Collaboration Breeds Hope

A year ago, I was brand new in my role as Christian Education Director at First United Methodist Church, Oshkosh WI. 

 

In that capacity, imagine my delight as I serve two churches: one in the morning, which is primarily American families and one in the afternoon, which is primarily members who have a refugee or an immigrant story. So often, these families are not seen as blessings and are lumped together as a nameless burden to society.

 

A remarkable thing happened during the afternoon service on my first day. The children came running to meet me, full of smiles and laughter, open-armed hugs and a wide-eyed, accented greetings of "Hullo, Teachah". Before even knowing my name, they were ready to trust. 

 

It wasn't but a few minutes and I realized we had very little language in common, as at least 3 languages were represented. Over the course of a few weeks, I began networking in hopes of finding a translator.

 

I reached out to the Oshkosh Public Schools and had the joyful discovery of collaborating with Dawn Shimura, who works with the ELL teachers, students and in the community.

 

As we partnered together, we soon started asking, "Who else works with the same families?" 

 

World Relief was an obvious next call and we have had the delight to meet Kelsey Hulet Potter and Anastassia Christensen.

 

Each time we gathered, we could see something of great value was happening as our common mission was overlapping. And just like that, #TeamHope was born. I've had firsthand experience to see the dedication, expertise, diligence and devotion shown by these women to these families and our community. They are all making a difference!

Before long, Cherith International and NAMI gathered with us for Chakula, as the church family taught us to cook in the African ways. At another event, the Oshkosh Police Department has joined us and provided meaningful safety training and taught about crime prevention and told of the help available that's free of charge.  At a third event, we met with others in the mental health fields, so that we are better equipped to serve well and pass on resources available throughout our state.

 

Another organization from Appleton, Breathe Free, joined in the fun this summer and provided a tent so that we could have shaded area to do weekly handwork and engage with the mamas and children outdoors. We have hosted weekly knitting parties in the winter and other artsy socialization gatherings in the families' neighborhood all summer.

 

If we say we want to be culturally sensitive and inclusive, these services provide real life assistance in the moment. Without collaboration on these kinds of joint initiatives, our growth will be stunted at best. We all grow in capacity when our community shares resources and demonstrates what it means to be healthy and strong.

 

With these growing relationships, the children and families see us working together for their good and the good of our community. This fosters trust and creates a safe environment to grow in character and learn without fear.   

 

So what started as a search for an interpreter has turned into a discovery of genuine friendship, organizational collaboration and we're able to really provide help and care. I'm forever grateful. 

So. Who else wants to join #TeamHope? 

 

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Kris Wood is a freelance writer and the Christian Education Director at First United Methodist Church, Oshkosh WI