When Chris and his wife dreamed about becoming missionaries, they had a pretty traditional idea what that would look like.
“We thought we would minister around here for a few years, then we’d go overseas and be missionaries,” said Pastor Chris McElwee from Wheaton Bible Church. When a Muslim Iraqi mother and her five children arrived in the middle of Ramadan, their ideas of missions dramatically changed.
The family fasted during daylight hours. They were up before dawn cooking all kinds of foods—aromas of soups and meat wafted through the house in the early morning hours. One night, after a few days of being woken up by early morning banging in the kitchen and working hard to help the family adjust and adapt, Chris and his wife were exhausted.
“We lay there awake in our bed, and we said, ‘We are missionaries. This is what God has for us.’ We could never do in Iraq what we are doing now and right here. This family has become our family. Our kids know them. We pray for them. We celebrate birthdays, Christmas and other holidays,” Pastor McElwee said.
Pastor McElwee shares the heart of the church at large. A heart to see people in the community growing and thriving—with a particular heart for the foreign-born.
Wheaton Bible sends more than 90 missionaries—spending a quarter of the church budget supporting international outreach in 39 countries. A plan to send more than 20 missionaries to France to work with Muslim immigrants over the next five years, working closely with Greater Europe Mission, has really open the eyes of the congregation to the Muslim world.
Iraqi refugees have provided a great opportunity for families considering service in France to begin working with the foreign-born right in their own backyards. In fact, working closely with a newly arriving refugee family has become a part of the required missionary preparation all Wheaton Bible’s prospective missionaries go through.
The partnership has engaged the church’s families, helping prepare them for missions and dramatically impacting World Relief’s work.
“After more than three decades of refugee resettlement in the area,” says World Relief’s Gretchen Schmidt in Wheaton, “our need to expand into new communities was significant. The support of Wheaton Bible enabled us to help families resettle in a new area.”
Just a couple miles up the road from Wheaton Bible sits Westwood Apartments, a complex made up of 90 percent immigrants and a growing Iraqi refugee population. In June, a young couple arrived with their 8-month old daughter. Within their first day, they had already been rushed to the hospital with stomach problems.
Around 15 Iraqi families have apartments in the community—and several served as translators for the American forces. Most fled for their lives, leaving behind jobs, families and an entire way of life. Each family that arrives through World Relief’s network is partnered with a family or individual from area churches, including Wheaton Bible. They help them adjust, walk with them as they look for jobs, and ensure they become self-sufficient quickly.
“The number one need for most of these families is relationship,” says Pastor McElwee. “And working with refugees has changed the lives of all the families that participate. It’s enriched their lives. They have learned about God. It’s challenged them and it’s made them pray more.”
Pastor McElwee says working with Muslim families has transformed not only his life, but also the lives of many others in his local church. “God’s heart for immigrants and refugees is immense,” he says. “God is moving and He is so faithful.”
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