At Thanksgiving time we thank God for all things – faith, family, friends, bountiful gardens and crops, a warm home, good health, a job. The list is endless.
I wonder, though, how many of us thank God not only for how He blesses us, but for how He uses us to bless others? The people of St. Mark’s Lutheran Church, Grand Forks, are both blessing others and thanking God for the opportunity to do so.
Last Saturday night, at the invitation of Olive Weber, I attended a traditional Thanksgiving dinner St. Mark’s served to a room full of refugees. Some have been in Grand Forks for two or three years and some just a matter of days. Many of them are family who have been separated and now are together again.
Like these three sisters who are 15, 23 and 24. One has been here three years, one four months, the other just 20 days. “And our parents are coming soon,” said an elated Khadka, on the right.
Back in 2007, the United States launched a program to resettle tens of thousands of Bhutanese refugees from refugee camps in Nepal, a landlocked mountainous kingdom in southern Asia located between India and China. The refugees, almost all ethnic Nepalis from southern Bhutan, have been living in these camps since they were expelled from their homes 20 years ago. They are not allowed to return to Bhutan or to settle permanently in Nepal.
The United States is resettling about 60,000 of these refugees and Grand Forks is one of 300 settlement sites according to Tara Dupper, resettlement coordinator with Lutheran Social Services New American Services. “We’ve been resettling about 90 people each year for the last three years,” said Tara, who also attended St. Mark’s dinner. “It has really grown with more Bhutanese joining their relatives who are already here.”
New American Services helps refugees become successful by connecting them to resources that will help them learn about life in the United States, its culture, getting settled in an apartment and finding employment. The refugees receive refugee cash and medical assistance for eight months until they become self sufficient through employment.
Incidentally, if anyone has something to donate like items needed to set up an apartment, please call Tara at (701) 787-7743.
The men of St. Mark’s cooked and served a wonderful dinner of turkey, dressing, mashed potatoes, gravy, corn, fruit, rolls, dessert. They did not forget rice – the refugee’s former main staple. I noticed that some of them felt right at home with the rice but didn’t put our traditional Thanksgiving foods on their plate. “The older the refugee the less likely they are to try American food,” said the Rev. Paul Trenne.
Seated with us at our table were Lila Rai, Ghaley Bishnu and Ghaley’s Mom, Ghaley Maya Phul. Lila has been here since July and the other two just about a month. The biggest surprise they said was the snow.
After dinner we were entertained by Al and Phyllis Blomquist, Grand Forks, also known as Gentle Country. They had everyone clapping along to songs about a John Deere tractor and peanut butter that sticks to the roof of your mouth.
Sunday School children from St. Mark’s also sang such songs as “Jesus Loves Me.” Then Pastor Trenne asked if anyone else would like to sing. The refugees know who their best singers are and encouraged Hkrka Rai and Mohkmud to go forward. They did so and beautifully sang songs in their native tongue.
It was such an enjoyable evening and I thank Olive for inviting me to be a part of it. As we said good bye and watched the refugees leave, Olive turned to me, “It’s a nice feeling,” she said. Yes indeed. I felt the feeling!
St. Mark’s has embraced the refugees in our midst for quite some time.
“This is our second dinner and we did a picnic around the Fourth of July with games and lots of kids playing,” Pastor Trenne said. “It’s been a really good thing for us as a congregation. We are so blessed in this country and in this community and this is an area where there is real human need that we can address.”
God bless the people of St. Mark’s for blessing the new neighbors among us.