The ministry began one Sunday in 2007, when a refugee family from Burma walked into Christ Covenant Church of Raleigh. The congregation had been praying about how to serve the community; now was its chance: Church members welcomed the refugees and helped set up their apartment. They settled the children in school.
That Burmese family knew three more families who all lived in the same apartment complex. Those families knew others, and soon the church found itself trying to help 15 refugee families. Church member Michele Suffridge said the church was suddenly on a journey, “trying to figure out how to serve this population in a way that’s healthy for everyone.”
Suffridge’s church was not the only one trying to help. One time she parked her van at the complex to take some of the children swimming. There she met a woman from another church waiting to take the same kids to Vacation Bible School. “We had never met,” Suffridge said. “It was just really awkward.” So the two women decided to coordinate efforts: “That was the beginning of Refugee Hope Partners.” (Suffridge is now RHP’s executive director.)
Through reading When Helping Hurts, leaders understood they should focus on helping refugees solve their own problems, not fixing everything for them. The organization stopped doing things for families and started teaching them to do things themselves. RHP organized after-school tutoring for kids, English classes for parents, and Bible studies for everyone. Later it added the Bridge program to help high-school students navigate next steps. RHP leased two apartments in the complex for office space, and the property owner turned the pool house into a community center for RHP programs.