On the Second Sunday After Epiphany, the Rev. Dr. Luis León delivered a sermon on the calling of Samuel, who was ministering to the Lord under Eli. As Luis shared his moving story of being called to his first church in Paterson, N. J., I – like many of you – thought of times in my life where a calling may have come to me. As a child, I grew up in a family with strong ties to the Presbyterian missionary community. We lived next to the Presbyterian Seminary in Richmond where four of my great aunts and some of their children were missionaries to China, Taiwan and Japan. We heard many stories of their years of service. Since then, others in my family have been called to different service opportunities, such as the Peace Corps. I, joined by my own family, have sought opportunities in mission work. These include hosting visiting Belarussian children who were affected by the Chernobyl disaster and working with Native Americans on the Crow and Navajo reservations. We learned that responding to these calls required a keen sensitivity to the culture of these communities, as well as a respect for what they have accomplished on their own.
This same calling came to me when we witnessed the wave of hundreds of thousands of refugees attempting to escape from their homes where war, drought, natural disasters, and economic despair were present. Eventually, Bob and I were drawn to support an organization called No One Left Behind, which brings Iraqi and Afghan translators for our military to this country under the SIV program. An opening to tutor English to the wives of these translators came my way. I am known in my family as the worst speller, but I am so glad that I pushed past my fear and became involved in this program. I have found there is always a way to connect with these women, irrespective of a language barrier. English tutoring also offers wonderful ways to connect with entire families and even the surrounding Afghan community in which many of these families live. Many of us know the extreme danger that these translators have undergone. As we pull our troops out, translators and their families receive constant life threats. Their appreciation for our country allowing them to resettle here is immense. It is an honor for me to be their advocate, to ease their resettlement, and to make them feel welcome in this foreign culture which they now call home. There are many ways to reach out to these communities and I do hope many of you will welcome this opportunity. If you should be interested in working with refugees, please consider joining the St. Johns Refugee Group under the chairmanship of Jessica Sanchez.