Asian churches take early Thanksgiving to Charlotte refugees

by Mike Creswell
  • An Asian woman picks up food for her family.

  • A girl runs toward home with her lunch box while church members distribute lunch boxes and bottled water to other residents.

  • Ralph Garay, at left in black jacket, talks to the visiting volunteers on how to proceed with food distribution. At right, in blue jacket, is Bob Lowman, DOM, Metrolina Association.

  • Ralph Garay, left, talks to church members about delivering food.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013 | 268 days old

Fourteen Asian Baptist churches teamed up to deliver 500 meals to Asian refugees in an apartment complex near downtown Charlotte Saturday, Nov. 23 in a pre-Thanksgiving blitz to both provide food and get acquainted with the newcomers.

Ralph Garay, Asian church planting consultant with the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina, helped organize the project, with help from the participating pastors. Metrolina Baptist Association also gave support; Bob Lowman, director of missions, took part.

Lunchboxes including baked chicken, noodles and bread were prepared at West Cabarrus Baptist Church in Concord, then delivered by church teams in trucks, vans and cars to the apartment complex located just east of downtown Charlotte within sight of the city skyline.

Scores of Asian children played on the apartment grounds and on one porch an elderly woman stirred a pot of rice. Women carried babies on their backs with cloth wraps. Garay said most Asians living here are from Nepal, Bhutan, Vietnam and a handful of other countries.

Volunteers went door to door to offer food, which was readily received. As word spread about the arrival of food, residents gathered around vehicles where Baptists handed out the lunchboxes and bottles of water. One girl grabbed a box and immediately started eating.

Garay said most Asian immigrants struggle with learning English, dealing with the culture and getting work to sustain themselves. Many struggle financially at first. "That's why giving out food is helpful," he said.

Garay, his wife and two boys came from the Philippines to the United States years ago. Garay was pastor in California before working with the Baptist State Convention to start new Asian churches. He currently works with some 60 Asian language groups/nationalities in planting new churches.

"Take time to visit with folks and get to know them. Share the gospel if the opportunity presents itself," Garay told the pastors and lay members of who participated.

Bob Lowman visited with Baptist layman Paul Subba, who is from Bhutan but came to the United States after spending time in Nepal, including time in a refugee camp. Subba is an active member of the Charlotte Nepali Church.

They drank Nepali tea, which includes spices, salt, pepper and butter along with the tea. The two men discussed the differences in the mountains of Bhutan and Nepal, the world's highest, with the more gentle, forested ones of western North Carolina.

Metrolina Association workers have counted 180 language/people groups in the Charlotte area, Lowman said, but estimate a more accurate figure would be between 200 and 250. "We're still finding new ones," he said.

It's doubtful many of these immigrants have grasped the idea of Thanksgiving as celebrated by Americans. But as newcomers adapting to a strange land and thankfully enjoying an unexpected meal, the day surely captured the essence of that first celebration back in 1621.

The following churches took part in distributing the meals: Hosannah Nepali Church; Ana Jarai Baptist Church; Concord International Church; Mt. Olive Chinese Mission Church; City Harvest Church; Myanmar Community Church; Kroi Kong Plei Ko Church; Centerview Lao Thai Baptist Church; Charlotte Nepali Christian Fellowship; Hebron Nepali Christian Fellowship; Charlotte Nepali Church; Mateo Montagnard Baptist Church; Bethel Charlotte Chin Baptist Church; West Cabarrus Church.