Refugees find a home in Open Arms
Melissa Lilley, BSC Communications
March 31, 2010

Refugees find a home in Open Arms

Refugees find a home in Open Arms
Melissa Lilley, BSC Communications
March 31, 2010

WINSTON-SALEM — Jumping in

the car to run an errand doesn’t seem like a big deal. Playing baseball or

going to a game probably doesn’t seem like anything out of the ordinary, nor

does riding an escalator or turning on the water faucet. Yet, for hundreds of

Karenni refugees, these ordinary things are exactly what represents a new life

and a new start.

Days when Tim and Jody Cross

go to the airport are some of the days they enjoy most, for it means welcoming

a new Karenni family. Sometimes they bring other Karenni with them to the

airport and watch with fond amusement as the Karenni demonstrate how to get on

and off the escalator and everyone holds on tight. Tim and Jody have now welcomed

more than 30 Karenni families to the United States, specifically the

Winston-Salem area.

The Karenni represent about

nine different people groups who speak different languages and dialects in

Kayah State in Burma, or Myanmar. Nearly 80,000 refugees are legally leaving

the country and coming to countries such as the United States, which is now

home to about 10,000 Karenni. They are coming from refugee camps, where in some

cases 20,000 people live in a one-mile radius. They live in huts, where they

have no running water, limited food and sickness is normal and expected.

BSC photo

Tim Cross, along with his wife Jody, work with refugees arriving in Winston-Salem.

Tim and Jody recently began

ministering to their first Bhutan family. Thousands of Bhutanese refugees have

lived in camps in Nepal for more than 15 years. Most Bhutanese are Hindu.

Unlike the Bhutanese, most Karenni are Animists, with the second largest

religion being Catholicism.

Karenni are taught to work hard and to do good

things to please the spirits, so they tend to have a hard time understanding

that receiving Jesus Christ as personal Lord and Savior is about faith and not


This makes it easy for the

Crosses to know their mission: share the gospel. Tim and Jody are Mission Service Corps (MSC) missionaries, which means they are self-funded

missionaries whose placement comes through the Mission Service Corps Office of

the North American Mission Board. About 19 MSC missionaries serve in North


In 2000, Tim and Jody went

on a mission trip overseas and God so burdened their hearts for the nations

that one year later they were back overseas. For about five years they worked

with refugees in Belgium and for two and a half years with immigrants in

London. Two years ago when they took a one-year stateside assignment, “we had

no idea what God was going to do in that year. This whole ministry unfolded

before our eyes,” Tim said.

With hearts still burdened

for the nations, Tim and Jody realized that the nations were in fact coming to

them, coming to their home in Winston-Salem. They started Open Arms Refugee

Ministry and already can tell stories of lives changed. For example, just a few

months ago a volunteer shared the gospel with Phar Meh, a Karenni woman who

prayed to receive Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Not long ago her husband

also came to faith in Jesus Christ. After 18 years of work, colleagues have

finished translating the New Testament into the Karenni language, and Tim and

Jody have sent draft copies to Karenni groups in other states.

Tim and Jody do whatever

they can to build relationships and have the opportunity to share the gospel.

Once World Relief contacts them with the name of a new refugee family,

they get to work. They see to it that the kitchen in their apartment is stocked

before they arrive and they collect furniture in order to bring the family home

to a furnished apartment. They help them write a resume, look for a job, drive

them to doctor’s appointments, take them grocery shopping, drive them to

English classes at Calvary Baptist Church (where

Tim and Jody are members), participate in the Karenni worship service each

Sunday at Calvary and meet with them in their homes for Bible study and prayer.

Local churches are an

essential part of Open Arms. Local church volunteers work alongside Tim and

Jody, and they come to “own” the ministry for themselves and make it an

important part of their lives. They begin to understand that they are on

mission, too.

“God has called you, whether you leave your neighborhood or not,”

Jody said.

For Tim and Jody, and the

churches serving with them, ministry in the neighborhood means ministry to the

nations. This is where they are called to give their lives. “Every day is about

being dead to yourself,” Jody said. “This is not my life; it’s His life. Keep

your life constantly on the altar.”