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Pray for Debbie and Jim Kelsey, ministering to African immigrants in Italy

September 6, 2011
Debbie and Jim assist the Evangelical Christian Baptist Union of Italy in ministry to English-speaking immigrant, particularly African, congregations. They work to welcome new arrivals to Italy who are seeking a better life for themselves and their families. They assist with the theological training in the migrant churches and provides pastoral care where needed. Debbie also ministers to young women at-risk or victimized by human trafficking and prostitution.

Jim writes: As I listened to the voices of the women we met, I was struck by their youthfulness. The harshness and brutality of their lives could not fully mask the bubbly enthusiasm characteristic of young women just beyond adolescence.

I have made a journey over my 20 years of ministry. My first church sat in northwest Philadelphia, and there were women working the streets not far from the church. I didn’t feel strongly one way or the other about the women themselves. Their presence was simply a nuisance. … I viewed them as a problem to be resolved by the police, the courts, and the neighborhood watch group. They were like a dangerous intersection; I felt someone needed to do something.

My next church sat on the main thoroughfare of a smaller city in Ohio. Again … I saw them as a problem … I felt that the city needed to find a solution to clean this up.

I have now arrived at a different place. I no longer see women working the street as a problem to be resolved, cleaned up, moved on to somewhere else. I see these women as human beings with all the attendant complexities that being human brings. They have parents and childhood memories. … They carry within themselves hopes and dreams, disappointments and losses. They are pleased by compliments, and criticism wounds them. Maybe they have children that they love dearly. Perhaps they carry concerns about sick parents. …

They are in so many ways like you and me. Their lives have dumped them in a very difficult place, a place that most of us cannot imagine. But they are in so many ways like us. They want the same things for their lives that we want for ours: to be loved and to love, to feel safe and secure, to see purpose in their lives, to laugh and sleep well at night. They are more like us than different from us.

This is the journey that I have made. I no longer see these women as a problem to be resolved but as people worthy of love and respect and compassion. They are worth going after in the hope of helping them find a life more befitting their deep and vibrant humanity. They are made in the image God; and, in the words of Genesis, very good.

I wonder how many other problems I see around me that are; when you peel back the surface, really people in need of mercy and compassion? Twenty years of ministry and God is still changing me, opening my eyes, softening my heart.

• Pray for Debbie and Jim as they serve Christ among the immigrant population in Italy.