(This article originally appeared in the Spring 2021 issue of The ECHO Magazine.)
In the Bible, alpha and omega means “the beginning and the end.” For Daniel Gingrich (’78), that is certainly true of his relationship with people from all over the world. He is there at the beginning of their journey soon after they arrive in the United States. Through the Alpha & Omega Community Center (AOCC) in Lancaster City, he’s there throughout that journey and toward the end, when these families are settled, more at home and looking forward to a new life.
As an English as a Second Language (ESL) teacher for Alpha & Omega, Daniel’s experiences are global—but right here at home. “I have worked with students and families from Iraq, Nepal, Bhutan, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Sudan, Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda and Cuba,” he said.
Most of these families start their journeys in refugee camps before they arrive in faraway countries like the U.S. This process is usually a collaboration between United Nations agencies and local resettlement agencies like Church World Service and Bethany Christian Services. Once in a welcoming city like Lancaster, the refugees are supported by the resettlement agency for about nine months.
After that, the hope is that the families will have the essential tools and skills to meet their needs. However, Gingrich noted, “the actual process of adjusting to a new culture and assimilating can take years.” That’s why organizations such as Alpha & Omega offer additional support and tailor-made programs to help. Gingrich is instrumental in one of these programs called Computers for Refugees, which collects used, donated computers and upgrades both speed and operating systems before distributing to families.
“As an ESL teacher, I saw the importance of technology for language learning,” Gingrich said. “The problem we had at the time was that most of our students did not have access to computers, and we did not have enough to give out. I shared this with a friend, Stu Metzler, who was able to get me some old computers that needed upgrading. Stu loves tinkering with computers and that’s how we started the program in 2017.”
The refurbished computers have helped refugees, migrant workers and newly arrived immigrants as well as those displaced by Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico in the fall of 2017. Alpha & Omega especially reaches out to students in its ESL program.
Over the past four years, Computers for Refugees has distributed over 500 desktops, laptops, tablets and printers to individuals, families and organizations that work directly with refugees, immigrants and asylum seekers. The main criteria for distribution is the need of a computer to practice everyday communication, accomplish tasks like school and job applications as well as additional studies.
“We work with CWS and other centers like the Intermediate Unit 13 Refugee Center, Migrant Education Program and Career Link who have direct access with the refugees,” Gingrich said. “To get a computer, students are either referred by the agencies or are part of the ESL classes at AOCC. Once we get connected, the students have to indicate how they will benefit from it, and we provide the computer to them.”
Gingrich also has LBC | Capital connections through the Alpha & Omega program. He works closely with his “technical partner,” LBC | Capital Trustee Charles H. Kreider, who helps to both secure donated computers and personally perform the upgrades. Computers for Refugees has also received donations of laptops from LBC | Capital with the facilitation of Micah Story (’98), Senior Business Systems Analyst for the college.
Through Computers for Refugees, students and families receive an upgraded Windows 10 computer as well as bilingual dictionary and pre-installed websites uploaded by IU13 Refugee Center so they can learn and improve their English. Those who are looking to study nursing also receive additional relevant resources.
Gingrich, a Lancaster native, has always been interested in cross-cultural ministry and began his professional journey by taking cross-cultural ministry and ESL courses at Lancaster Bible College in the mid-’70s. “I always remember the words of one of my LBC professors, Professor John Winterstein. He told us that each of us is called to be full-time Christians no matter our occupation. Early on, I sensed my ministry as encouraging and coming alongside others—something along the lines of Barnabas, Aquila and Priscilla.”
After graduating from LBC in 1978, Gingrich enrolled in English education courses at Millersville University but suspended this endeavor as he took on family and work responsibilities. In 1996-97, he and his family served one year of short-term ministry in France, where he taught conversational English. Gingrich then returned to a previous corporate position. When the company was sold in the early 2000s, he headed back to Millersville, some 25 years after his initial studies in the early ’80s, to pursue an M.Ed. in English with the intention of working with adults. Gingrich began working with international students then shifted to immigrants as more resettled in Lancaster and began looking for employment and educational opportunities.
Though he does not force his faith on those he works with, Gingrich considers himself a farmer who cultivates lives and plants seeds that he has seen germinate as his students embark on a path of self-reliance.
(To learn about donating desktops and laptops with Windows Vista or 7 or newer or computer accessories such as keyboards, mice, monitors, cables, speakers, Wi-Fi adapters, cameras and tablets, connect with Alpha & Omega Community Center at alphayomega.us/contact. Sitawa Wufala (’22) contributed to this story.)