Kudzai Shereni knew walking into the elementary school auditorium in Clarkston, Ga., that this was going to be the most difficult part of his day.
Some kind of concert or assembly was going on. All of the students sat amassed next to one another.
The paperwork had been completed.
The boy sitting in the assembly was officially clear to transfer schools. All that was left to do was to pick him up and take him there.
Shereni knew the announcement that the boy would be transferring may be hard, but he didn’t expect the second-grader to cry.
The teacher called the dark-haired boy out and explained to him that he was leaving.
The round-faced 8-year-old hugged her and began to cry as he looked back at his friends.
Watching the scene, Shereni thought about how he wished he could negotiate a different deal and move the boy’s family to a different apartment.
That’s why they were transferring their children to a new school. Refugees from Iraq, the boy and his family had not been able to figure out the bus system in Clarkston, making the trip to and from school too hard to manage.
They needed to move their children to a place that was closer to their apartment. But the parents could not speak English.
That’s where Shereni and his ORU team came in.
As part of their mission trip to Clarkston, Shereni and several other mission team leaders had been assigned to help this family.
Over spring break, 42 people on Team Atlanta drove more than 12 hours to reach out to refugees in Clarkston, assisting them as they attempted to acclimate to their new lives in America.
Clarkston, Ga. hugs the eastern edge of Atlanta. Serving as a main UN location for refugees, it has been called the most diverse 1.1 square mile area in America.
The group traveling to this center of diversity included summer mission team leaders, mission staff, regional coordinators, and International Worship Center leaders. They were separated into five different groups that each worked with one of five ministries: World Relief, Friends of Refugees, Hope for Atlanta, Friendship School and Family Heritage Foundation.
Like Shereni, Ashley Winn helped refugees run errands and complete tasks rendered virtually impossible for the refugees because of the language barrier.
The Christian counseling graduate student helped transport refugees to a health clinic and obtain Social Security cards.
Team leader of Team Japan, Winn said most of the refugees in Clarkston had fled to America to escape religious persecution. To the Christian refugees, outreach teams offered prayer and encouragement.
To those who weren’t Christian, Winn said they would try to share the gospel, which was often challenging because of language differences.
“Most of them knew very little English. So it’s like, you want to tell them about Jesus, but you can’t,” Winn said.
Still, she said the teams made an effort to be warm and friendly with the refugees, showing them the love of Christ in ways that superseded any barriers erected by linguistic differences.
“Sometimes, all we have is a smile. So, even when we had to wait hours in the clinic, we always smiled when they came out, letting them know that we were just so glad that we could help.”
This was Winn’s third trip to Atlanta over spring break. She explained that each day, a new leader was selected for each outreach group.
On Tuesday, Winn served as her team’s leader on their trips to the clinic.
That same Tuesday, Shereni and his team had just taken the Iraqi family to the new school. Once the little boy was settled in his new classroom, the Iraqi refugees wanted to say thank you.
The boy’s father turned toward Shereni and did the only thing he knew to do. He gave him a cigarette.
Even though it wasn’t a typical thank-you gift, the junior finance major and leader of Team Guatemala said he felt touched by what it represented.
“It was a sincere gesture of thanks,” he said.
The family proceeded to invite the team into their apartment. Pulling all of their food out of the cupboard, they began preparing a large meal of traditional Iraqi dishes. Afterward, they also offered them tea.
On the same Tuesday that introduced Shereni to this Iraqi family, another missions group was creating the universe and re-enacting the fall of man.
In the short drama, students like junior Jonathon Baker acted out the plan of redemption in a skit for elementary students in an afterschool program.
At the end of the skit, 29 of the students received Christ, one of the largest responses in nine years.
Some of the children could repeat the story back to the team scene by scene, precept upon precept. Others couldn’t, but Baker said he was not discouraged.
“God used our lives in a week to plant the seed and reach people with his love,” he said.
For Baker and these other 42 individuals, spring break lacked beaches, sunbathing and days dictated by sleep.
But do they regret their choice to journey to Clarkston?
Not in the least.
“The entire week, I just kept thinking to myself, ‘I would not want to be anywhere else than here serving the Lord,’” Baker said.
He said the trip radically “changed my perspective on life.”
He learned that his place as a Christian is not merely in church, but in places that allow him to serve people like the Iraqi refugees and their round-faced son.
“It’s not really Christians who just sit in the pews, pray and do nothing,” he said.
“We have to pray and offer practical help. That’s where God does the supernatural.”