In Memory of Cherie Gray

“Only a moment you stayed, but what an imprint your footprints have left on our hearts.”
Dorothy Ferguson

We continuously remember one who will remain in our hearts eternally: our founder Cherie Gray. This can be very difficult for many as we remember the loss of our dear Cherie. We grieve with those who knew her in their on-going sorrow. Not only is Cherie in our thoughts but so are her family members and all of the lives that she touched.

Cherie was truly a great woman of God. Someone so uniquely special could never be forgotten. We hope that you take comfort in the memory of the life she lived, the lives impacted by her devotion to God, and the support and prayers of the many impacted by Cherie. We are filled with joy to share these stories from loved ones. Her life and legacy continues to be an inspiration and driving force for all of us at TRM.

Sandi met Cherie and immediately there was a connection for we too had worked with refugees in Asia. Knowing Cherie as we all do it wasn’t long until we were introduced and invited to participate in TRM. We attended English Camp in Sierra Vista and there met Musadaq and Raja Alsawari, refugees from Iraq. A friendship with Daq and his family ensued that endures to this day. It has matured through the process of integrating since. We feel we are part of the family, experiencing both the happiness and sadness of their family. We have been involved in most everything TRM has done over the past 10 years. Sandi traveled with Cherie over 21 days from Arizona to the East Coast on an extensive speaking tour seven years ago. Tom served on the TRM board 2 years as president. One of our pleasures was introducing Jim Brumme to the TRM board hoping he would become its President. We also introduced TRM to the church we attended and promoted TRM at other churches and ministries. Being involved with Cherie has been a joy and a challenge.

I moved to Tucson after serving as a teacher in Africa for 2.5 years. I soon learned about the large local refugee population and was so excited to connect with Africans here in the U.S.. This interest led me to Tucson Refugee Ministry’s info session. I was so drawn to the vision of TRM and Cherie’s passion to welcome the nations at our doorstep that my husband and I immediately signed up to be connected with a family who had recently arrived. 

Soon after that TRM training, we met Gilbert and Gentille and their young son who had recently resettled from the Democratic Republic of Congo. And what a connection that was! Although they didn’t know a lot of English at first, we quickly bonded and are still connected today. Over the past 6 years, we’ve experienced the joys of new children, the sadness of loss and the reunification of a long-lost child as well as many other daily ups and downs. Gilbert has told us more than once that we are his family here, and we certainly feel the same. They have so faithfully encouraged, supported and prayed for us for many years.

That relationship has been a huge blessing and is such a testimony to TRM and the difference that one connection can make. I’ve spent years as a TRM volunteer and staff member but it all began with one connection: a name, face, and story that changed my life.

Cherie was an exemplar of seeing Jesus in every person. She was and continues to remain a beautiful example of what it means to follow Jesus.

Our Cherie, oh how we miss her! We lost a bright and shining light and a thoughtful and precious friend, who will never to be forgotten. Her smile as she left us reminds us that this world is not our home and that our ships will one day sail on to Glory.

Cherie marched fervently to the beat of God’s own heartbeat, calling out her banner cry to the church to embrace and fight for the ones ignored by the world, those who have no voice: the refugees who come to our doorstep. We will never forget her love for Jesus and her passion for embracing those forcibly displaced. She tirelessly blazed an uncharted course, to rescue those drowning: the world’s cast offs in the sea of despair and loneliness, throwing them a life buoy, welcoming them aboard with hope, love, and life anew. Cherie, our fearless captain, overcame the choppy seas of adversity with her rallying cry to the church for such as these, from countless nations, those we have embraced and who have become our family.

We carry on at the helm, still sailing these seas, our new neighbors on our ship, with more coming aboard! Our hearts still ache and long for her trademark heartwarming smile to be with us, to share our joys and new discoveries, and also the heartaches of our continued journeys together as only she could truly understand.

She set the course, our vibrant and valiant navigator, and we sail on with her impassioned heart cry still propelling our ship. She altered the course of our lives forever.

But alas, we look onward towards the new horizon on high where we will join her for all eternity in praising our risen Lord Jesus Christ in glory! Where there will be no more suffering, no more pain. What a day that will be! Yes, what a day that will be.

