Late Monday mornings, the foyer of Kingdom Manifesters International Ministries sounds like the United Nations.
Children from all over – all over the world, not just all over their neighborhood – stream into the building.
They laugh and talk, and many carry books. Most stop in the middle of the room to greet a smiling woman whose love they’re learning to count on, even as they learn to speak and read English.
They’re on their way to Hope Library, tucked into a corner of the building. It’s the newest ministry sponsored by Karen Morrow, a Cooperative Baptist Fellowship missionary in Fort Worth, Texas – the woman who dispenses hugs to the children, as well as to many of their mothers.
They’re international refugees legally resettled by the U.S. government. Although they arrived from many nations, mostly in the Middle East, western Asia and Africa, a common denominator is violence. They fled civil war, or ethnic and religious persecution, or all of the above.
“It was no longer safe to live in their countries,” Morrow explains. “Living peacefully was not a choice. The parents came here for the future of their children.”
Morrow began serving Middle Eastern refugees in Germany in 1996. She has been serving these children – and children who came before them – in Fort Worth almost 10 years.
Refugees resettled in the United States receive pre-planned support for six months, Morrow notes. That includes the basics, such as a place to live, homemaking necessities, a first job.
“But from then on, they’re lost,” she says, explaining that newcomers still need help learning to adjust to and fit into their adopted country.
“A Congolese father told me, ‘We do not want your things (although they still could use more things). We want your relationship. Where we came from, our aunties and uncles taught us how to make a life. We do not know how to live here.’
“So, we’re here to create community, to make them feel welcome, to teach them how to live here.”
Morrow does that in the name and spirit of Christ. She crosses language, ethnic and religious barriers with friendly support and the love of Jesus.
For many refugees, she’s a walking encyclopedia of Americana: where to go to get their children’s supplies for the start of school and how to navigate the myriad systems that natives take for granted – government, medical, commercial, social.
“The more we connect them with resources, the better off they are,” she says. Her presence is a constant in the apartment complexes and neighborhoods where refugees congregate.
Hope Library at Kingdom Manifesters International Ministries is her newest initiative.
Volunteers read with the children and encourage them to read on their own. The library is open midday on Mondays this summer, and it will be open Monday evenings in the fall.
Morrow’s signature ministry is the Ready for School program, located in four apartment complexes last school year and opening in a fifth soon.
It’s designed to teach children the concepts they should know to enter school, such as colors, shapes, letters and numbers.
Each child receives a book every week, and at the end, each one receives a bookcase at a family reading fair.
Parents attend Ready for School with their children. “The parent learns alongside the child,” Morrow says. “We’re teaching the parent to be a teacher.”
Last year, Ready for School ministered to 80 families who completed the 20-week session, as well 20 others who attended less than three times.
Volunteers make Ready for School, as well as Hope Library, possible.
“Somebody walks alongside the parent and child at every step,” Morrow says.
Many volunteers are retired educators, and they primarily come from four congregations – Bear Valley Community Church in Colleyville, Broadway Baptist Church in Fort Worth, The Church at the Crossing in Aledo, and Kingdom Manifesters International Ministries in Fort Worth.
More than anything, the ministry needs volunteers. “We can use volunteers for a day, an event, a program,” Morrow says. Ready for School involves two hours per week for 20 weeks; Hope Library also takes a couple of hours a week.
Like refugees, the Ready for School curriculum is mobile. “It’s free and online,” Morrow says, adding that two Houston Baptist congregations – Tallowood and Willow Meadows – started using it this spring.
Marv Knox is coordinator of Fellowship Southwest, an intentionally ecumenical, multicultural, multiracial Cooperative Baptist Fellowship network.