Originally posted on East Valley Community Ministries Consortium website
A refugee can be described as someone “forced to leave his/her home due to some sort of danger or risk of persecution.”
Imagine living in a small village in Burma (Myanmar). The normal hum of activity is broken by a man hurrying into the village yelling, “The rebels have landed!” At these words, you instinctively grab your loved ones and run. You are counted as lucky if you and your family escape with your lives. If you find transport to a refugee camp, the fight for survival is not over. You must learn to endure in a different sort of way. Primitive living conditions and a stay that stretches into years begin to make you lose hope in the future. You want to go back home … but you can’t. You are a refugee.
This is the story of many refugees who make it to America. They are placed all over the country, including the Phoenix area. One of the biggest challenges these refugees face is learning English. Without the ability to speak and understand English, they cannot find jobs and take care of their families.
That’s where Abounding Service comes in. This ministry provides a structured literacy curriculum using specialized software in combination with volunteer “encouragers.” Each student is paired with a volunteer who encourages and assists them throughout the program. Along the way, friendships form and doors for sharing Christ open. In addition to English classes, plans are under way to offer classes teaching basic living skills. Students receive their training for free but are asked to “give back” by helping others in the program once they become proficient. This simple idea sums up the vision of Abounding Service … Empowering the marginalized to serve others.
How It Began
Through a variety of experiences, God gave Pastor Gary De Velder the knowledge and resources he needed to begin the Abounding Service ministry just one year ago. The story starts long before that though. In the 1980′s, Pastor De Velder had an opportunity to visit the Ukraine just after perestroika began. There he witnessed firsthand a thriving ministry that would become the model for Abounding Service. That experience in combination with a book entitled, When Helping Hurts by Brian Fikkert & Steve Corbett, confirmed the idea that Pastor De Velder should start a ministry where a marginalized group of people would receive help and they, in turn, would ”give back” by serving others.
After many years of ministry experience with Joni and Friends, God opened up an opportunity for Pastor De Velder to start Abounding Service. A friend he had met through the East Valley Community Ministries Consortium struck up a conversation with a refugee while riding on the train. This refugee talked about a need for English skills, especially among older adults. Within a week, Pastor De Velder, whose interest was in literacy and who was looking for a group to serve, sat in an apartment complex talking with Bhutanese leaders about starting English classes. These Bhutanese leaders, Hindus, expressed a great desire for these classes even with the knowledge that they would be faith-based with some Bible reading. Several owned Bibles themselves and wanted to learn how to read them! That was the beginning of Abounding Service. God continued to provide for Abounding Service in the form of meeting spaces and volunteers. Further confirmation that this ministry was filling an important need came in the form of encouragements received at a conference for people serving refugees.
The ministry began with 10-15 students and now, one year later, nearly 60 students are learning English. The biggest constraint to the ministry’s growth is volunteers. The ministry is set up for individuals or groups, even churches (up to 80 people) to volunteer. Volunteers are asked to commit 2 hours per week for at least 6 weeks, the duration of one unit of study. Pastor De Velder emphasizes that Abounding Service is all about developing relationships and learning English is a by-product. The need is great. More refugees are arriving.