How two women are cultivating friendship with neighbors who call “home sweet home” a land that’s 6,000 miles away
WORDS & PHOTO // Jenna Kruse
When Tricia Morgan came across an article four years ago describing a coalition that stretches from Iraq and Syria all the way to the United States working to help Iraqi and Syrian families “rebuild from the ashes of war,” Tricia’s heart was stirred. In the article, author Ann Voskamp documented her visit with Preemptive Love Coalition to northern Iraq. As Tricia read on from the comfort of her computer screen, she learned about the horrors of the conflict: how ISIS had just brutalized a Yazidi village and trafficked girls as young as nine.
“I could not stop thinking about these families,” reflects Tricia. “I kept coming back to the thought, had we been born somewhere else, this could have been my own three daughters.” She pauses at the weight of the thought, then adds, “I did not know what I could do in the States, but I knew that I could not do nothing.”
“I knew that I could not do nothing.”
And so, the work began. She started with the only thing she knew to do: pray. She opened up a Facebook community called “IndyPrays” and began posting stories from the war, giving a face to the crisis. The Facebook community grew and through the platform, she urged the Church to be the Church: to respond to the crisis overseas with practical help. She worked with a close friend who led the charge in organizing a drive, collecting baby carriers, blankets and clothes and sent them to an organization on the ground in Greece that was meeting the fleeing-on-foot refugees at the border with supplies and humanitarian aid.
Eventually the community connected over more than Facebook posts—shared news articles and typed prayers—and came together for a live gathering to “become more educated about the refugee crisis and pray together for our refugee neighbors for safety, provision and peace,” explains Tricia. At one of these events, a young Syrian college student came and spoke about what it was like living in the United States: hearing the ever-changing but always bad news in her homeland and the overwhelming ache and fear of wondering what her family back home was experiencing day to day. Those in attendance were moved to tears as she organically spoke from her heart.
Moved to More
The more Tricia prayed and acted, the more the Lord stirred her to action. “It was a start,” she says about her prayer community, “but it was not the finish.” Additionally, the more Tricia allowed herself to be opened up to the refugees and immigrants she heard about in the news, the more they began feeling like neighbors. And, “slowly the Lord began to open my eyes to my own diverse community and neighborhood that is home to immigrant and refugee families.”
And so recently, Tricia endeavored to take on a different kind of ministry: inviting women of all nationalities to experience community in her neighborhood, whether those women and their ancestors have lived in it for as long as their family tree can be traced, or they just moved not only to this town, but to this country three weeks ago.
A year ago, Tricia Morgan inspired a group of eight volunteer women to help her start The Plesion Purpose. Through this international women’s group, they have created space to meet with international, immigrant, and refugee women on the northside of Indianapolis. Their goal is to foster community and friendships between international and American women, and they achieve that through providing opportunities for conversational English over discussion questions, crafts and a shared lunch with their children.
“The word plēsion (pronounced play see on) is the Greek word for neighbor,” explains Tricia. “It is the word Jesus used repeatedly in the New Testament when describing who we are to love. According to Christ, and to Thayer’s Greek Lexicon, the word plēsion means ‘any other man irrespective of nation or religion with whom we live or whom we chance to meet.’” She goes on to describe that the word is rooted in the scriptural mission verses she chose for the ministry, in Matthew 22, when Jesus says to love your neighbor as yourself.
To Tricia, this meant creating a safe space for women in her community from all nationalities to be able to ask questions, big and small, and receive encouragement. Ultimately, she hopes the group will help assist immigrants and refugees with basic American daily life skills, while also promoting mutual dignity and love for her neighbors.
Connecting like-minds and hearts
But she didn’t come up with this idea on her own. Turns out, there are several individuals, churches and organizations who have paved the way for Tricia’s dream. “When I started to put into action what God had laid on my heart: to reach out to my own immigrant and refugee neighbors, I began searching for people and organizations who were already doing this,” states Tricia. “While it may not be readily known, Indianapolis has several groups who have been serving the immigrant and refugee population for decades and are doing it well. One by one, God kept opening doors for me to meet and learn from these organizations and people.”
One of those doors opened up when Tricia was introduced to a woman named Carolyn Willard, who has long been doing the very thing Tricia had in her heart to do. Carolyn started International Friends at a Lutheran church nearby eleven years ago, so when a mutual acquaintance learned that Tricia had a similar vision, she introduced the two of them through email. They met, and Tricia describes what she encountered the first time she visited International Friends.
