HOUSTON—When Margie Randall asked God what she should pray for one morning in 2006 at her home in Thailand, God brought to her mind one word—“Bhutan.”
The now-retired Southern Baptist missionary could not have imagined how it would change her life.
Today, her Loaves & Fishes ministry assists Bhutanese refugees as they establish lives in southwest Houston by offering food, clothing and transportation to medical appointments, among other services.
About the same time God first placed the people of Bhutan on her heart, the U.S. government began granting political asylum to Bhutanese refugees. Many of the ethnically Bhutanese had lived in eastern Nepal refugee tent camps since the 1990s and were subjected to torture, rape and physical deprivation. The government placed them throughout the United States, including thousands in southwest Houston.
In 2008, Randall and the Bhutanese refugees crossed paths the first time. After she retired from the foreign mission field, she moved to Houston, where the refugees relocated to a foreign land thousands of miles away from home.
She began serving the refugees out of the back of her car, as friends gave her used clothing and dishware she distributed to the Bhutanese who lived in a low-income apartment complex.
Randall’s ministry grew as people continued to donate items. When asked about the name of her ministry one evening at a church dinner, she responded with a reference to the miracle of Jesus feeding 5,000 men with five loaves of bread and two fish.
“It’s kind of like loaves and fishes,” she answered. “I don’t have anything. I just have to take everything I use and multiply it.”
In 2009, her Loaves & Fishes ministry became an established nonprofit organization.
She was amazed at how excited the people at the apartment complex were to receive used clothing. She also could not believe the diversity of people she saw there.
“It seemed like the nations were there,” she said.
Randall began to form relationships with the people in the apartment complex and listened to their stories of enduring brutality and violence in refugee tent camps in Nepal. She made it her priority to do everything in her power to make the transition from Nepal to the United States as seamless as possible for the Bhutanese refugees.
Although no longer subject to physical violence and oppression, she realized the refugees did not have an easy life in the United States. They lacked the ability to speak English well. Most were uneducated, without marketable skills, and had to settle for entry-level, minimum-wage jobs in the Houston area.
Most arrived in the United States already in debt. Each refugee, including children, had three years to pay off a $1,500 loan that covered their flight to the United States.
Union Baptist Association, noted the needs of the refugees have developed over time. Whereas five years ago their primary necessity was clothing, Bhutanese refugees currently need more help with practical day-to-day activities. Many don’t have reliable transportation, so Randall and volunteers take the refugees to their jobs and medical appointments.Randall, who serves as a missionary appointed by
Volunteers at Loaves & Fishes teach two English-as-a-Second-Language classes and children’s Bible studies. One volunteer recently began to teach Bhutanese refugees American Sign Language.
The organization has no paid staff or office location, but the owners of the St. Cloud housing complex allow Randall space in one apartment as a donation room, free of charge. The 10-foot by 10-foot room is stocked with everything from clothing, to rice and lintels, to diapers and baby wipes.
Once a month, Loaves & Fishes distributes laundry soap, dish soap and toiletries and also has a massive clothing distribution. Every week, it gives away diapers, baby wipes, toilet papers and paper towels to refugees seeking to provide for their families.
Every month, Loaves & Fishes serves between 200 and 225 people.
Partner organizations include Union Baptist Association and Kingsland Baptist and First Baptist churches in Katy, Sugar Creek Baptist Church in Sugar Land, Jersey Village Baptist Church in Jersey Village, and Chinese Baptist and Asian American Baptist churches in Houston.
Texas Baptists around the state also help support the ministry through their gifts to the Texas Baptist Hunger Offering.
Randall and volunteers seek to share the love of Jesus in everything they do for the refugees. Most are Hindu; some are Buddhist. The ministry’s primary evangelistic outreach is through its Kid’s Club ministry, but even then, volunteers are careful to show respect to the children’s elders and their religious sensibilities.
The relationships Randall has formed with the Bhutanese people surpass anything she ever could have imagined. She thanks God he allowed her to befriend the Bhutanese people.
“I’ve been blessed more than I could ever say I have ever blessed anybody,” she said. “I just feel so comfortable with them. It’s like they are my extended family. I can’t fathom what that must really be like coming from their point of view. So, I count it a privilege I can serve any way at all and be their friend.”
Editor’s Note: The 3rd paragraph from the end was edited after the article was originally posted to reflect more accurately the religous background of the Bhutanese refugees.