The IAFR Blog

Field notes, perspectives, stories, news & announcements

Pursuing place and belonging

November 23, 2021

Recognizing everyone's place in the community

The challenge of finding place and belonging in a community

It was at the beginning of a long road trip home after dropping off my youngest at college in Seattle that I received a text from a local community leader in Fort Morgan, Colorado. The two places couldn’t be more different – a city of over 700,000 people in the Pacific Northwest and a small town of just under 12,000 on the eastern plains of Colorado.

"God graced us with welcome in a local church."

As I glanced at the text, my heart was filled with gratitude. You see, my family and I had arrived in Fort Morgan five years ago not knowing a single soul. We moved here to come alongside people who had experienced forced displacement and found ourselves going through our own phases of integration into a notoriously difficult community to break into. Yet when we arrived, God graced us with welcome in a local church and in a new grassroots community group that was being facilitated in four languages – English, Spanish, Somali and French.

Over the next five years we were folded into this community as we walked with the East African community (former refugees) that makes up nearly 10% of the population, and with Central American asylum seekers and Latinx families who make up over 60% of the student population.

Being a bridge-builder hasn't been easy

That isn’t to say it was easy. There have been, and will continue to be, plenty of tension-filled seasons living as a bridge-builder in a majority non-white community in which positions of power are held almost entirely by the white community. Even so, this tension is fertile soil for growth.

We are learning about the principles of integration, including mutual responsibility, social place, and family flourishing. No matter how difficult, we are committed to leaning in, actively loving and listening to our neighbors.

The need for trusted faces from within the community

In a small town, everything is communicated by word of mouth and must come from a trusted source. So when it came time to ensure that the entire community had access to vaccines and blood work, it meant including the faces of trusted community members on flyers.

Serving as a trusted connection across language groups

This is the text I received that day: “We were discussing who to include in the flyer that is seen as a trusting connection across language groups and you came up.” What a tremendous gift to receive the trust of this community. Even better has been to see the ways leaders within the immigrant and refugee communities have become trusted in the broader community over the past five years.

Increasing social place for everyone

Social place and belonging has increased as language barriers are addressed, from community health information being translated and communicated in a way that resonates with each culture to an entrepreneurship program at the community college conducted in Spanish and Somali.

"Integration requires humility and sacrifice on all sides."

It isn’t easy work to lay down our rights for the blessing of the entire community, but it is the work of the kingdom. As we live out our allegiance to the King and seek his kingdom in this place, we also speak to the beautiful and good reconciling work of God.

The beautiful and good reconciling work of God

If we fail to point to Jesus, we may be fooled into believing that this desire to love our neighbor as ourselves comes from our own will and others may miss out on the power that comes from the transforming presence of the Holy Spirit.

May more and more of his kingdom be evident in the intertwining of lives that span ethnic identities and lived experiences in this small town on the plains of Colorado.

Click Here to learn More about our work in Northern Colorado!

Missionaries - Our most valuable asset!

Helping people recover from forced displacement requires more than meeting physical needs. Recovery work is requires building relationships of trust that help refugees and their host communities make space for one another so that everyone truly belongs. That is why our ministry is relational at its core.

Our IAFR teammates are our most valuable asset as we pursue our mission of helping people survive and recover from forced displacement.

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If you prefer, we invite you to make a special donation to where it is most needed by giving to the IAFR Sustaining Fund. We are deeply grateful for our Sustaining Partners who invest in the mission of IAFR in this way!

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- Shanna Doughty with Tom Albinson

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