“I walked in and there were Bibles laying out on the table in all different languages. They read a passage of scripture together and one of the women looked over and asked, ‘what does that word mean in your language?’” Tricia, visibly impassioned as she recounts the experience, continues, “I was in awe of how the Holy Spirit’s language of love translates into any language and moves in unity among different languages.”
“I was in awe of how the Holy Spirit’s language of love translates into any language and moves in unity.”
Like The Plesion Purpose, International Friends exists to reach out and care for people in the community who are from another country, either temporarily or permanently. They seek to make Indiana feel more like home through friendship, food, field trips and conversation classes where attendees can practice their English in a less intimidating fashion than trying to practice it, say, at the grocery store, or while trying to discuss their child’s education with his/her teacher, for example. They have scheduled gatherings several times throughout the week and aim to have just as many participants who are native to the United States and whose first language is English as those who are not. The point is integration and inclusion.
But while International Friends began as a conversational, social and cultural meeting, it now offers a Bible study one hour prior to their weekly Tuesday morning social gatherings. Carolyn says it started organically after a pastor offered to share the Christmas story in Japanese with any of the women who attended International Friends. Some of the women took him up on it, and then “word got out that we had an International Bible Study,” explains Carolyn.
Friends become family
Over the course of more than a decade, Carolyn’s International Friends became more like “family.” When the group was still small enough, she would have the women over for parties in her home. She says the group has grown too large for that now. But recently she met with a woman who was getting ready to move back to her native Japan, and over poured cups of coffee, poured her heart out to Carolyn— that for her and the other immigrant women, going to church to attend International Friends had the likeness of going to their parent’s home and that Carolyn was their mother in the United States. She said that she found love and care there at International Friends.
Carolyn explains that many of the women who come to the social and conversational gatherings an hour early to participate in the International Friends Bible Study come because they are initially curious about the Bible and its role in American culture. “They like American culture and want to know more about why we do what we do” says Carolyn. Many do not associate themselves as Christians, but they have openly learned about Jesus, and in one meeting a woman even asked how to pray, which led to them all praying together, something Carolyn had not initiated.
For Tricia also, The Plesion Purpose is more than just a ministry that meets once a month—rather that’s just an extension of her everyday life. That’s why when Tricia invited her two Muslim friends and their families to spend this past Christmas Eve with hers, they obliged and even attended Christmas Eve church with her.
Lament comes full-circle
“I used to believe that prayer changes things. But now I know that prayer changes us and we change things.” ~Mother Teresa
Just two years ago, in a lament to her IndyPrays Facebook group, Tricia said: “I have been consistently praying for Iraq & Syria for almost a year now and to be honest, tonight it is hard for me to focus and pray. My family just had some dear friends over for dinner and we laughed and ate too much. It was so good for our souls just being together… As I sit down to pray, I think about how victims of violence used to sit down with their families and friends, too, and laughed and ate together. I am overwhelmed by the brokenness of our own country along with the rest of the world.”
God is in the details, because now Tricia is providing that safe haven for the nations in her backyard. In the days after the shootings in two mosques in New Zealand, Tricia’s Muslim friends here in the States have a space to talk and grieve over the recent tragedy. Plesion Purpose met the very same morning as the world woke up to the news of the attacks, and as one of Plesion’s volunteers, Darcy Wiley, said in an Instagram post (@darcywiley) of the event, “Thirty of us brought our listening ears and our appetites as our international women’s group learned from our Syrian friends how to make ‘kebseh.'” They took turns stirring in spices and herbs, and Darcy reflects, “There are a lot of layers that need to be addressed to process and learn from atrocities like the one in Christchurch, but I know the path to peace has a lot to do with proximity and thoughtful presence in each other’s lives.”
“We thank Him for how His Spirit is moving among us,” says Tricia of her ministry with the Plesion group. “One of the greatest personal blessings that the Lord has given me is the simple gift of laughter. Many things may get lost in translation, but shared laughter transcends language.” She goes on to describe how during one particular meeting, the women came together to make DIY drink coasters. “Our whole group was learning something new together. While we were attempting to create something beautiful and useful, we were also laughing at ourselves in our various levels of craftiness.”
Psalm 126:2 speaks of the laughter and joy that come out of the blessings of God. According to Tricia, “laughter and joy can be the result of loving your neighbor without condition, celebrating differences and finding mutual commonalities. It is not always convenient,” she says. “But it is always worth it.”