Church of the Good Shepherd
From the May/June 1994 Interchange
The call came when Athens was in the grips of
recession. The Rev. E. Francis “Mike” Morgan, rector of a congregation of
about 80 families, picked up the phone and listened as the head of Ohio’s
Interfaith Refugee Services described the urgent need for churches to take in
Haitian refugees being sent up from Guantanamo to apply for political asylum.
These people would probably be illiterate. They would speak no English. They would need legal help, and job training. - - and jobs. Could the people of Good Shepherd help?
They could, and they would. Responding with a generosity far beyond what would be expected of a small church in one of Ohio’s most economically depressed regions, Good Shepherd accepted four Haitian refugees. With the help of a dedicated ecumenical committee the parish helped them get their footing in a new land. Now, two years later, all four speak English, live and have jobs in Columbus, and each one has been able to afford to buy a car.
The four young foreigners in need of refuge are just the latest in a series of people from faraway lands who have found a welcome at Good Shepherd. Though this church is tucked away in one of Ohio’s most rural corners, it is perfectly situated for this ministry of multicultural hospitality. Ohio University has 1,200 foreign students; until the oil crash of 1982 the majority were from Africa and the Middle East.
Good Shepherd sits at the heart of the Ohio University campus. Next door there’s a restaurant specializing in ethnic food, two buildings away is the university’s Office of International Student Affairs, and across the street is the Ohio Program in Intensive English (OPIE). “The crossroads in front of Good Shepherd are often thought of as the international crossroads of the campus,” sums up Dr. Gifford Doxsee, a scholar of Middle East history who plays a major role in the parish’s hospitality to foreigners.
Many members of the parish are faculty, like Doxsee, and have lived or traveled abroad extensively. They have an unusual receptivity and appreciation for people of other cultures. One example is Anne Braxton, an arts librarian, who loves Turkish art and has befriended Turkish students at Ohio University. Another is Anne Walker, who was raised in Columbia, is bilingual, and whose husband is an expert on Nicaragua. Walker was essential to Good Shepherd’s life-saving ministry to Central American refugees during the 1980s.
When Doxsee was elected senior warden, Morgan invited him to set a priority for that year. Doxsee saw an opportunity in the diocese’s brand-new companion relationship with the diocese of Lagos in Nigeria.
“At one time we had 150 Nigerian students at Ohio University,” Doxsee recalls. “Together with their wives and children, that made a community of over 300 Nigerians in Athens.”
With partial funding from the National and World Mission Commission, Good Shepherd appointed Nigerian doctoral student The Rev. Felix Obayan, an Anglican priest, as assistant rector. Part of his portfolio was to speak at churches throughout the diocese about Nigeria—he ultimately became the African Liaison to Province V.
In Athens, Obayan was a magnetic evangelist. “Felix was the kind of guy that if you didn’t come to church on Sunday morning, he would be at your house on Sunday afternoon to ask why,” Doxsee recalls with a chuckle. “He was very effective in bringing African students to Good Shepherd. One year while he was here, we had 26 confirmands (in a parish of 80 families!), and half of them were African. It was incredible!”
When Obayan returned to Nigeria, he and his wife (who had done her doctorate at Johns Hopkins), invited the Doxsees to stay with them in Kwara, a provincial capital and see city of a diocese which is not part of the partnership with Southern Ohio. There they met the bishop, Herbert Haruna, who was related to Obayan by marriage.
On his return home, Doxsee received a stately command from His Grace.
“The Bishop wants to appoint you as his commissary,” Obayan wrote, “and don’t say no.” Doxsee did a little research, and discovered that a commissary is the representative of a bishop in a faraway place. “He is to organize hospitality and logistics if the Bishop visits, and to be the eyes and ears of the bishop,” Doxsee explains. “So here I am, since 1985, the personal emissary of a bishop of a diocese whose partnership was in Western Michigan.”
When Bishop Haruna visited the United States, he stayed longer in Athens than he did in Kalamazoo. He spent five days at the home of his commissary, indicating it was the high point of his trip.
Bishop Segun of Lagos came to Athens in 1981 with his wife and two officials, and they all stayed with Gifford Doxsee and his wife Mary. Through a bountiful welcome organized by Obayan and the American members of Good Shepherd, the bishop received the keys to the city, dined with Ohio University’s president, and enjoyed a banquet attended by most of the African student community, Muslims and Christians alike.
At the same time, the misery spawned by civil wars in Central America was growing. Driven by perils from death squads and oppression by the military of their own countries, refugees from El Salvador and Guatemala fled northward. The vast majority who tried to enter the United States were denied political asylum.
Morgan and his parishioners responded by providing a refuge. In collaboration with other congregations, they established the Central American Refugee Assistance Committee (CARAC). Good Shepherd’s rectory became a way-station on the Overground Railway, a network of churches across the country helping Central Americans reach Canada, where they could qualify for asylum.
When the Haitian crisis erupted, CARAC was revived. With the help of an Ohio University librarian who spoke Creole and dedicated trouble-shooters, CARAC resettled four Haitian refugees. During much of their time in Athens they lived in the Good Shepherd rectory.
In between refugees, that house has been a home away from home for graduate students from Africa, Korea, or the Philippines. Members of the parish also “adopted” foreign students, helping them get accustomed to the country or cope with school, illness or crisis. An international student loan fund established by United Campus Ministries is now administered by Jeanne Wells and Morgan. The congregation takes up a special collection each month to replenish this fund, which helps students with expenses.
All of this is in addition to a substantial commitment to local community uplift—Good Shepherd gives grants to about a dozen Appalachian and other service programs each year, and the parish is helping with the educational expenses of three seminarians. Clearly, the biblical injunction in Hebrews 13:2 is second nature here: “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.”
Our Haitian Friends
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