Refuge International

Refuge International donated a bike to Fiston, a refugee who survived a massacre in the Democratic Republic of Congo before moving to Louisville.

Since 1994, more than 29,400 refugees have settled in Kentucky. They come from Somalia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Iraq, Cuba, Sudan, Pakistan, Ethiopia, Eritrea and other places. 

Caring for these people as friends and neighbors is the goal of Refuge International, a longtime partner of Southeast Christian Church. Refugees come with urgent needs to learn English, understand banking and figure out transportation, shopping, schools, jobs and more. Many are lonely and concerned about the future.

Trained volunteers willing to walk alongside these new neighbors always are needed.

Wednesday, Nov. 20, at Southeast’s Blankenbaker Campus, Refuge International will offer an orientation and information session about the programs it offers. Some of these programs are English mentoring, welcome teams, home health and safety, help with medical clinics and hosting simple get-togethers.

“Those who attend will be inspired to reach the nations for Christ within Louisville neighborhoods,” said Samir Benir, community director at Refuge. “They will learn about hospitality as mission training, about Islam and how to teach English.”

Since Refuge was founded seven years ago, the ministry has become a trusted resource in the community. Last year, Refuge moved its office to the Maplewood Apartment Complex off Bardstown Road within a community of refugees from around the world.

Benir lives in that apartment complex, a short walk from the Welcome Center. He has lived their challenges: language, loneliness, finding a good job and a community. He was an agnostic in North Africa, disillusioned with extremism, when he was given a green card and allowed to emigrate to the U.S.

Once in Louisville, he had new freedom to explore faith.

Benir got his first Bible when the hotel where he worked replaced its in-room Bibles, and he was allowed to take one of the old Bibles home. He began reading about Jesus when he had a dream that convinced him Jesus is the Messiah. He was baptized at Sojourn Church Midtown where his community group became his adopted family.

He volunteered whenever possible at Refuge, until he became the community director in 2018.

Fiston is one of Benir’s neighbors. He survived a horrific massacre in the Democratic Republic of Congo by hiding 12 hours under a dead body, though he was grazed by a bullet and stabbed with a bayonet as soldiers confirmed the dead.

As he fled to Tanzania, he saw a boatload of people drown in Lake Tanganyika. In Tanzania, he taught school and cut hair. He explored faith after coming to Louisville, went to a Bible study taught in French and eventually decided to follow Jesus. Benir continues to disciple him.

“I understand what refugees go through,” Benir said. “The first three months, they look for community. It’s a good time to help and encourage them. People in this community know I am a Christian. That’s OK with them. Our goal is to love them and help them find community with Christians.”

Benir said opportunities to befriend refugees are endless.

“There are thousands of families who need someone to walk alongside them,” he said.