By Tim Durkin, Baptist Family & Children’s Services
Ask any group of Americans what exactly comprises the American Dream and you’re likely to hear a variety of answers. But, if you boil those answers down to their essence, you might just find a common theme of freedom, prosperity and security.
The decade past may have taken the glow off of the American Dream for most of this country’s people. But, curiously enough, the American Dream is not just the property of Americans. Worldwide, especially in some of the globe’s most troubled countries, hundreds of millions of men and women lay heads on pillows each night and dream in American.
In the fall of 2009, Baptist Family began working with a group of African refugees living in the Belair-Edison neighborhood of Baltimore City. Nine large families (totaling around 60 people) were relocated from camps in the Congo by an international nonprofit organization called the International Rescue Committee.
These men, women, and children came to America to escape crushing poverty and illness. A rolling conflict called “Africa’s World War” has devastated massive swaths of the Congo and Rwanda and left millions homeless. Even refugee camps have become targets, and hundreds of thousands of people have been killed or left homeless a second time after military strikes.
Those whose camps survive intact face food and water shortages and a lack of basic sanitation.
In the middle of this nightmare, the power of the American Dream is undeniable. And a very few people are given a chance to make the dream a reality in their lives.
Baltimore’s refugees live in neatly kept apartments and row homes. IRC provides their housing for eight months while they begin to acclimate to their new country.
The refugees speak Swahili and some French (a leftover of French colonial involvement in the Congo). They immediately reached out to Salem Gospel Ministries, a BCM/D church that has a strong French-speaking African population. Salem Gospel Ministries began to minister to and advocate for the refugees, who needed significant help in adjusting to a new way of life.
The parents and children, while well housed and out of immediate danger, needed major amounts of material assistance. Clothing and shoes were in short supply, and Baltimore’s cold weather months were coming on. Baptist Family donors and friends from University Church saw to it that the refugees would not suffer the winter’s cold.
The children were enrolled full-time at a Baltimore City public school with limited “English As A Second Language” resources. So Baptist Family staff and other volunteers began after-school English language classes for the refugee children. Bright and energetic, the children have taken to their studies and are making great progress with the language and culture of their new homeland.
Lessons begin with a scripture verse, and the refugees’ spiritual well-being is taken very seriously. Some are Christians and others not, but all are shown the compassionate love of Christ.
Adults are also learning a new language through English classes held after Sunday services at Salem Gospel Ministries. Salem meets regularly at Patterson Park Church in Baltimore.
Along with the great opportunity they have been offered, the adults face a great challenge: adjusting to a new language and culture and finding gainful employment in the current economy. Their rescue from the Congo comes at a bit of a price. They are expected to work to repay transportation costs for their family’s flight to America.
For some of these large families–with as many as eight children–this debt is large and looming.
Their needs are great, indeed, and the country they have left behind is the home of many painful memories. But the men and women afforded their own chance at the American Dream are working hard to heal their families’ trauma and to make a new start in what must still be called the Land of Opportunity.