Seventeen years ago, the church got word that a family from Liberia was coming to the states, so congregants went to the airport to personally greet them.
“The mission of Messiah Lutheran (https://www.messiahtampa.com/) is to help refugees, and we’ve been partnering with Lutheran Services Florida for a while to help make that happen,” says Rev. Jim Guelzow, Pastor Emeritus, who led the congregation at the time.
“It’s important for them to feel welcome. They are looking for friendship, answers for their questions, and sometimes even physical support. Our job is to just show up and meet the need.”
The refugee family arrived with nothing but a single backpack, and they were ready to do whatever it took to get settled. The congregation helped them finance their first home and stock their refrigerator full of groceries.
Lutheran Services helped the family to find jobs at St. Joseph’s Hospital—jobs they still have to this day. They’ve been promoted several times and are respected among their colleagues for their hard work.
“I’m just the pastor. I asked the congregation, ‘Folks, do you think we can do this?’ and they were the ones who made it happen.”
Tom and Sandi Windsor are members of the congregation, and they’ve worked closely with the Liberian family from the day they arrived seventeen years ago.
“My husband taught them how to drive and we’ve helped them with other needs that they’ve had. Their daughter was four when she arrived, and she recently just graduated from nursing school,” says Sandi. “They’re family. They are stellar citizens and it’s our blessing to be a part of their story.”
Reverend Guelzow’s advice for those considering offering assistance to refugee and immigrant families?
“Don’t be afraid that you don’t have all the answers. Don’t be fearful that you couldn’t undertake this. Anything you do will benefit the family.”
“You have to feel it in your heart. You’ll gain so much more than what you’re giving. We didn’t know what we were getting into but God gives you the blessings when you do His will.”