Welcoming the Weary
Story by Christmas Beeler
Photos courtesy of the Roach family unless otherwise noted
Reports estimate that more than 6 million people—a quarter of Ukraine’s population—have fled the country since Russian troops invaded major cities in late February. Most have found refuge in neighboring countries, and thousands of Ukrainian families also entered the U.S. through Mexico while that border was open in late March and April. Calvary San Diego, CA, led the effort to help refugees safely cross and get to their final destinations. More than 80 families at Calvary San Diego opened their homes to 1,500 refugees in four weeks. Since then, thousands of Ukrainians have made their way to cities all over the U.S., meaning that other American churches can get involved by hosting or ministering to them.
In April, a group of Ukrainian refugees sat in what shade they could find, awaiting their chance to cross the border from Mexico into the U.S. Mexican officials estimate that between 10,000 to 20,000 Ukrainian refugees entered Mexico to cross into the U.S. since the Russo-Ukrainian War intensified in late February. Calvary San Diego and Samaritan’s Purse were among the first to welcome the weary travelers in the name of Christ. Photo courtesy of Clarissa Giles, Samaritan’s Purse
In their San Diego home, Anna-Marie Roach and her husband Nick lay down to sleep on their living room floor. Anna-Marie mentally added up the number of sleepers in her home that night: 20 people in their four-bedroom house. Eleven of them were children from the ages of 8 and under, plus two teenagers. Wow, this is awesome, God, she prayed silently. I can’t believe we get to be part of this. Her heart went out especially to the parents of young children—having left almost everything behind and trying to make their children feel safe in a strange new country. She had made space for the kids to play carefree, a stark contrast from seeing their homeland in Ukraine bombed and torn apart by war. It hurt her to think that they might never see their friends, grandparents, and community ever again. Thank You, Lord, that our home can be a place of rest for them, she thought. She and Nick felt it was a privilege to be a part of their story by simply helping families in their darkest hour—all in the name of Jesus.
After refugees crossed the U.S.-Mexico border, Calvary San Diego believers took in hundreds of families for brief stays as they journeyed on to friends or family in other parts of the U.S. On the left, a Ukrainian refugee family with their five children seated on the floor; on the right, host family Anna-Marie & Nick Roach with their six children on the couch. Nick and Anna-Marie often gave up their room to give weary couples a quiet place to rest.
Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another … given to hospitality. Romans 12:10, 13b
Mexican officials estimated that nearly 10,000-20,000 Ukrainians came through Tijuana and other Mexican airports to cross the border into the U.S. since the war intensified in late February.
Given to Hospitality
With six children of their own, Anna-Marie and Nick often welcome others into their four-bedroom, family-friendly home—complete with a large trampoline out back, a huge sand pit for playing, fruit trees and a garden where the children pick fruit and vegetables. The couple believe that everything they have is a gift from God, and they are grateful to share it. They enjoyed seeing the refugee children laugh and play with their own young ones—just being able to be children after escaping for their lives on a harrowing journey.
Children needed no words to connect. Left, Alexandria Roach, whose family attends Calvary San Diego, enjoyed spending time with Daria, a refugee who stayed with the Roach family. Daria enjoyed holding baby Cyrus Roach. Nearly 100 families from Calvary San Diego opened their homes to 1,500 refugees in late March and April.
The Roach family has called Calvary San Diego (Calvary SD) home for the past three years. Their senior pastor, Phil Metzger, had previously served as a missionary pastor in Europe for over 20 years and had ministered to refugees during the Middle East crisis before coming back to the States to pastor. Soon after the Russo-Ukrainian War broke out in late February, Pastor Phil traveled to Eastern Europe to help set up supply lines into Ukraine with other Calvary Chapel leaders there.
Upon his return, Pastor Phil had a burden for Ukrainian war refugees trying to cross into the U.S. less than 10 miles away from the church, and issued a call for Calvary SD families and other nearby believers to help. He urged Calvary SD families to realize the great privilege it was to be part of the refugees’ journeys. Anna-Marie and Nick knew right away that they were willing to host, taking in nearly a dozen families in four weeks, some for only a day or two.
