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Supporting City of Refuge: An Interview with Director Debbie Beal


On Christmas Eve, The Crossing announced a special giving project to raise money for City of Refuge, a local nonprofit that supports refugees placed in mid-Missouri. The Crossing's Audrey Sharp sat down with Debbie Beal, the director of City of Refuge, to learn more about who they are, who they serve, and how we can help. 

Audrey: What is City of Refuge? What's your mission statement?

Debbie: City of Refuge exists to walk alongside refugees as they navigate a new life in mid-Missouri. We do that primarily through developing relationships with them, listening, advocating, just helping them walk through everyday things, and meeting basic needs. Sometimes, it's starting a business. Sometimes, it's going to court with them. Sometimes, it's helping them with a car accident. Anything you can think of that's necessary to exist as a human being in America, that's how we're going to help.

Audrey: How do refugees typically get connected to the services you provide? 

Debbie: Refugees find City of Refuge through word-of-mouth, by talking to their friends and family. Basically, once people have been helped by City of Refuge, they want to share that with their friends and family, so others can receive the same support that they have found.

Audrey: What challenges come with this influx of refugees who come from other places in the U.S. because they've heard about you, in addition to the Afghan refugees arriving in Columbia from overseas? How will this giving campaign help you all provide what's needed for these refugees as they are finding homes in Columbia?

Debbie: City of Refuge is a community nonprofit. We started because we saw gaps and needs that weren't being met in the refugee community. As a result, some really great people in Columbia started City of Refuge, and it has quickly grown and grown and grown!

Now, we need to inject some stability into our organization: a good foundation that includes staffing and having really good systems and processes so that we can more efficiently and adequately serve the needs of our new neighbors. Our desire is to be scalable so that we can meet the increasing and varying needs here, as well as be a resource to other communities as they welcome in refugees.  

Audrey: How do you think that the community of Afghan refugees is going to change in Columbia in 2022?

Debbie: Catholic Charities, another local nonprofit, has resettled over 200 Afghan newcomers in Mid-Missouri, and that number is going to grow. Columbia is expecting upwards of 300 new refugees-- and possibly more because of MU's International Program. So, we're going to be a resource to all of them as much as we can, as much as they need, and as much as we would to any other refugee coming from any other country. And we need this community to be a part of doing that.

Audrey: On the phone the other day, you referenced the Bible, saying we're all like refugees in a fallen world, just waiting for Christ to return. How does your hope in Jesus impact the work that you guys do and the vision for living in community with refugees?

Debbie: One of the things I have loved about City of Refuge is that it is this gathering of people from so many tribes, so many tongues, so many cultures and traditions. The idea of Revelation 7 comes to mind often as we interact with so many people from so many different countries. We don't always get to experience that in America. But at City of Refuge, we do.

We get to see this coming together of people in our office on any given day-- we can have people from Afghanistan, or the Congo, or Burma. It's really humbling to know that not only are we helping them, but they have something to offer us. We get to learn from their traditions and their cultures. 

There's something really beautiful about this coming together that we get to be a part of. And we want to invite you to be a part of it as the body of Christ. One day, we'll be together, worshiping the Lord with all these languages. To do that here-- to experience a foggy reflection of the Kingdom of God-- that's something that I have really loved being a part of.

Audrey: If you could tell every person who might contribute to this campaign one thing about what their giving is going to allow you to do, what would it be?

Debbie: We have the opportunity to show people honor and dignity in a way that they maybe haven't experienced in a long time. Even the simple gesture of giving someone a pair of shoes that they need means a lot. I have especially been blown away by that recently, as Afghans have come without anything. Some people had houses and cars, and now they have nothing. We get to just offer them a coat or a dining room table, like really basic things that we take for granted. City of Refuge can't do that on our own. It really, truly is the community coming together and giving generously that impacts lives in such a profound way.

We simply get to be the vessel through which items or services are provided. Your giving allows us to be able to do more of that-- for the refugees who are coming and for those who are already here-- and that is huge. They don't just assimilate into society in a few months or a few years. It takes time-- sometimes, it's a lifelong process. Our goal is to be a bridge to the community in order to meet needs while also being a catalyst for relationships to form. That is what changes people. That is why your support is critical. 

We are all foreigners. And the gospel gives a clear picture of the way that we are called to care for refugees. As foreigners, Jesus has taken us in, and he loves us. We want to do the same for the refugees.

We want to take them in, and love them, and welcome them. It's very clear in the Bible that we are called to take care of the sojourner, the foreigner. In scripture, God commanded the Israelites to leave the edges of the harvest so that poor and the foreigner could have access.

How do we call the body of Christ to do that, to be those people, and to actually live out the things we say we care about? The things that God cares about?

That's why I'm in this role: to help build that bridge. To say, "Hey, church community. We say we want this thing. We say we care about it. We say we're passionate. Let's really live it, and let's do it. And let's be the hands and feet of Jesus. Let's be that with our actions, and let's be that with our dollars."

City of Refuge is working hard to meet people's needs in a way that absolutely changes lives-- in a way that helps them rebuild. Your giving enables us to be the hands and the feet of Jesus. It helps us offer a little bit of hope to those who have lost so much. And it allows us to meet needs where needs are often unmet. And we cannot do that without you.

This Christmas, consider giving to City of Refuge to help meet the needs of refugees in Columbia, Missouri.