Every year, members of St. Luke Orthodox Church adopt a family for Christmas through the International Rescue Committee’s Abilene office.
This year, one of those families turned the tables and adopted St. Luke. On Sunday, just three days before Christmas, all eight members of the Idris family, refugees from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, were received and/or baptized into the Orthodox Church.
The parents, Ilunga and Maria, don’t speak English. Four of the six children are enrolled in Abilene schools, Lee Elementary and Craig Middle School, and are learning English. The two other children aren’t old enough for school but are learning English from their siblings and people around them.
It doesn’t matter. A spoken language wasn’t necessary for what the family discovered at St. Luke. They connected with the icons in the church, the incense, the gestures such as making the sign of the cross, and the touch of the priest, Philip LeMasters, as he offered a blessing.
Most of all, they connected with the love of the congregation at St. Luke.
“God led us over there,” Ilunga said through an interpreter, James Mpawenayo. “Our heart followed.”
As it turned out, the Idris family didn’t have far to go to St. Luke. They live only a couple of blocks away, but they didn’t know that when they connected with church members a year ago at an Adopt-a-Family Christmas party that the IRC sponsors each year.
The main contact at the church is Lisa Maikranz, who has traveled to Africa and fell in love with the people and culture. She was thrilled when a part of Africa showed up in Abilene. She met the Idris family at the Adopt-a-Family party in 2012, just a month after the family arrived in Abilene.
“When I saw the little ones, I immediately fell in love,” she said.
Maikranz and her husband, Edward, are the primary caregivers for the family. With assistance from the church, they provide necessities and sometimes take family members to doctor’s appointments or other places. The couple also are the godparents for the three girls now that they have been received into the church.
It seemed almost like a Christmas miracle a year ago when the Idris family realized they lived a little over a block from St. Luke, the church that had shown them so much love. Members attended the IRC Christmas party and presented gifts to the Idris family.
“A couple of weeks later, they showed up at our parish,” Maikranz said. “They have not missed a service since.”
A year later, that bond has grown even stronger and now the Idris family and the St. Luke family are one.
That bond made the connection between the Idris family and their new home complete. Through the interpreter, Ilunga said St. Luke has proved to be such a welcoming community of faith that his family is delighted to be a part of it.
“We will be happy to stay there a long, long time,” he said.
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