The Roach family enjoyed introducing their Ukrainian guests to several local treats: American pizza, Sea World, the beach, and the San Diego area. Several Ukrainian travelers also attended their church, Calvary San Diego, which baptized many new believers who had fled the war. Here, Ukrainian dad Viacheslav (left) and mom Iryna (far right) enjoy pizza with their three children and the Roach family.
“We felt it was a pleasure to be able to participate,” said Nick, a former NFL linebacker who serves on the board at Calvary San Diego and in children’s ministry. “Most of the time when we see things happening on the news, it’s hard to know how you can do anything to help that would be really effective. But all we had to do was make a space in our house for those in their greatest time of need. Making them feel welcome and accepted, we just felt it was part of learning to follow Jesus. Trying to be there for people, to show them God’s love for us by how we serve them.”
A Christian man who helped his family evacuate from Ukraine, Andrei wrote this message on the Roach family driveway, thanking God for all things. Little Victoria was fascinated by the new language.
A Witness to the World
Once the word spread that Pastor Phil and his church had led the way in welcoming refugees to the U.S., the story made headlines around the world. Pastor Phil was featured on countless news programs. The Roach couple was one of many from Calvary SD who were interviewed by international news agencies; they shared how their own immigrant stories—Anna-Marie’s family from the Philippines, and Nick’s from Barbados—gave them compassion for others coming to the U.S. for refuge.
“When you travel or meet people from other parts of the world … and start interacting with them, you start to feel a love for them,” Nick told Calvary Chapel Magazine. “Whether from Mexico or Korea or other cultures, when you share a meal with someone or your kids are playing together, you find common ground. … The kids would literally just come up to each other and start playing. They used their imaginations and … didn’t need any words. Here we adults were awkwardly clunking through breakfast, trying to ask if they want tea or sugar,” he chuckled.
Both Anna-Marie and Nick felt compassion for the refugees’ harrowing journey. “When you’re traveling with children after a full day of flights, you’re very tired,” Nick related. “These people had been on the road for weeks and months without a break.”
Ukrainian refugee and Christian, Andrei and his daughter Yana enjoy fresh passion fruit from the Roach family garden. They stayed with the Roach family, communicating through apps, sharing their mutual faith and love for God.
Anna-Marie noted with pleasure: “There were times when the parents were able to stay in their room and sleep, and their kids could come out of the room and play. It felt awesome to be entrusted with their children to the point that they could rest.”
The situation brings to mind Isaiah 42:16b: “I will lead them in paths they have not known. I will make darkness light before them, and crooked places straight. These things I will do for them, and not forsake them.” Nick reflected, “When we come into a situation that seems impossible, or a darkness that’s not passable—He makes a way. God does the impossible. They probably never thought they’d end up in a home in San Diego. We never thought war would erupt in Europe, and those very people would be staying in our house. We have such limited vision of what God can and will do, if we are just open to what He wants to do.”
A Ukrainian youngster, Ivan (left), enjoys the trampoline at the Roach family’s home with his new friend, Alexandria. Though from opposite ends of the world, the children didn’t need words to enjoy playing together. The children enjoyed being able to laugh and relax after their harrowing journey to escape the war.
Being the Hands and Feet of Jesus
“If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you. … If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.” John 13:14, 15, 17
For the Roaches and many others, Pastor Phil “has been such a huge example of caring for people—not just Ukrainians, but anyone. … To be there for people, to connect with those who need help and serve them. Don’t overcomplicate it or think you have to know or do everything. Just be there for them in the way you can.” Taking in war refugees isn’t difficult, Nick said: “Most Americans have an extra room in their home, so why not? If you have the ability to help them, and you are a Christian, why wouldn’t you? For someone following Jesus, it makes perfect sense.”
Little Daria, from the Ukraine, holds her new American friend, baby Cyrus, while his brother Marcus looks on. Over the month of April, the Roach family welcomed 11 other families from the Ukraine. At one point, 20 people were sleeping in their four-bedroom home. Anna-Marie was grateful that the parents could rest while the children played safely.
Anna-Marie added, “Hosting was what we were called to do, but others felt called to drive people to the airport.” Others cooked meals or gathered supplies. Someone donated tickets to Sea World, enabling the Roach family to take their guests. She said, “It’s been really cool to see our church become the hands and feet of Jesus. It’s been a witness to others, even unbelievers who said, ‘I didn’t believe in God before, but now I think there must be a God.’”
