The Congolese family that the Newtons were hosting didn’t show up until midnight. They didn’t eat the culturally appropriate meal that the Newtons had prepared. And they didn’t come alone. Throngs of Congolese community members came from the airport to show the family to their hosts’ home.
“It felt really welcoming for them,” Lindsey Newton said. Opening their home once fueled the Newtons’ passion to welcome more refugee families, a ministry that they joined through their church, Communitas, which teaches about refugees in the context of Christ the sojourner.
“As Christians, that’s what we are.” Josiah Newton said. “We’re sojourners in a land in which we do not belong.” Thinking about refugees as travelers in new lands held special poignancy for the Newtons, who hosted their first refugee family just 3 months after they moved to Spokane themselves.
“We are called to love them, and it’s something we have to choose to do,” he said. The Newtons hosted two more families and faced challenges like getting Iraqi kids to play in 2 feet of snow and keeping their dog separate from an anxious Somali family.
“It was inconvenient,” he said. “But it made us think more about what their situation might have been.”
The Newtons’ have forged their deepest relationship as the cultural companions to a Syrian family. When newly arrived or especially isolated refugees ask for extra help, World Relief matches them with American friends. The cultural companions meet at least once a week for 6 months to help refugees develop skills and become self sufficient.
Shortly after the Newtons arrived in Spokane, they attended World Relief’s volunteer orientation. They figured the big new house with a finished attic they had just bought would be perfect for hosting newly arrived refugees for the 7-10 days before World Relief finds them permanent housing. Days after the orientation, World Relief asked them if they would be interested in the cultural companion program.
“We said yes,” Lindsey said. “That’s been a really great experience for us.” In November 2016, the Newtons began meeting with the Syrian family, which came to Spokane only 3 months after they did. They have a great deal in common. The mothers are both teachers. Josiah, a nurse, has helped family navigate a thicket of doctor appointments, prescriptions, and medical jargon. And although the kids are different ages, they get along well. Most of all, the family connected over their shared newcomer status.
“The family primarily wants friends,” Lindsey said. “That’s the best thing we can offer them.” Their support was especially valuable over the Ramadan holiday, when the mother missed the celebrations back home. Lindsey provided an ear to hear her friend as she talked about what she missed from her life back home and showed Lindsey pictures of festivities from Syria.
The Newtons let their cultural companions shape the relationship. They help their friends set boundaries by letting them decide if they’ll meet at someone’s house or at the park. They have also helped them learn to say “no” to meeting at certain times if it doesn’t work for them.
“It’s a way that we can choose to love them over ourselves,” Josiah said. But in choosing to love refugees, in opening their home, sharing their time, and becoming vulnerable in friendship, the Newtons have felt their own welcome.
They are usually greeted with a “feast” whenever they visit their companions. They also recalled visiting one of the families that they hosted, who served them a filling and delicious meal that was bought completely with WIC vouchers and food stamps.
“It reminds me of how I need to be generous with what’s been given me,” Josiah said. Their ministry with refugees has also helped the Newtons find community at church. They connect with other volunteers to share experiences and lend support. Lindsey says she has found encouragement in the way her church community supports her friendship with her Syrian companions. Her husband agrees.
“Being involved with refugees here in Spokane has completely changed my view of Spokane, and in such good ways.”
If you’d like to get involved with the refugee community in Spokane, fill out a volunteer application here. We are always looking to serve with people who have a heart for the vulnerable.
Ben Shedlock, a World Relief Spokane volunteer, wrote this post.