When *Mary came out of the MRI machine, she looked terrified. Father Gabriel Ipasu of New Covenant Church had accompanied her to the appointment and asked her what was wrong.
“I heard gunshots,” Mary told him.
Mary, a refugee from the Democratic Republic of Congo, was hesitant at first to tell her Doctor what she heard, but with support from Fr. Ipasu, she shared.
“I was able to talk through with her what was going on,” explained Fr. Ipasu. “I told her it was in her subconscious. That the noises of the machine were making her live a nightmare.
“If the Doctors didn’t know what she had been through, they would think she was hallucinating,” continued Fr. Ipasu. “They might have prescribed her medicine without knowing the real cause. Once they understood what was going on, they were more compassionate with her and helped to treat the real cause.”
For Fr. Ipasu, helping refugees is not an option or a charity; it is a divine mandate.
“On the one hand, refugees come to us because they know we can help them,” said Fr. Ipasu. “But we know that God is sending them our way. The refugees in our communities are the poorest of the poor, and we are to serve them as the Bible says.”
Fr. Ipasu grew up in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and knows firsthand what it is like to live in a time of war and run for his life. From an early age, he has had a heart for the poor and marginalized. Before moving to the United States for seminary in 2002, he served in orphanages and prisons, and ministered to refugees.
When he joined AMIA in 2012, he was already working with refugees in central Florida. Shortly after, he brought the ministry opportunity to Resurrection Church in Tampa and to New Covenant Church in Winter Springs.
At first the churches were involved in isolated events, providing school supplies, Christmas gifts, and summer activities. Over the years, the ministry has grown so that church members are much more involved with helping refugees on a monthly basis. Outreach has also spread to other churches in Florida, both in and out of the AMIA network.
In 2013, Fr. Gabriel was a founding member of the Africans United Council (AUC), a community-based organization that supports African refugees in Central Florida. The AUC works together with local government and resettlement agencies to offer cultural orientation, social and emotional support to refugees.
When asked about ministering to refugees, Fr. Ipasu encourages people not to get hung up on being perfect.
“In a way it is an ordinary ministry,” he explained. “You may reach out to a refugee family and find out that what they really need is a microwave, or a recommendation for where to send their children to daycare. They need help navigating the new culture that they are in, and while we have classes and support groups to help them, a lot of this happens with one on one interactions.”
If someone feels led to help refugees in their community, Fr. Ipasu recommends reaching out to their pastor and to local organizations that help with refugee resettlement.
Fr. Ipasu also charges people to be humble and to take the time to listen and learn from refugees.
“Knowing each other’s stories is crucial,” he continued. “When we don’t understand each other, we become enemies.”
*Name changed to protect privacy