Project:Start helps Kenyan church expand capacity for refugee ministry


In January, members of Upendo Baptist Church in Garland gathered to pray and fast that God would grow their church.

Only a week later, Pastor Shadrack Ruto was connected to 60 people in search of a new church home. The initial three visitors to the church were not from a Kenyan background, like the majority of the church membership, but were refugees from the Central African Republic who lived within 10 miles of the church. The families had recently moved to the United States from refugee camps. Ruto heard story after story of trauma and need from the families and the church leaders gathered to see how they could help.

Transportation to and from church was a necessity, so church members stepped up to provide rides. There was also a language barrier, as the refugees primarily spoke French. One of the refugees was fluent in English and volunteered to translate worship services and conversations. The translator started teaching English classes after church on Sundays to help refugees learn to adapt to American culture.

While Upendo church members were thankful to God for the answered prayers, they realized the refugees’ needs far outweighed the capacity of the church. In March, Ruto learned about Project:Start through Texas Baptists, a refugee resource center created to connect refugees with churches and ministries. Housed in the Vickery Meadow area, Project:Start began in 2015 to provide a centralized place for refugee resources.

Ruto saw great value in the center and called Leonid Regheta, director of Project:Start, for help with needs. Regheta connected him with several area churches and ministries who provide resources to refugees, such as food, medical care, furniture, job search assistance and more.

As needs arose, the congregation saw fellow believers serve and give far beyond what they anticipated. One Thursday in May, through Regheta’s help, three members of Park Cities Baptist Church, in Dallas, drove their personal vehicles to a warehouse in Plano to pick up furniture. The PCBC members were greeted by Charles Pyles, with the Collin Baptist Association, and Win Brown, Jr., deputy executive director of Victim Relief Ministries. The men loaded the vehicles to the brim with bookcases, dressers, desks and other household furniture and drove 10 miles to deliver the gifts to Upendo Baptist Church.

“We are honored to have this as a joint project,” said Brown. “This is a Kingdom of God initiative. We are excited this will be a blessing to many.”

The furniture, provided by Victim Relief Ministries, was later given to refugee families. Clothing donations came from Hunters Glen Baptist Church and volunteers from First Baptist Church of Corsicana assisted with a ministry day at the church on June 10. Ruto was humbled by all of the generosity they received.

“This is a true picture of the church of Christ. It is wonderful to be able to see this,” he said.

For Ruto, serving the refugee families is part of the church’s responsibility to live out the Gospel. He also saw his church members grow in appreciation for the missionaries who shared the Gospel in Kenya. Many church members also remember coming to the U.S. for the first time and experiencing culture shock and uncertainties.

“We are happy to help. We understand life in America for a newcomer. We came in as strangers and learned. When they come, they don’t feel like strangers. They feel at home,” Ruto said.

The refugee families also added a new vibrancy to the Upendo Baptist Church, leading worship songs and participating in the study of scripture, according to Ruto.

“This is a good testimony for people to see the love of believers from all cultures,” he said.

For more information on volunteer opportunities and connection to refugee resources in the Dallas area through Project:Start, contact Leonid Regheta at projectstart@texasbaptists.org or 817.773.1097.

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