“Impossible to Change”
By Lori Kim
In 2006, my two high school children and I started volunteering at World Relief to serve a Burundian family. This family had left Burundi as refugees and had been resettled to Clarkston, GA. We tutored the children every Saturday. Eventually, some youth from my church joined in serving, which offered the opportunity to tutor more children. In addition, we began to serve as Sunday School teachers at a refugee church. As I began to meet more newly arrived refugees, many of the youth told me one of their greatest needs was for help with their homework.
In 2010, my oldest daughter started an afterschool program and recruited college students to serve in three different apartment neighborhoods. The programs grew and eventually we formed the non-profit organization City Hope Community. Since then, we have been serving thousands of refugees through after school program, Saturday tutoring, family services, a thrift store and a church.
Our high school volunteers have demonstrated tremendous growth through their service. Parents share how they have seen their child go from shy, passive, and spoiled to compassionate and proactive. Driven by love for the children they serve, the high schoolers voluntarily started clubs at their schools and organized drives to collect school supplies, winter jackets, and books for refugee children. Many of these volunteers said that while they learned a lot at church, they had struggled to relate their faith with real life. Now through serving, they can carry out what they learned. One student shared that she didn’t know serving and loving our neighbors could bring such joy until she had the opportunity to do so through the ministry. Another student who thought he had no talents discovered he had a lot to offer the children he tutors. God did the work in opening their eyes and growing their faith. The many testimonies from students and their parents spread among their circles and attracted more high school volunteers, providing the chance to serve more children.
When we ask the kids in our programs what they want to be when they grow up, they say, “I want to be like my tutor and help others.” One student in our after school program wrote, “When I grow up, I want to become like the Christians who come to our home every Saturday. They brought clothes for us when my sister and I needed clothes for school. They brought blankets when we were cold. They brought a teddy bear and toy when my sister was hospitalized. When I grow up, I want to help people who are poor and suffering like them.”
We started a church for children and youth who became interested in going to church but could not, for various reasons, attend their own language churches. Our church began with ten students and grew to 120 members today. Among them are at-risk youth and young adults God sent to us, many of whom are affiliated with different gangs. When I started serving in refugee community, I tried to stay away from youth involved in crimes and gangs. But God’s plan was different. He wanted us to share His love with them. Many adults in the neighborhood deemed these boys “impossible to change” but are now amazed by their transformation.
When they ask how it happened, I always respond that we just did what God wants us to do. We fed them when they were hungry, we clothed them when they needed clothes. We provided a shelter when they became homeless. There has been no single soul who refused the love of God that was demonstrated through us. They were changed by God one at a time. Some of them committed their lives to God to be full-time ministers.
It has been an immense blessing to experience God and the work He can do through those who are willing to yield to Him and participate in His labor of love.
Lori Kim is the Executive Director of City Hope Community in Clarkston, GA. She has been serving refugee children and their families in Clarkston, GA for over ten years and is passionate to recruit local churches to the cause.