April 2021 – “Our vision is to transform foreigners into friends,” said Safely Home director Hope Wise.
Many years ago, God called missionaries Thomas and Cynthia Martin to serve in South America's jungles. For 17 years, they faithfully served but began to feel the tug of the Holy Spirit urging them to move back to the States. Answering the call, they relocated to Las Vegas, Nevada.
Moving home was hard for Cynthia. Deep down, she knew she was called to minister to foreigners but was unsure how to do so. One day, as the Martins were picking up a Burmese refugee family from the airport, God opened her eyes to the needs of refugees located in Vegas. Through Cynthia’s encouragement, her church members and friends began adopting refugee families, helping them with daily life, and becoming their American friends. In 2009, she founded Safely Home Refugee Ministry to continue the work.
Eleven years later, Martin passed the baton to today’s director, Hope Wise. Wise’s mission remains the same: Live out the gospel and become an “American friend” to those learning to live in America.
Currently, there are 8,000 refugees in Las Vegas, most from war-torn countries. Under the Biden Administration, Wise expects that number to go up exponentially. The ministry serves Nepalis, Syrians, Iraqis, Afghans, and more whose home countries lacked the gospel’s good news.
“If you look at a map of the five areas in the world where people do not have access to a Christ follower or the gospel,” Wise continued, “and take a map of all the refugees in Las Vegas and lay them on top of each other … it matches exactly.”
With many different ethnicities, one might assume that language barriers make communication difficult for the team. Yet, through nonverbal gestures, translation apps, and smiles, this group manages to serve refugees.
Wise recalled a memory with a Syrian family who only spoke Arabic. After moving next door, she wanted to befriend the family. They knew little English, and Wise knew minimal Arabic; however, by exchanging smiles and using Google Translate, a friendship was born. Through these methods, Wise asked the family if they would be interested in touring the city’s sights. They agreed and ended the experience with laughs, memories, and a new friendship – even though there was little verbal communication.
This is how many relationships are formed at Safely Home. As a volunteer-based ministry, Safely Home uses ordinary people with the gift of hospitality to entertain strangers and build friendships as they help refugees establish themselves in America.
Often, refugees need basic assistance with everyday life skills. Safely Home recognizes this and offers services to help minimize the culture shock. Classes range from how to fill out a form to interview preparation, English as a second language, and assistance in preparing for citizenship.
“The end goal is either for them to become U.S. citizens or go [safely] back to their home country,” said Wise. “The majority of refugees I work with want to buy a house in America and become an American citizen.”
Once immigrants live in America for five years, they can apply for citizenship. But learning the necessary material can take time, requiring some to start studying much earlier. Safely Home offers classes every six months.
Wise told a story of a man who saw a family moving and said, “If I had family in America, I would go live with them. But, I don’t. You are my family.”
“That’s what Safely Home is. We are their family,” Wise concluded.
Pray for refugees, immigrants
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For more information concerning Safely Home Refugee Ministry, visit safelyhomelv.org or call 206.519.2325.