We were lucky enough to catch a conversation with Pastor Ben Krey, of Prince of Peace Lutheran Church, in Philadelphia, while he was in his doctor’s waiting room. As a pastor who truly lives the mission of welcome, he had injured his leg while playing with the children of a Bhutanese refugee family that Prince of Peace has helped resettle! Nevertheless, he was ready to chat about new Americans and how they have challenged and transformed his congregation and greater community.
Clarissa Perkins (CP): How did you first get involved with migrants and refugees?
Pastor Ben Krey (BK): My father was a Lutheran pastor whose congregation was also involved with refugee resettlement, so it was something that was part of my life before I was born. When I was in my mother’s womb there were refugees living in the parsonage. Eight months before I started at Prince of Peace, Pastor Paul Townsend, the interim pastor, introduced refugee ministry. We are now approaching 200 individuals who have been welcomed through our refugee ministry. One volunteer, Helen Tobin, really found it in her heart that she couldn’t say no to the refugee ministry.
CP: How does your church welcome the stranger?
BK: The Bhutanese refugees, we call them our “Bhutanese friends,” are refugees whose refugee camp was burned down three times, and it still took 20 years for them to get the help they needed. With them, we’ve done everything from soup to nuts. Through our ministry with the Bhutanese, other congregations and people in the community have connected with us. Instead of coming to the church, community members will go to a family’s home once a week and just hang out with them, bring them to a doctor’s appointment, dance with them, play with them, cook with them, and just become their friend. Most recently, we started a program called “Welcome Home” where we rent a house and a new family lives in that house each month until they are placed in permanent housing. A family of five from Iraq just came. Some of the families remain in contact with us after they leave the Welcome Home, but some don’t, mainly because their new house isn’t within walking distance.
We also have ESL (English as a second language) programs at Prince of Peace once a week. We used to have a connection with German volunteers and they were able to volunteer four days a week. Now we have four volunteers but they’re only free on Mondays. The classes are free, and we’ll have Latinos, Bhutanese, Iraqi and others who come.
CP: What gifts have they brought to your community?
BK: In my neighborhood, there’s a significant amount of prejudice. It’s much better today than it used to be so it’s very easy for people to say, “it’s not that bad anymore,” so it’s hard to talk about. However, it’s very clear that when people who don’t look like us, talk like us, or dress like us show up, we are constantly sticking our feet in our mouth because we’re saying things we shouldn’t say. If we didn’t have newcomers in our midst, we wouldn’t be challenged to grow.
Even though no one from the refugee community has been baptized, so many in the greater community see the work we do and say, “holy cow, they are really welcoming.” People in the neighborhood want to join Prince of Peace because we’re living out our mission in welcome.
CP: How do you suggest other congregations reach out to newcomers?
BK: I was in the 6th or 7th grade playing baseball- I get into the batter’s box and said, “this is going to be easy.” Then there’s a ball, a strike, ball, strike, ball, strike- 6 pitches go by, and there was my dad watching the game, confused that his son didn’t even think of swinging the bat. My dad talked to my grandpa and my grandpa came over to me afterwards, and said, “Babe Ruth never hit a home run without swinging the bat.” You can’t be afraid to strike out. If you don’t try, you’re just taking up space on God’s green earth.
Take a moment to reach out and become a part of welcome in your community. Click here to learn more about volunteering with refugees. If you’d like to learn more about Prince of Peace’s Welcome House, please click here.
Photo Credit: Matt Romano