The feeling is all too familiar for Dr. Simone Bamba, the pastor at Mission Maranatha church in Boston. Haitian born, Simone traveled alone to study medicine in Mexico, then to learn English in the U.S., and later returned to Haiti in hopes of helping the most vulnerable communities in her country gain access to healthcare.
But in 1995, the economic crisis in Haiti proved too challenging, and she left her home again. She understands firsthand the difficult decisions refugees face when violence, oppression, economic collapse, political instability, or climate change force them to flee their country. It’s what connects her and energizes her to do all she can to help.
After traveling with her husband for medical mission work in West Africa, the pair returned to the U.S. in 2017 and founded Mission Maranatha. One of their goals is to transform lives through social work such as medical missions, programs, and activities. Informally, Mission Maranatha has always welcomed refugees and immigrants to the Boston area, providing services like enrolling them in schools, linking them to jobs, and helping them find housing.
Naturally, when Simone heard about the Welcome Corps—an innovative program enabling Americans to privately sponsor and welcome refugees in search of freedom and safety—she rallied her church behind the cause.
Through the Welcome Corps, a group of five or more Americans create a Private Sponsor Group (PSG) and works closely with a Private Sponsor Organization (PSO) to support the initial resettlement of refugee newcomers. Seven church members joined the PSG, and Mission Maranatha has connected with Integrated Refugee & Immigrant Services (IRIS) out of New Haven, Conn., as its PSO.
After much preparation and anticipation, the group welcomed Ibrahim to Boston on July 26. He was amazed by the hospitality and generosity he received.
“I was so delighted to see people that had boards with my name on it saying ‘Welcome Home Ibrahim,’” he said. “I was so surprised that they were treating me like they already knew me.”
Mission Maranatha’s commitment to the Welcome Corps is an expansion of the church’s work and of Simone’s personal mission to help newcomers.
We saw it as an opportunity to give back to the government because as immigrants in this country, we’ve received so much, and we want to give back. We want to say thank you to the country.Dr. Simone Bamba, pastor, Mission Maranatha
This group is intimately aware of the challenges refugees face in a new country. Edwige Fotso, a member of the PSG, came to the United States 17 years ago. She remembers what it’s like knowing no one, learning a new language, and essentially restarting her life. Her journey started in a homeless shelter, but she later attended the University of Massachusetts Boston and earned her master’s degree in accounting.
Ibrahim’s journey to the U.S. started nearly two decades ago. After fleeing the war in Somalia, he spent 19 years in South Africa, but still felt unsafe. He registered as a refugee with UNHCR.
Since arriving in Boston, he’s been grateful to Mission Maranatha for their emotional and financial support. They’ve provided bus tickets, helped him navigate the neighborhood, introduced him to a local Somali community organization and mosque, and are helping him look for a job. “Mama Simone treats me like I’m her own son,” he said. “She calls me and checks on me everyday to know if I feel safe and if I’ve made friends in the community.”
Prior to forming a PSG with Welcome Corps, Mission Maranatha helped many refugees in similar situations discover independence in their new home. They connected one young man from Cote d’Ivoire to a job at Home Depot, and he has since secured his own higher paying jobs. A Cameroonian woman who they supported now owns a hair salon and hires other immigrants. The church has aided people from all backgrounds and religions, providing a supportive community to anyone who reaches out.
“As a faith-based group, we were just trying to show the love of God and just be helpful to our fellow human beings,” Edwige said.
Now, the congregation can provide more structured support to Ibraham as a PSG through its partnership with IRIS and the U.S. government. In preparation for their refugee match, they worked to fundraise through GoFundMe and arranged to host Ibraham in an Airbnb while securing appropriate housing.
“You don’t have to do it alone,” Edwige explained. “Many people with different competencies, different skills, put themselves together to make this happen. It’s a support system. It’s not all on your shoulder, it’s not one person—and you have the support of IRIS and the government.”