It is estimated that 4,000 refugees made Arizona their home during the last year. The Arizona Conference has taken a major role in providing services for these people in transition.
In 2014, the Refuge and Revelation Center (R&R) opened its doors in Phoenix under the direction of Pastor Glenn Sta. Ana, assistant to the president for Asian-Pacific Ministries. He explains, “Our mission at the R&R Center is to serve the refugee communities encompassing metro Phoenix and its suburbs. We serve the Burmese, Karen, Karenni, Chin, Kachin, and some other minor ethnic Myanmar refugees. We likewise serve the Congolese populace coming from various ethnic tribes.”
Refugees come from a variety of religious backgrounds, such as Baptist, Catholic, Buddhist, Muslims, and Seventh-day Adventists. There are also many non-believers, some of whom are eager for Bible studies.
The main program at the R&R Center includes teaching ESL (English as a Second Language) courses and citizenship review classes.
Sai Tial Tin, a Chin student, needed to study English for her citizenship test. “Many of our students like Sai Tial Tin have become U.S. citizens,” Sta. Ana says. “Others have found employment after spending some time brushing up their basic English skills.”
Another student, Ei Meh, a Karenni wife and mother, told how it is important for her to be able to speak English at her place of work.
Festo, a Congolese elder, appreciated his ESL course. “I need to know a second language, English, to talk to my manager and neighbors,” he said.
“We not only teach our students English, we teach them our Christian songs and choruses, and they love it,” says ESL instructor Lauran Merginio. “Our curriculum includes vocabulary coming from Bible stories like creation, the story of Abraham, the birth of Jesus and memory verses such as Genesis 1:1, John 3:16, Psalm 23:1, and many others. We also teach them how to pray in English.”
“I like to pray in my class,” says Mu Nar Paw, a young Karen mother of three.
Elvira, a Mexican migrant, adds, “I like the (vocabulary) games — they help me learn the best.”
Church members and friends of the program have donated hundreds of articles of clothing. Every Wednesday, bread and vegetables are provided courtesy of Glendale church community services program.
“One of the highlights of our service is our visits to many of our refugees’ homes,” says Sta. Ana. “Visits have endeared us to them and them to us. Usually done in the early evening, we spend time listening to their stories. They are eager to share their journeys from their respective homelands to refugee camps in Thailand, Malaysia and Rwanda.”
Refugee families often prepare a simple evening meal for their instructors to experience their ethnic food and hospitality. They express their deep gratitude for living in the land of freedom where they can work, their children may obtain free education, and they can benefit from advanced health care for their elderly.
On Friday evening and Sabbath, the R&R Center is transformed into a place of worship. A conference-recognized small group of around 20 Adventist Myanmar refugees attend, plus some non-members. A potluck of Myanmar ethnic foods is provided to members and guests. A larger group of refugees attend the Phoenix Central church. Congolese refugees hold their worship services in the Glendale Adventist Academy gym.
The R&R team includes Lauran Merginio, ESL director; Arlene Merginio, volunteer ESL teacher; their children as part of the visitation team, and the Glenn Sta. Ana and Geoff Tio families as auxiliary supporters in all activities.
“We acknowledge the success and continuity of our refugee program is by the grace of God.,” Sta. Ana concludes. “He inspires church members to help financially, as well as give precious hours volunteering, teaching or driving. We’re impacting the lives of our refugees by directing them to Jesus for their hope and salvation.”
Phil Draper is the communication director for the Arizona Conference. This article originally appeared in the February 2017 issue of the Pacific Union Recorder