For newcomers to the Midwest, a bicycle can be a key to survival. At least that's what Nazareth Lutheran Church, Cedar Falls, Iowa, learned as members began helping Bosnian refugees resettle three years ago.
While Nazareth provided the families such basic necessities as food, shelter and clothing, transportation kept arising as a problem. "Everything here is so far away and we have a limited metro system," said Bernie Huss, who was ministry coordinator during the program's first years.
Nazareth member Cindy Dodd provided the solution: bicycles.
"It just clicked," she says. "The Bosnians come into town and they can't drive." Many arrive with no experience behind the wheel; others can't afford a car right away, she says.
Dodd, a charter member of Cedar Valley Cyclists, knew the bike club could help. "We always had an accumulation of old bikes that were too good to throw away," she says. Through Nazareth, the club has refurbished and given to Bosnian newcomers about 150 bikes so far.
Along with providing transportation, the bicycles serve as a comforting link for the Europeans. "Bicycling is part of their heritage from Bosnia," Dodd says.
Mirsa Rudic, a Bosnian who remembers having three bicycles, agrees: "Usually we didn't need a car. In our country we walk." Now living in Cedar Falls, Rudic, her husband and their 8-year-old daughter, Kristina, received bicycles last summer. "I ride the bicycle from the apartment to the community college [where I study English]," she says.
Until recently, Rudic's husband rode his bicycle to work, but it was stolen. With a $500 donation from Aid Association for Lutherans, the club now will provide locks with each bike.
Dodd says some of the bike recipients have shown their thanks by donating money to the cycle club, often saying, "Here, put it toward bikes for others."
Providing bicycles is just one way Nazareth members say they fulfill Christ's command to help the needy and welcome the stranger, something for which the refugees are deeply grateful. "They care about us," Rudic says.
© 2015 Augsburg Fortress, Publishers