Ministry Spotlight: Kamila Burgess, Building Hope in the City

Welcome to Real Life.  Today's post is the first in a new Ministry Spotlight Series. Join my conversation with . . .

Kamila Burgess, Refugee Program Assistant
Building Hope in the City

When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. 
The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born.
Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt.
I am the Lord your God.”
(Leviticus 19:33–34 NIV)

Please introduce yourself and tell us about your position at Building Hope in the City.

I work with refugees and immigrants. I manage The Hope Center, coordinate volunteers, and direct the Refugee Mentoring Program.

The Hope Center is a community center where we provide three levels of free ESL Classes (English as a Second Language) taught by Tri C. We also offer tutoring to those applying for U.S. citizenship. The Center is the only place that provides free childcare (nursery and preschool) so mothers can attend classes. These children have never experienced an American classroom; we help prepare them to attend American schools.

The Hope Center is a safe environment where refugees can ask questions about our faith and beliefs. Otherwise, we’d never hear those questions. 

Do they ask faith questions?

Yes, but slowly. It takes time to build trust and relationships. We host a small, faith-based, conversational English class where we discuss our beliefs. Currently, a Muslim woman in class loves to pray with us. She says our prayers are very different and she feels blessed by them. She’s asking many questions. It’s very exciting.

Kamila, you’re an immigrant. Does this help in your ministry position?

I was born in Slovakia. When I was eighteen, I received a scholarship to attend a small Christian College in Pennsylvania. I came alone. So, I understand the loneliness, culture shock, and difficulty of mastering a new language. I walked a long road to embracing American life. I never planned to immigrate. But I met my future husband in college. I stayed for love!

Explain the ministry of Building Hope in the City.

Building Hope’s mission is “restoring the city to God by developing and linking people, communities and churches.” BHC has many ministry arms in addition to refugee assistance. A few include:
How did you start working at Building Hope?

I always had a heart for missions. I had begun teaching women’s classes at Grace Church. At the end of each class, I heard the Lord saying, “Now, go and make disciples of every nation. Leave. Go into the darkness and bring people to the light.” But how? I kept asking God for direction. One day while praying, Eileen Wilson placed her hand on my shoulder and asked, “How are you doing?” Eileen is the director of Building Hope’s refugee ministry.

I was applying for U.S. citizenship at the time. Eileen offered to look over my application. I shared with her my desire to “go and make disciples.” She said, “I’m looking for an assistant at Building Hope. Are you interested?” That was two years ago.

What are the current needs of The Hope Center? If we want to get involved, how can we help?

New location. The Hope Center is outgrowing its current location. We’re looking for a bigger space where we can grow.

Nursery and pre-school volunteers. A one-time training session and background check are required.

Citizenship tutors. Citizenship applicants must learn 100 questions, complete a 20-page form, and be able to read and write in English. It is difficult and often stressful. We train tutors to lead a small class or work one-on-one.

ESL Teachers and Tutors. Currently, our ESL classes are full. So, we provide a beginner’s conversational English class for those waiting to take an ESL class. We need volunteers to lead these groups, teaching basic words and phrases. If you speak English, you can do this!

Mentoring Program for Refugees and Immigrants. We train mentors to visit refugees’ homes. This program is my heart. It’s very personal. If you want to see a changed life, step out, and walk alongside these people. Many can’t make it to the Hope Center for various reasons. So, they sit home feeling isolated and overwhelmed. When a mentor cares enough to visit and help them learn English, it’s an incredible gift.

Refugees want to get to know Americans, but they’re afraid. A mentor breaks the isolation and begins building bridges. When we begin to know and understand and stop fearing each other it leads to a better society. I believe much violence stems from fear.

Besides English language assistance, mentors might teach a refugee to sort mail (bill vs. advertisements) or use a calendar. Some immigrants were farmers who never learned to read, write, or live in an ordinary household. When a mentor walks beside them and says, “I’ll help you figure this out,” it’s a huge encouragement!

A woman from the Congo told me, “The only thing that got me through last week was my mentor showing up at my door.” Another family told us, “It was crazy. We didn’t know what we were doing. Then, a mentor came and helped. We felt like someone actually cared.” One kind person represents all Americans to them.

The mentoring commitment is two hours, once a week or every other week, for six months. I assign 2-3 people to one refugee family so the burden is shared. Currently 120 people are being mentored, 50 are waiting for mentors.

Most refugees don’t have one American friend outside the Hope Center. The Center is their bridge. It’s a safe environment. You don’t even have to teach or train. Just come to the Hope Center, sit on the couch, and talk to people. Be the kind, welcoming face of America!

Interested in volunteering? Start by signing up for Building Hope 101. Need more information? Email kamila@buildinghopeinthecity.org.

Dear Lord Jesus,
Thank you for Kamila and her ministry at Building Hope in the City.
Please strengthen her, protect her, and expand this ministry.
May each refugee come to know you and your love.

Please provide many hands and hearts to help!
In Jesus' name. Amen
.

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