathering of AIRA volunteers and Ukrainians.

Collegiate Presbyterian Church (Ames)

Collegiate Presbyterian Church of Ames, a North Central Iowa Presbytery congregation, has always felt called to help those in need. In the past decade, they have become actively involved with the refugee ministry. As a member of the Ames Interfaith Refugee Alliance, Collegiate works closely with other area churches. The AIRA was formed in 2016 and has welcomed more than fifty Ukrainians to the Midwest since then.

While NCI Presbytery aims to highlight refugee ministry in our churches, Ukrainians are not technically refugees. They are humanitarian parolees. Humanitarian parolees have different government agencies overseeing them than do refugees and immigrants. The main difference being individuals granted humanitarian parole are eligible for work authorization in the United States but are not eligible for refugee resettlement programs or other federal benefits. To those at Collegiate being called to serve, the need for love and compassion is all the same.

Through the United for Ukraine program, Collegiate and its local church partners, recently committed to hosting a Ukrainian family for the first three months of their arrival to the US. Collegiate promised to ensure that the family’s basic needs were provided for; help them acclimate to the grocery store, teach the bus system and map use, show where/how to sign up for government benefits, help make medical connections, and much more.

Susan Cramer, a member of Collegiate Presbyterian Church, is currently the chair of the Ames Interfaith Refugee Alliance. Cramer explains that, in her opinion, the language barrier is the hardest part of hosting a family. ESL (English as a Second Language) programs are so incredibly important but helping the partner families get to these classes is even more so. For a Ukrainian family with the European background, the overall assimilation to the culture of Iowa is not so difficult -once you know the language.

To the Collegiate congregation, the involvement in the refugee ministry is rewarding beyond explanation. To have the opportunity to really get to know a family who has experienced such hardship and shown just resiliency is overwhelmingly encouraging. Collegiate views the ministry as an opportunity to lead with actions and by example, as opposed to preaching and evangelism. They are in the process of arranging to host a Ukrainian family on their own, later this year.

Cramer points out that it is important to know the difference between hosting and sponsoring. Hosting a family means you agree to provide for their basic needs for a set amount of time, sponsoring a family means you take responsibility for the family from more of a legal standpoint.

The refugee ministry team at Collegiate encourages those churches who have not yet considered getting involved to seriously think about it. Cramer reminds us that pairing or teaming with other local churches is a great way to get started…and look outside your denomination! When working together, there is a broader reach of volunteers and financial resources. “Two are better than one because they have a good return for their hard work” (Ecclesiastes 4:9).

NCI Presbytery is excited and hopeful for the future of Collegiate and their partnership with United for Ukraine! Questions about this ministry?  Contact Susan Cramer.