The Kansas City metro is home to an estimated 4,000 Bhutani/Nepali refugees. Randy Harmdierks, communication director for the Iowa-Missouri Conference, recently interviewed Anna Coridan, who has made it her mission to be the hands and feet of Jesus to this people group.
What led you to start this ministry?
I spent my sophomore year of college teaching English and science in Benapa, Nepal, and serving in the surrounding villages. God placed a burden on my heart that year for overseas missions, and I determined to go back to Nepal after completing my studies.
After graduating from Union College in 2014, I accepted a job as a nurse at Shawnee Mission Medical Center. My plan was to work a couple years to get out of debt, then go overseas.
As time passed I became consumed by my plans and goals. I lived life looking toward where God would lead me in my future, rather than following where He was leading me day by day. I spent all my time and energy telling God I wanted to work with people overseas, yet I did not see the people right in front of me.
Last August a friend told me about some Nepali kids who play soccer at a nearby park. He said he would often play with them and, knowing I spoke a little Nepali, invited me to meet them. The kids weren’t there, so he showed me where many lived.
We drove by one of the apartment complexes and he recognized some kids, so he pulled in. I spoke to them in Nepali for a while and was eventually introduced to their mom. We made plans to eat a meal together the next day. After the meal they asked if we would visit a family member who was sick. We ended up visiting several other relatives as well.
By the end of the day I realized I did not need to wait until I was out of debt and financially set to help those around me. God has work for me right here in Kansas City.
I prayed about how best to serve my new friends, and decided to move into their community so I could share life with them daily. I signed the apartment lease last November.
What does a typical day with the refugees look like?
We share meals together, shop for groceries together, walk through the neighborhood together and visit with people we encounter.
In a very real sense, it’s becoming like a family. We visit the Nepali churches on Sundays and spend time worshiping God together. We celebrate holidays together. On Wednesdays, the public schools get out early, so my nephews come over and we play soccer with the kids. We’ve started a Nepali youth group, which the kids named NC4Y (New Change for Youth). They were invited to join a local Adventist soccer tournament, and they won!
What are you most hoping to achieve?
God created a special place in my heart for the Bhutani/Nepali people. They have gone from war-torn countries to refugee camps to a country where they do not know or understand the culture or language. No matter the language you speak or the culture you are from, the challenges of health, finances and family are present. The refugee population is hurting even more because they do not know where to go when presented with these challenges.
I want to be their friend. I want to share daily life with them. And most of all, I want to share God’s love with them. He has been so kind, patient and loving with me, I want them to experience His peace that passes all understanding.
Do you believe you are making progress toward those goals?
After five months of living in this community I praise God for the doors of friendship that have opened. We’re building trust. I’ve taken some to doctor’s appointments. We’ve started citizenship classes three nights a week. My Nepali is limited, but kindness is a common language.
What challenges have you encountered?
Time is a challenge. Not only does it take a lot of time to develop the friendships needed to build trust, but many of the parents work 12 hours a day, six days a week. Coordinating transportation is difficult, and the young people need mentors.
The language barrier creates all kinds of confusion in areas such as communication between the kids’ teachers and parents, health care issues, filling prescriptions and paying bills.
What have you learned in this process?
The biggest lesson I have learned while working with Nepali refugees is I need to treat them like my own family.
The night I moved into my apartment I was greeted by a Nepali woman my age. She introduced herself as my neighbor and welcomed me to the building. Two weeks later I was returning from work around 10 pm. I was hungry and decided to eat some oranges before going to bed. I could hear my neighbors talking, so I knew they were awake. I felt nervous but decided to knock on their door anyway to see if they wanted to eat oranges with me.
My new neighbor opened the door, smiled and said, “Hello, Sister! Come in.” I offered my oranges, they offered their apples and we had a meal.
What is the most rewarding aspect of working with refugees?
The greatest reward is seeing the results when trust has been built. You become family, and my life has been enriched by the new friends and family I’ve made.