By Gabrielle Wong
A state of emergency has been proclaimed over my new home. The gas at the Summerset Village Apartments where I live with MaiChai and Jess was turned off on Thursday, November 12, leaving residents without gas for heat, hot water, or use of gas stoves. My roommates and I fully expected the gas to be turned back on the next day, and we maintained that mindset every day for a week. MaiChai, Jess, and I live at Summerset as missionaries through Care Fresno. Care Fresno and FIRM are ministry partners and the after school program we run through Care Fresno is held in the FIRM community room. FIRM serves the families of Summerset, since Summerset’s residents are mostly refugees from Southeast Asia. When we reached the one week mark of no gas, people began bringing their complaints to FIRM. After that, we were spurred into action, prodded by the knowledge that this situation was affecting over 1,000 vulnerable people.
My roommates and I began participating in disaster relief efforts with FIRM before the mayor made the gravity of the situation official by signing the document declaring an emergency, providing access to additional resources. FIRM and Care Fresno staff, interns, and volunteers (with the help of many churches, organizations and individuals) bought and distributed blankets, electric space heaters, electric water kettles, and clothes for Summerset residents.
Portable showers were also brought into the complex. Hot meals have been provided to residents by numerous volunteers since Saturday, November 21. I am so thankful for the outpouring of generosity and support from local churches and the community. FIRM’s Executive Director, Zach Darrah, has done an amazing job of working with city officials and representatives from other organizations, advocating for this large refugee population by getting the residents what they need during this crisis while also making plans for moving forward. This situation quickly escalated to become so much bigger and more serious than we expected.
MaiChai volunteered to be the coordinator of this operation while translating for residents in addition to directing and organizing residents, volunteers, goods, and information, naturally taking charge of various aspects of a tremendously chaotic situation in an amazing way. For my roommates and I, this is not just a story on the news; this situation affects our neighbors and the kids and families we spend time with regularly, in addition to our own apartment and living situation. We have a unique platform in this scenario, as we live in this complex while also maintaining access to resources that can be used to make a positive and practical difference. What we’re doing is personal and driven by relationships. When we first started talking about distributing blankets, my mind immediately went to the kids we work with and then to our neighbors on our apartment row, the two groups of people I come in contact with the most.
We are experiencing a new way of loving our neighbors. Living in community and sharing life with those we serve who are our literal neighbors is a big part of why my roommates and I were planted in Summerset. A lot of truly awful things have happened and there have been many frustrating, annoying, and exhausting moments and hours these past few weeks. There have also been moments where I have seen God work, moments that remind me that I’m right where I need to be. I believe that God led my roommates and I to move to Summerset at this time, knowing that we would be present for this man-made disaster and available to serve as each step unfolded.
As we approach Christmas, I have been pondering how profound it is that God Almighty came to be with us. Emmanuel, God with us, took on human form to eat, dress, and sleep with us. Emmanuel, God with us, also came to earth to be hungry, cold, and hurt with us, enabling Him to say, “Me too,” when people are hurting. Because Emmanuel came to be with us that first Christmas, we experience how far God came to show us His love. In response, Care Fresno missionaries have been placed throughout Fresno to be with people we likely wouldn’t know otherwise, living alongside them to point them to the God who wants to be with them too.
As I write this, the gas to my entire complex is still shut off. Work is being done on the gas lines as well as a myriad of other things in my complex. I am anxious for the gas to be turned back on, but I know that is not the end goal. While Summerset is a new Care Fresno site this year, FIRM has been actively ministering to this community for many years. After the media, lawyers, and work crews leave, FIRM and Care Fresno will still be involved in this neighborhood, investing in this community beyond the current crisis, because we know that the God who chose to be with us that first Christmas has empowered us to be His ambassadors to those we live and come in contact with.