Multnomah alumni serving at refugee hub in Rome

BY Faith Report,
See more of Multnomah University Alumni missions

Michelle Peel is part of an alumni team from Multnomah University who recently spent time in Rome, Italy, where she just wrapped up an amazing journey reaching refugees.   Because of its central position jutting into the Mediterranean Sea and its relatively close proximity to Northern Africa, Italy receives a variety of refugees and immigrants from Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia.  While in Italy, Michelle formed strong bonds with Tim and Rachel Uthmann, a family that supports the Italian refugee community through their ministry, IT-RefMin. Tim and Rachel are also Multnomah University Alumni.  “One of the ways they try and speak into the climate of fear and animosity (there) is by sponsoring opportunities for Italians and refugees from various countries to sit face-to-face, eyeball-to-eyeball and listen to each others’ stories,” states Michelle.

The team’s desire “is to have a consistent presence in the midst of the turbulent refugee experience, where sojourners encounter dignity and hope and grace in a life-giving way.”

Italy has long been recognized as an important convergence point of the Refugee Highway.  IT-RefMin began exploring the refugee situation there in 2005 and sent several research trips to Italy in 2005 and 2006. The first long term team members arrived in September 2007, learning about the refugee situation in Rome and contemplating what a larger team-vision might be able to accomplish there.

The Rome team is primarily involved in foundational and networking ministries, including:

– Assisting a local Italian church with outreach meals among the Afghans;
– Volunteering with an international church serving lunches to refugees;
– Hospitality and relational contacts with various individuals (refugees and fellow workers);
– Practical assistance for specific individual needs (i.e.: emergency blankets), and
– Relational networking and development within refugee groups.

Most of the refugees the Uthmanns minister to are from Afghanistan.  Afghans, typically young men from 16-23 years old, are often trying to move quickly through Italy to seek more accessible opportunities further north in Europe.  They often have very obvious physical needs, including food, shelter and basic medical care.

Among those young Afghan men is Abel, whom Tim Uthmann met with on a weekly basis for several months in order to help him improve his English.

Abel fled Afghanistan four years ago when he was just 14-years-old after his father was killed while fighting against the Taliban. His mother and younger brother have taken refuge in currently unstable Pakistan, and his biggest dream is to find work and send money back to them so his brother can stay in school. Abel spends the work week in an internship program learning how to repair electronic equipment for hospitals, and his evenings are spent in Italian classes or at the Uthmann’s home studying English.

During a recent national holiday commemorating the founding of the Italian republic, Michelle spent the day with the Uthmanns, along with several refugees, celebrating the first birthday of their daughter, Gioia (Joy in English).  The celebration was a very significant time in that it provided an opportunity to deepen relationships with the people they’ve been getting to know.  “Joy’s cheerful disposition has created a bridge on a number of different levels in allowing (us) to connect with these men and women in very meaningful ways,” states Michelle

The Uthmanns support an additional ministry at one of the local churches in Rome where they provide a mid-day meal twice a week to the area refugees. Of the 250 refugees served, half of them come from Afghanistan and the other half from African countries, including Ethiopia, Somalia, Eritrea, Togo, Sudan, Congo and the Ivory Coast.

“As we passed out meals and engaged in conversation I learned of Hamid’s story, a man just 6 months here in Italy who has come from the war torn area of Afghanistan where his family still remains,” states Michelle, “Having so very little himself, I was encouraged, to see such a grateful smile for the meal that we had prepared for him, perhaps the only he would receive today.”

Michelle is currently serving in Uganda.

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