To close out Volunteer Appreciation Month, we spoke to one of our Good Neighbor Teams about their experience welcoming a family into the U.S. and walking alongside them as they start to rebuild their lives stateside. These teams of 6-8 people are often the first friends our newest neighbors will have when they arrive, and they help explain the differences and culture of the United States during their first months in Memphis.
In October 2020, Jessica Shoup and her son were waiting at the Memphis airport to welcome an Afghani family to the United States. As the they slowly descended on the escalator, Jessica’s 11-year-old son turns to her, saying, “They look like us.”
From there, a relationship started to form between Jessica’s family of four and our new arrivals, who have children around the same age as Jessica’s.
“I enjoy getting to know them, and every time we’re there we’ll probably stay for three hours, just talking,” said Jessica, part of Hope Church’s global outreach team. “That’s been the most enjoyable part so far-- hanging out with them.”
Jessica, alongside other members of her church, are part of the Good Neighbor Team that welcomed this family to the U.S., walking them through first grocery store visits, medical appointments and even school enrollments.
For her family, it’s “about coming alongside and showing love to a stranger. You can do that in so many different ways, and our kids could just try sitting on the couch and smiling saying ‘thank you.’ We could do it by installing a washer and dryer or bringing them a meal.”
These little actions have helped weave a bond between the families and other members of the team despite the cultural differences that once loomed large. For Jessica’s husband, Jared, it’s like introducing someone from southern California to someone from Boston—there will be cultural differences in the way we communicate, but we all have things in common, such as food and the traditions linked to it.
“Culturally, they’re very open to having these conversations with us, and I think that the more we talk to them and understand the world they lived in, the more [we’ll begin to understand,]” Jared said. “Our worlds were obviously very different, and I know that life-wise they’ve been through experiences that I
just can’t imagine [such as] their constant want for security.”
The Longs, who also make up part of the team, were able to witness part of these difficulties first-hand when they helped the family return to Afghanistan to pick up their daughter, who they had been forced to leave behind because of delays in her paperwork.
“I feel like in the sovereignty of God, you really form a lot of relationships," Lucy Long explained. “Your heart is very vulnerable in that vein, and it really opened up a powerful bond.”
Because of this bond, members of the Good Neighbor Team can often be found at the the family's apartment, sharing a meal around their table or helping the children with their homework.
“It’s been a great experience for us, and we’ve really enjoyed it,” said Johnny Long, who is the director of global outreach at Hope. “I want to build a relationship, and I call it relational discipleship. We have Christ in us, and if we’re having a relationship with someone, then we’re sharing Christ with them.”
In the future, the Longs would love to see others be a good neighbor to new families as well. In doing so, you will “learn things that you never would learn before in Christ’s character” by being open to the idea and being willing to go outside of your comfort zone.
In the meantime, Hope’s good neighbor team will continue walking alongside the the family as they rebuild their lives in the U.S. just as they have since that moment in the airport six months ago.
“I think the ultimate goal is to become friends with this family. We want to see them thrive,” Jared said. “We’re in it for the long haul.”
Hope Church family, thank you for coming alongside us and this family as we welcome them to the U.S! We all are so grateful for the way you show love like Jesus would, and we cannot wait to see how the future unfolds.
If you want to come alongside a family just arriving like the Shoups and Longs did, fill out a volunteer application today. As Jared would say, “What’s stopping you?”