Who are the Friends of Refugees and how can you be involved?

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Ecco Paw, a member of the Karen Burmese people group and a Thai refugee, arrived in Clarkston 10 years ago with his family. His faith has been strengthened through his relationship with Friends of Refugees housed at Clarkston International Bible Church. JOE WESTBURY/Index
This is the second part of a three-part installment on Pat Maddox and how she came to found Friends of Refugees over the course of a decade. To see the original story on her call to missions, click here. CLARKSTON — Imagine yourself as a refugee. You and your family have fled the war-torn nation of your births. Through the generosity of the United States, you have been resettled in a new town 9,000 miles from all that was familiar. Maybe it is Clarkston, or maybe Tifton or Blue Ridge. You have been given a new lease on life and your future looks bright. You are ready to live the American dream … but there are a few problems.
  • The Refugee Sewing Society provides equipment and materials to help woman supplement their income from items they sell in their own store at the church. JOE WESTBURY/Index
    You don’t know how to buy groceries for your children because you can’t read the language on the packages.
  • You need to furnish your apartment with hand-me-down box springs and mattresses and some simple chairs and a table. But you have no network of friends to help you locate the items.
  • Your child wakes up sick with a very high fever. How do you find a doctor on short notice?
  • The humanitarian assistance which the government provides – 180 days of help with rent and two-to-eight months of food – will cease in a relatively short period of time. You feel the growing pressure of needing to provide for you family after that safety net is removed.
  • You are eager to become financially independent but need a job and, perhaps, some vocational retraining. How do you find employment when you don’t understand the culture, the expectations of your employer, and have no transportation to your new job?
Refugees have needs, but not of their own making. It is a life change thrust upon them with little choice or option. Many times the only alternative is to flee or die.

Friends of refugees become Friends of Refugees

Brian Bollinger, left, executive director of Friends of Refugees housed at Clarkson International Bible Church, discusses ministry plans with pastor Trent DeLoach. JOE WESTBURY/Index
That’s how they show up on your doorstep. And that’s where faith-based ministries like Friends of Refugees (FOR) step into the picture. They provide a platform for churches to connect with new families and help them stand on their own two feet. In short, they become friends of refugees. The refugee may not be a Christian, but that does not matter. Perhaps they have no faith at all. No problem, as these friends are simply following Christ’s commanded to show mercy to the stranger in their midst. In Clarkston, refugees encounter a variety of opportunities through Christian groups like Friends of Refugees, who volunteer to help in those early months of their new American lives. And along the way the Church earns a relational opportunity to share the greatest gift: a gospel message.
A wall at the Clarkston church annex housing FOR is lined with cards of refugee support from around this nation. This note from a Connecticut family is typical of words of comfort which refugees can read as they enter the building. JOE WESTBURY/Index
The ministry was founded by Pat Maddox, then a member of Clarkston Baptist Church, and has now expanded to include seven ministries from its home base at Clarkston International Bible Church. Brian Bollinger, who serves as executive director of the group, coordinates the efforts of volunteers as they seek to minister to those seeking new lives in the land of the free. “For 22 years now we’ve been blessed to extend God’s welcome to New Americans and watch them come to experience abundant life and a flourishing community. We believe too often churches get distracted by running programs, to the detriment of building Kingdom relationships,” he says. “At FOR we get to provide a durable scaffold for the Church to join the story of what God is doing here.

More than 90 unreached people groups in Clarkston

“Clarkston is truly unique: more than 90 unreached people groups from among the Nations have come to live in this place, and the Church has a unique chance to disciple new neighbors who have never encountered the gospel of Christ," Bollinger comments.
A sign at Clarkson International Bible Church identifies a handful of the ministries housed at the Georgia Baptist church. JOE WESTBURY/Index
“But this is not just about equipping native-born Americans to fulfill the Great Commandment and the Great Commission. “FOR wants to see those we serve today become those who serve beside us tomorrow. And, we also want to empower our local ethnic congregations to become the leaders and drivers of that 'welcome' to the Nations and the next generation.” Last year FOR served more than 5,700 people with the help of 21,000 volunteer hours. As a member of the Christian Community Development Association, it uses a holistic approach to serving families and inviting everyone in the community to be part of the story. This broad base of community volunteers brings together partners from 25 churches, 20 community organizations, 12 foundations, 10 corporate partners, and over 400 individual donors. For more information visit Friends of Refugees to learn how to volunteer, donate, or serve as an intern. Its office telephone number is (404) 292-8818. 

Who are the refugees?

New Americans in Clarkston come from more than 100 ethnic groups globally. Here are a few of the people groups who have arrived in Clarkston.
Afghanistan Central African Republic Iran Sierra Leone
Angola Congo Iraq Somalia
Belarus Croatia **Kenya Sudan
Bhutan* Cuba Kosovo ***Thailand
Bosnia Eritrea Liberia Togo
Burma Ethiopia Moldova Turks from Russia
Burundi Former USSR Nigeria  Ukraine
Cambodia Indonesia North Korea  Vietnam
*Nepali-speaking Bhutanese people from the southern area of Bhutan.  Registered as refugees in Nepal during the mass deportation of the 90’s **Children from Somalian or Sudanese families born in refugee camps. ***Children from Southeast Asian families born in refugee camps
Brian Bollinger, Clarkston International Bible Church, Friends of Refugees, Pat Maddox

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