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For newly arrived refugees, an unexpected blessing

Caring hearts welcome Ukrainian family to America with food, furniture and friendship.

It’s a Christmas miracle.

In an incredible set of circumstances, God made a wonderful thing happen for a Ukrainian refugee family this busy holiday week.

“This is how God works, whether we realize it or not,” said my good friend David Duncan, minister for the Memorial Church of Christ in Houston.

Astros fan David Duncan and Rangers fan Bobby Ross Jr. enjoy trading barbs during the baseball season.

Astros fan David Duncan and Rangers fan Bobby Ross Jr. enjoy trading barbs during the baseball season.

I know David well enough to realize he’s not right about everything. He’s an Astros fan, after all. (Go Rangers!)

But in this case, I couldn’t agree more: Providence must be involved.

How else to explain the remarkable chain of events — from California to Maryland to Texas — that transpired? 

The story starts with a woman named Wendy in Northern California. 

Wendy, like a few others I’ll mention, doesn’t want her last name used. That’s because she didn’t help to receive publicity or recognition. She did so because she met a family in need and felt compassion for them. I believe that’s biblical.

Wendy first met the Ukrainian family — a husband, his wife and their 11-year-old daughter — at a discount store the day after Thanksgiving. They had arrived in the U.S. two days earlier. Wendy noticed that the mother was studying each item intently and having trouble finding what she needed. 

After first mistaking the family for her Russian neighbors, Wendy struck up a conversation with them and offered to help.

The store didn’t carry certain products, so Wendy found them at another store five miles away. She caught up with the family while they were walking to their sponsor’s home. The wife shed tears of gratitude for the lard and Ukrainian spices.

Wendy kept in touch with the family and ran into them again this past Sunday. The refugees mentioned that they were relocating to the Houston area on Thursday — four days before Christmas.

They had a house lined up in Texas but no furniture or other necessities, so they were nervous about the move.


Related: War in Ukraine: Links to The Christian Chronicle’s coverage


While visiting with the Ukranians, Wendy called her sister, Lisa, in Maryland. Lisa used to live in the Houston area, so Wendy thought she might know someone who could help.

“Where in Houston?” Lisa asked.

Wendy relayed the question to the couple.

“Katy,” they responded in unison, referring to a growing suburb west of Space City.

“Oh, my goodness!” Wendy exclaimed. “That’s where my sister lived.”

Katy, TX, USA

‘A very big surprise’

Lisa, a longtime friend of my wife, Tamie, shared about the need on Facebook and tagged a few friends from Katy.

I saw Lisa’s post and immediately thought of the Memorial church’s thriving ministry to Ukrainian refugees in Houston. I wrote a front-page story this past summer about how Julia — a Russian immigrant and Memorial member — jumped into action to help Ukrainian refugees in her community. 

Julia is a 36-year-old mother of three young boys. A nurse practitioner, she became a U.S. citizen in 2013. She prefers to go by her American first name and not publish her last name because close relatives remain in Russia. She fears reprisal against them.

Anyway, I shared a screenshot of Lisa’s post with Julia and David, my minister friend.

Almost immediately, Julia asked for the Ukrainian woman’s contact information and messaged her via WhatsApp.

Julia, right, holds her son Mark as she visits with Ukrainian refugee Aleksandra Hmyria and daughter Milana at the Memorial Church of Christ in Houston.

Julia, right, holds her son Mark as she visits with Ukrainian refugee Aleksandra Hmyria and daughter Milana at the Memorial Church of Christ in Houston.

Minutes later, Julia texted me back and said she had reached the wife. The church’s refugee ministry team would be doing all it could to help, she assured me.

Meanwhile, friends of Lisa — including Marci and Anne Marie — organized help of their own. 

A ton of help.


Related: How a Russian immigrant came to serve Ukrainian refugees


Back in California, Wendy saw the refugee family for a final time at the grocery store Wednesday night. 

The mother was buying lunch meat and tomatoes to make sandwiches for the trip.

Everything is bigger in Texas, they say, and this refugee welcome proved no different.

“It was like she was shopping to make sandwiches to live off of for several days,” Wendy texted her sister. “I thought about saying something but decided to let it be. I think she is going to have a very big surprise.”

Everything is bigger in Texas, they say, and this refugee welcome proved no different.

Curious about how everything went, I texted Julia on Friday and asked.

“They are all settled,” Julia told me. “I picked them up from the airport, dropped them at their new house, and their Realtor came with keys.”

Later, Julia returned with her sons and a welcome box filled with household items.

Julia, a Russian immigrant who became a U.S. citizen in 2013, makes a point during a Bible class at the Memorial Church of Christ in Houston.

Julia, a Russian immigrant who became a U.S. citizen in 2013, makes a point during a Bible class at the Memorial Church of Christ in Houston.

“Then Anne Marie and Marci arrived with a lot of food, gifts and Christmas decorations,” the ministry leader said. “(The wife) and her family were blown away!! Then (Memorial members) Connie McKasckle and Stephen Holleman arrived with mattresses and beds. Connie showed (the wife) how to load the dishwasher and washing machine.”

Anne Marie shared her own observations with Lisa: 

“The family arrived today. Julia was there with the incredible startup package from the church. Jenna and Robbie and I brought them dinner, food for their fridge and pantry, and lots of other items.

“Later, Connie brought beds and helped get them set up, and Marci is working on other items they need as well as getting them to the store for more supplies. There’s been an offer to use a car until they are able to get some wheels and an invitation to Christmas dinner.

“I have seen the way people come together to help out people. Thank you for reaching out and giving us the opportunity to assist this family.”

Refugees, including new Christian Aleksei Kozhevnikov, second from left, pray during a Russian-speaking Bible class at the Memorial church.

Ukrainian and Russian refugees pray earlier this year during a Russian-speaking Bible class at the Memorial Church of Christ in Houston.

‘God shining his light’

Wendy, an Episcopalian, said her faith absolutely influenced her desire to help. So, too, did her memories of being a young military mom with little children in Okinawa, Japan, years ago.

“I have been in a supermarket and not spoken the language,” she told me in a telephone call. “I know what that feels like.”


Related: Sharing love — and Christ — with refugees


The lesson Wendy took from her interaction with the Ukrainian family: “Never underestimate the power of one small act of kindness. It can snowball into making such a big amount of change.”

As Julia sees it, “This story is one of God shining his light through all of it!”

Amen.

“Not only do they provide for some of the physical needs, they make sure every individual knows Jesus is the reason for the generosity.”

As the Israel-Hamas war and other important headlines demand our attention, it’s easy for the Russia-Ukraine war to fade into the background.

But Julia and her refugee ministry team “have not forgotten the displaced families that are searching for hope in Houston,” David noted. “Not only do they provide for some of the physical needs, they make sure every individual knows Jesus is the reason for the generosity.”

God is at work. No doubt about that.

It’s a Christmas miracle.

BOBBY ROSS JR. is Editor-in-Chief of The Christian Chronicle. Reach him at [email protected].

Filed under: christmas Houston Inside Story International Memorial Church of Christ National News refugees Russia Russia Ukraine war Texas Top Stories Ukraine Ukrainian refugees

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