The Ends of the Earth

Every Friday, a small room in a small church on the outskirts of Atlanta becomes a gathering place for the ends of the earth. Over scattered beads, tools and tangled threads, artisans from foreign nations pray together, filling the room with the sounds of Nepali, Burmese, Arabic and English. “It feels like heaven,” they agree.

The artisans of Refugee Beads come from camps and villages in some of the world’s most dangerous places. All are Christians who minister to their own people groups while struggling to find dignity, grow spiritually and support their families in this strange new country.

Refugee Beads started in 2009 when my wife, Ruth Ann, and I relocated from Chicago to Atlanta, to live and minster among immigrants and refugees. We moved down without any real plan except to discover and meet needs in the name of Christ.

Before long, Ruth Ann began meeting Christians in those same refugee communities who had inspiring faith, tremendous skill and breathtaking stories. Many were actively ministering to their own people groups while struggling to make ends meet.

Ruth Ann herself used to create and sell jewelry on the street in Chicago’s Wicker Park neighborhood. And that gave her an idea. She initially invited five women to form an artisan community that would share stories and sell jewelry.

Photo: Esther JuLee Photography. Ruth Ann and a group of Christian refugee women formed an artisan community to share stories and sell jewelry.

“They need help navigating a confusing culture, connecting with the people around them and supporting their families,” Ruth Ann says. “And American churches need the global perspective and stories that these women offer. Refugee Beads was created as a way for both groups to minister to one another.”

While Refugee Beads was growing and finding its place, an EFCA congregation called Open Table Community moved into the heart of this same area—known as the “International Village” because of the massive concentration of people groups from around the world. (Read about the church’s radical decision here.)

Ruth Ann had attended Open Table even before its move into the community. When she suggested a partnership between the church and the ministry, Open Table embraced the idea. Refugee Beads joined the church’s other partner ministries, which included a bike co-op, a local afterschool program and English as a Second Language classes.

“The first time one of the women shared at our church, she told about literally losing everything to follow Christ,” says Tim Isaacson, then-pastor of Open Table. “A young man stood up afterward and confessed to the whole congregation, ‘I wonder sometimes if I’ve ever really known Christ in my life.’

“The artisans of Refugee Beads take our hearts deeper into the gospel.”

Refugee Beads now interacts with numerous churches across the country through speaking, providing wholesale jewelry for fundraisers and hosting “Village Gatherings.” For these events, American women open their homes or churches and invite church groups or other friends. The women of Refugee Beads visit, telling stories, sharing a meal, and selling handmade jewelry to support their families and ministries.

Thanks to Open Table Community, Refugee Beads has a home, several volunteers and a loving community in which to grow. And Open Table members have a chance to see the kingdom of heaven take on new meaning as they connect with the ends of the earth in their own neighborhood.

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