The Soccer Ball and the Stained Glass Window

Refugee resettlement can be messy. Donations pile up in the church entry. Pizza gets squashed into carpeting. A volunteer from Iraq drives the church van the same way he drove in Bagdad. Complaints come rolling in.  “When driving the church van, you have to drive like Jesus,” jokes John Kline, pastor for Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church in Des Moines. And sometimes a kid kicks a soccer ball through your church's 130-year-old stained glass window. 

What do you do? At Zion, you just tape it up with duct tape and keep on working.

Some of the congregations I cover in this book did some soul-searching and found themselves wanting. Zion Lutheran was one of them. "Who would notice if we closed our doors?" they asked themselves. And the answer was: No one. 

So they set off on quest to make a difference. And, wow, what a difference they've made. 

A church that was 98.5 percent white now holds services in four languages for congregants who speak a dozen languages. The church’s life-skills training for adults helps people who once lived in huts with mud floors to buy homes from the veterans now selling their solidly built, post–WWII bungalows just east of the church.

Girls in hijabs run through the church building’s hallways during the church’s Wednesday night after-school program, where volunteers teach ESL and tutor kids in reading and homework management. Pizza is part of the program for the 300 to 400 kids who gather there each week. “Kids are always hungry,” says Kline, the church pastor, with a laugh. He believes as much in feeding the body as the soul.

And they are newly diverse not just because of the refugees they now serve. They are diverse in other ways. Zion opened its doors to the world outside the church. And now this once homogenous church includes Pentacostalists, fundamentalists, and mainstream Protestants. Some of its volunteers observe no religion at all!

Zion has built bridges between communities that rarely spoke before and this is typical of the faith-based refugee resettlement movement. Want to know more? Fill out the contact form and we'll send you Zion's store.

Kate Rice