Photo: Paul Jeffrey/ACT Alliance
expanding ministry & partnership
At the beginning of the summer, Week of Compassion partnered with Be The Neighbor, a justice-based service-learning trip ministry empowering youth and adults to put faith into action through service and justice in ways that are relational, sustainable, and dignity-affirming. Be the Neighbor missions include direct service, relational ministry, immersion experiences, and education. The key question they ask: What would the world look like if we all took seriously the idea of being a good neighbor?
The great work that Be the Neighbor is doing allowed Week of Compassion to connect directly with congregations interested in the work of refugee and immigrant response. By meeting with the groups virtually, Week of Compassion Associate Director Alan Dicken was able to help educate and inform groups about the realities of immigrants and refugees in this country, and connect with youth and leaders who attended these immersion experiences.
Alan joined groups in person in both Fort Worth and Tucson as those sites focused on immigration and refugee response. In Tucson, Alan spent time at La Casa Alitas welcome center for migrants with Vine Street Christian Church and Lindenwood Christian Church (Nashville TN) as part of their Be the Neighbor trip. Together, the churches saw and heard first hand accounts from asylum seekers who had crossed the Sonoran Desert to come to the United States.
In Fort Worth, First Christian Church Bentonville and Waterway (Bentonville AR), learned about refugee support farms, resettlement organizations, refugee schools, and other ways that people can volunteer to support new neighbors in their communities. When Rev. Dicken visited the site and heard the passion and vision of FCC and Waterway, there was an easy connection to be made with Canopy, the refugee resettlement office in Northwest Arkansas. Now, FCC Bentonville and Waterway is connected with Canopy, discerning the possibility of sponsoring a refugee family through this agency.
Rev. Caroline Hamilton Arnold, the Associate Director for Domestic Disaster Response met virtually with groups serving in Kentucky, as Be the Neighbor emphasized the intersection of disaster relief and recovery with housing justice concerns through Week of Compassion’s long-term recovery work. Volunteers from four churches worked with one of Week of Compassion’s partners in western Kentucky: Recover Mayfield/Graves. The groups helped repair homes damaged by the December 2021 tornado outbreak and rehab homes as part of a new homeownership initiative for renters displaced by the tornadoes.
Week of Compassion has been an eager partner as Be the Neighbor has come to life, offering financial support, human resources, and educational and advocacy experience to this thriving ministry.
While the Week of Compassion partnership focused on the weeks related to immigration, refugees, and housing justice as it relates to long term disaster recovery, Be the Neighbor is even more expansive. There are opportunities and sites all over the country that explore food justice, cultures and community, creation care and eco-justice, urban poverty relief, homelessness and housing, and race and reconciliation.
The heart of each immersion week, regardless of the theme, is not the work itself. As Be the Neighbor leaders will say, “What you do here for the week is good and we’re grateful. What matters most is what you do when you get home.”
When asked what she hopes Be the Neighbor participants get from their experience, co-executive director Rev. Allison Lanza answers quickly, with confident hope:
The people most of us only know about from the news and politics - the poor, the immigrant, the unhoused - are no longer just a broad category of people. “The ___” is now someone we know, and can name, and remember. They’re no longer an idea or a cause, but an actual person. They are our neighbors.
Every youth on these trips, all of our college student interns - they are already changing the world. This is what their generation does - it’s what they and their friends are already doing.
We’re all neighbors and all have the power to make our neighborhood better for all of us. This year, our program theme has been ‘It’s Possible’, and they’ve all discovered that to be true. With God’s help, with their energy, it’s not just a wish or a dream - there is real power and real hope that something else is possible in this world.
Thank you to Rev. Allison Lanza for conversation that informed this story. All photos courtesy Be the Neighbor. For more great stories and photos from Be the Neighbor’s summer of service, visit their Facebook page.
2024 Trip registration is open now; find more information on their website.
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