The couple has also noted the impact on their home church. Nick said, “Now the people at Calvary San Diego seem more energized by being a part of what God is doing. … People have been coming to see what God is doing at our little church by the border.”
(Calvary Bible Institute: Equipping the saints for the work of the ministry CBI is a one-year program designed to equip those who feel called to serve the Lord in full-time ministry. Click here to learn more about their programs)
Believers from Calvary San Diego, Anna-Marie and Nick Roach and their children enjoyed welcoming weary refugees, sharing meals, and watching their children play together. From left to right: siblings Victoria, Alexandria and Gideon Roach, a young Ukrainian refugee woman, Anna-Marie and Nick (standing), and refugees Lydmila and Andrei.
Calvary Chapel Ministering Overseas
Led by the Holy Spirit, the Calvary Chapel family of churches worldwide has been ministering to refugees since the war began. In Europe, Calvary pastors and missionaries’ close ties forged a natural network. About 25 churches in Ukraine and others in neighboring countries quickly banded together to help safely evacuate people and funnel supplies into the country. Several Calvary Chapel churches in nearby countries (Hungary, Poland, Moldova, Georgia, and others) have taken in thousands of refugees—providing shelter, food, clothing, and ministering to their spiritual needs. American pastors and believers from Calvary Chapels in the U.S. have flown over to help organize aid and minister to those who are serving refugees.
Pastor Phil’s church has set up a fund to collect donations for the ongoing war ministry in and around Ukraine. Click here to learn more: calvarysd.com/ukraine
Ukrainian refugees who crossed into the U.S. in April were greeted by signs of support and applause as believers from Calvary San Diego and other churches welcomed them to safety. Photo by Clarissa Giles, Samaritan’s Purse
Partnering with Samaritan’s Purse
Clarissa Giles, a Samaritan’s Purse Disaster Assistance Response Team member, spent hundreds of hours on the ground working alongside Calvary Chapel believers at the U.S.-Mexico border in April. “Calvary San Diego started this response, and then other churches got involved,” she recalled. “We’ve seen people come from all over the U.S. to help or translate.” By the time she and other NGOs arrived, “Calvary Chapel had already set up a hub at the church and were housing and feeding people. … I have been so amazed at God’s work through Calvary Chapel. It was a privilege for us when we came in, to say, ‘How can we support you?’” Initially helping at the church, Samaritan’s Purse then moved their efforts to the Mexican side of the border where thousands waited to cross.
Clarissa Giles of Samaritan’s Purse spent hundreds of hours on the ground with volunteers from Calvary San Diego and other churches, assisting refugees. She took this picture of the “finish line,” where refugees crossed into the U.S.—some after traveling for days through war-torn Ukraine, then on multiple flights, waiting for one to three days in Mexico, and then finally crossing onto U.S. soil. Photo by Clarissa Giles.
Believers assisted thousands of weary refugees. Clarissa reported, “I have witnessed over the last few weeks … how Jesus mobilizes His people and how … God’s love displayed in the simplest of ways makes all the difference.” Over and over, refugees who received their help asked: “Why would a complete stranger want to help us?” Clarissa replied, “All I can say is, ‘Jesus loves His people so much that they want to love you, so that you can know Him too.’ Simply put, God’s love doesn’t make ‘sense’—but I am thankful to watch it engulf people as they step across these [border] lines.”
A Muslim man who came with his family told Clarissa that he didn’t understand why people came to freely give them things and wanted to help them. She said, “Our God loved us so much and gave us His Son for us; and we want to share His love with others.”
She recalled his response: “Your God must have a lot of love.”
If we love one another, God abides in us, and His love has been perfected in us. 1 John 4:12b
Under the leadership of Franklin Graham, Samaritan’s Purse has opened field hospitals in Ukraine and has been serving those displaced by the war in their home country and surrounding areas. On U.S. soil, they have helped place more than 80 Ukrainians with Christian families in the States. Churches and families in the U.S. who are willing to open their homes to refugees may learn more by contacting Samaritan’s Purse at firstname.lastname@example.org. The organization provides training and a Resettlement Advisor prior to placing a family.
All verses above are quoted from the New King James Version, unless otherwise noted.
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