Congolese Christmas Party

On Thursday, December 20, 2018, at 6 pm, members of Paradise Valley United Methodist Church RAFT (Refugee Assistance and Friendship Teams) brought Christmas to the Congolese refugee family, the Abwes, who arrived in May 2018 from Tanzania. Rebeka Abwe and her four children, ages 19, 16, 15 and 6, have been living in an apartment in Glendale, furnished by the RAFT team. The family is Methodist.

The Christmas celebration included adding a lighted tree to the apartment and RAFT team members brought craft supplies to make ornaments for the tree. A few hours later, the tree was covered in candy-cane reindeer, glittery pinecones and colorful paper chains.

RAFT members brought dinner and sang Christmas carols with the family. Cultural experiences like these are what help friendships grow.

In July 2016, PVUMC’s RAFT members welcomed their first two refugee families, both from Syria. Now, the families are living and working in Mesa and Chandler, self-sufficient thanks to their hard work, desire to learn and work, and our assistance with furniture donations, English language practice, rides to doctors and so much more. In early 2017, the group agreed to help three other refugees find employment and affordable housing, as well as offer transportation and language assistance — a man from Eritrea and two women from the Congo. The last family RAFT co-sponsored was from the Congo. They arrived earlier this year and are living in Glendale, AZ.

RAFT includes core member teams who help welcome refugees to our country by providing donated furniture for their apartments, cultural support, and English language practice. RAFT first began working with Refugee Focus, a division of Lutheran Social Services of the Southwest. At one of the first presentations the church hosted, attendees watched a slide show called “Refugees 101,” which focuses on why and how refugees arrive in the United States, the countries they come from, and what we can do to welcome them. Click here for a pdf of the 2015 slide show.

Churches in Phoenix have been friends, neighbors, and mentors to newly arrived refugees since Refugee Focus opened its doors in the early 80s under Lutheran Social Services. Several PVUMC members had a tour of Refugee Focus and met with its director with the intention of learning more about how the church could help refugees. This initiative grew out of the Interfaith Speaker Series, Who Is My Neighbor, held in the spring of 2015 in cooperation with Salaam-Chai-Paradise. Currently, RAFT is under the PVUMC Missions Ministry Team umbrella.

Keith Sobraske, who helped create RAFT and is one of the leaders, plans to talk about how you can get involved with RAFT, from soliciting and collecting donations of furniture to welcoming recently arrived refugees at the airport. Whether you are a member of RAFT now or are just interested in learning more about refugee resettlement, please join us. Click here for a pdf of Keith’s slideshow from 2016.

If you are interested in living our the church mission to be God’s love in action, please come to the Open House. You do not have to be a member of PVUMC. If you have questions or want to know more before the event, email Keith Sobraske for more information on how to get involved.

This year’s Open House at PVUMC is not only to invite new participants in RAFT; this event is for everyone who’s already on board with RAFT to learn new skills and techniques in refugee assistance.

Sarah Eary, the Community Integration Manager for Lutheran Social Services, RAFT’s resettlement partner, came to the church campus in October 2018 to talk about three topics.

  • Refugee Resettlement
  • Cultural competence and refugee empowerment
  • Teaching English as a second language

Helping refugees learn English is the most important skill a refugee can learn toward self-sufficiency according to Sarah Eary. If you would like to help the Abwes learn English, please contact RAFT.

Visit to learn more about our partner organization and the work they do.

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