Mission Highlight: Iowa Presbyterians Helping Refugees

May 21, 2024

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 planning efforts still today.

Heartland Presbyterian Church (Clive) & Collegiate Presbyterian Church (Ames)

In the fall of 2022, members of Heartland Presbyterian Church in Clive were called to explore the idea of sponsoring a refugee family. The Des Moines metro area had seen a swift uptick in refugee arrivals, following the end of the pandemic. Members recognized the need and began exploring what it might look like to partner with a refugee family. Quickly, the Heartland Refugee Family Ministry(HRFM) of nearly 40 members was formed. Through emails, phone calls and overall networking, a joint effort was formed between Heartland, Collegiate Presbyterian in Ames, and the International Rescue Committee (IRC). It was decided that they would welcome and settle a family of seven from the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Committee members participated in six hours of formal training through IRC, during which they were given expectations, guidance, and tools for successfully partnering. Heartland and Collegiate went on to collect furnishings and found housing for the family in anticipation of their arrival. Heartlanders enthusiastically greeted the family at the Des Moines Airport April 2023!

A fast friendship was formed between the family and the committee volunteers. Church members helped the parents enroll in English classes, obtain social security numbers for each family member, complete the paperwork for SNAP benefits, along with teaching their new friends how the bus and food bank systems worked. The teenagers were enrolled in school and the toddlers in pre-school. Committee volunteers accompanied the family to medical appointments and helped with navigating grocery stores and local farmer’s markets.

To integrate the family into the community, committee members worked closely with Des Moines Refugee Support (DMRS) to engage the teenagers in a soccer club and swimming lessons. This filled the volunteers’ hearts in such a big way that several Heartland members now volunteer as regular drivers of DMRS’s efforts. Ensuring that the family became self-sufficient was one of the most important goals. Church members worked closely with the parents and teenagers to secure employment.

Before Heartland and Collegiate knew it, the blessing of an “arranged” friendship had quickly turned into a relationship of family. Heartland is blessed that the Lunganga family chose to worship and fully engage with their Heartland community, becoming members and officially joining HPC.

While Heartland is no longer in a formal sponsorship role, they continue to support them as friends and members of their church. At the start of this year, Heartland’s congregation rallied around the family with the birth of their daughter in January.

The HRFM gathered baby furniture, clothing, and supplies needed to welcome the infant into the Lunganga home. To help mother get ready for the new arrival, Heatlanders took her to pre-natal medical appointments, explored infant care resources, and provided moral support. On the big day, three HRFM team members supported her throughout labor and delivery; holding mom’s hand, coaching her through each phase, and staying with her until the proud dad arrived.

The impactful work with refugee families builds and magnifies the generosity, dedication, and creative energy within people. Both Heartland and Collegiate are exited to see where the future takes the Lunganga family as they trust that God’s plan is always in place.

Questions about this ministry? Contact LuAnn Smith by email or call 515-421-796.