My interim ministry began with St. Alban’s in May 2023. I stepped into big shoes left by The Rev. Dr. Dave and Naomi Madsen and the exciting and beautiful ministries they founded.
St. Alban’s began refugee work when tensions between Iran and Iraq came to war in 1980. Many migrated from Iraq to the U.S., specifically to El Cajon in southern California, in search of safety and a new life. Tensions in Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, caused many to flee for safety in mass during the mid-2000s; civil war in their country with the ethnic Burmese percolated since the 1940s, and refugees from Myanmar started leaving as early as the late 1990s, peaking during 2006-2007. Many of them moved into the El Cajon area of Southern California.
St. Alban’s went to the streets in search of these newly arrived refugees and immigrants. They started Church Without Walls , an ecumenical outreach service with a mission; “to bring God’s hope and love to those who were homeless and unchurched.” They offered spiritual care, assistance in securing housing, help in accessing healthcare, and provided companionship, friendship, and a place of belonging. This outreach program began in 2016 at Wells Park in El Cajon until 2019, when they moved to Lakeside near Lindo, Lake Park. After every monthly service, attendees were provided a nutritious lunch put together by church volunteers and an opportunity for fellowship and conversation.
Welcome Ministries began as an outreach of worship, mercy, and justice for immigrants, refugees, and the unchurched in the East County of San Diego in 2016. In 2019, Welcome Ministries expanded to include a refugee ministry, “Joy Force.”
Special arrangements were made with food distributors, and St. Alban’s started a food pantry in El Cajon to distribute food every first and third Tuesday of every month. Fresh food is picked up using one of the Welcome Ministries’ trucks and then sorted by many of the Chaldean volunteer workers in the parish hall. Every bag is filled with a meat selection, vegetables, and fruits, enough for several meals. Judy Brown organizes the group and logs each person into a data collection system to better serve them once information is gathered about where they live, family make-up, and any other special needs they may have. Today, 50-60 families receive very fresh food twice a month.
Mary Zori is a Chaldean member of St. Alban’s and is now one of our community leaders. She came from Iraq in December 2008 after working in the banking business for 28 years. When Mary arrived, she did not speak any English. She heard about St. Alban’s bi-lingual service and began attending in 2010. Mary joined Table Talk, a weekly gathering of Chaldean women where they can freely share concerns, discuss issues, and make friends. Because of these weekly meetings, Mary speaks good English and helps translate our service to the Chaldean people. She is also a trained Eucharistic minister and acolyte!
St. Alban’s hosts Loads of Love, a laundry service for those on the margins, every Tuesday. Laundry is scheduled to be brought to a designated location, and with funds provided by St. Alban’s folks, volunteers pay and aid in washing and drying. Volunteers offer companionship, conversation, and information to assist with other needs during that time.
St. Alban’s Episcopal Church in El Cajon is a shining example of the Christian call to aid those seeking refuge and a new beginning. Through Welcome Ministries and various outreach programs, the church has embraced the arrival of immigrants and refugees– offering them practical assistance and a sense of belonging, hope, and love. St. Alban’s demonstrates the power of compassion by fostering a community that works tirelessly to ensure that those in need are embraced and supported. I am inspired by the example set by the St. Alban’s Episcopal Church–extending their hands and hearts to those who seek refuge, knowing that in doing so, we truly fulfill Christ’s commandment to aid the “other” and create a world where all are welcomed and cherished.
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