My wife Carol and I met Cherie through the Refugee Roundtable. She had such a great heart for refugees. Her passion for them extended beyond meeting their practical needs. She wanted them to know the same Jesus who was such a powerful influence in her life and who she is now with in eternity. She was an inspiration to both of us. May her legacy of sharing Jesus with refugees live on and grow!

I remember Cherie coming to visit our Ladies’ 10:45 Adult Bible Fellowship class at Casas Church that I attended from 2005-2008 while living in Tucson. I seem to remember that she (and possibly a friend) had shared about a trip overseas. I was so encouraged and asked her to pray for my many Muslim friends. Also, she helped me to share the Gospel with my best friend, Muntaha, who is from Jordan, by helping me to translate a beautiful booklet she had put together for Muslim women called, “You are a Beloved Daughter.” I will never forget her beautiful smile and tender spirit and inspiring faith and love for our wonderful Savior, Jesus Christ! I began receiving emails for TRM and pray as often as God leads me for this very important ministry God lead Cherie to begin so many years ago. My prayers go up for all who knew and loved this beautiful woman of God.

I can’t believe over a year has passed since Cherie’s death. I miss you dear sister, I am remembering you when I am going to the places we went there with our friends.

Allah blesses your soul dear.

In January, when I bought my 2020 old fashioned paper Calendar, I sat down to transfer dates of birthdays, write new events, and reminisce on the events from 2019. It takes just a short amount of time to look at birthdays and gatherings of all different sorts, but I always do it alone, when it’s just me. My paper calendar becomes a personal reflection of how God has worked in my life the previous year. I find myself laughing, sighing and remembering.

This time, I took a deep breath when I turned the calendar to May. It seems just like a few months ago that we celebrated Cherie’s 50th birthday. In May would have been 52. When she passed she was 51 years young. What will my life look like at 51? I continued along in my calendar, flipping each page to another month. June 2019 was such a full month, so much going on with the wedding and graduations. I started counting…how many more months did Cherie have on earth after June of 2019? The answer is 3 and ½ months. It was impossible to know that last June how much longer Cherie would be with us, but she made it through all of the hot summer and into the Fall, her most cherished time of the year. When I turned the pages to October I began to recount the last week of her life. It’s that last week that always gets me in the heart, makes me breathe deep, sigh, and start writing on the square of October 18th: CHERIE’S DEATH. The words were surreal. That day I wondered what it would be like for me and mom and dad on the first anniversary of her death. No words.

In May, we spread her ashes and tears were shed. I missed her, the old Cherie, the one that wasn’t sick and in pain. There was a sense of finality, just as I felt the day of her death. I decided not to write the spreading of the ashes on my calendar. That will be a moment I keep in my heart, not on paper.

Today was the Lord’s Day. It was also the anniversary of Cherie’s death. Most importantly, though, it was the Lord’s Day; a day set aside to worship our Maker, the Giver of Life. Today would have been way different if it wasn’t Sunday. Today I got to cry on the shoulders of friends because we were together at church. And today, as I sang songs of praise to God, hope was present. In His timing, the first anniversary of Cherie’s death was on a Sunday. That was truly a gift from God. On a day when my heart is heavy, God is faithful. As the tears fell, I was singing. It was a good place to be.

Cherie’s life had many impacts on people and the refugee community. It wasn’t so much about her, but about what could be.

Many of her plans were hatching that just needed some encouragement from volunteers and then they would fly!

The summer Kids Kamp, Airport welcomes, Ramadan activities, Tucson-wide training for refugee workers, the People of Peace, the Arizona Refugee Workers gathering each year, the national level of refugee policy and actions in the Refugee Highway Partnership.

Here is to honor Cherie, and also the current and past volunteers in the “pots” she touched.

Cherie taught me that the power of a focused life can accomplish much. She led a 3 hour equipping time and I experienced first hand the power of her focus. She is unquestionable Christian, winsome, and a follower of Jesus. I see the same power of focus in TRM’s current leader, Jennifer Tompkins.

Keep up the good work.

Cherie was a beautiful gift for our Social Awareness and Justice Ministry at Santa Catalina Catholic Parish. About 3 years ago, she came with her glorious smile and introduced us to who refugee ares, what they went through to make it to a safe country, what are their needs and how we can be of help…Thus was born our Refugee Ministry. Because of Cherie our lives were enriched by our involvement with refugees and we dearly miss her.

I only met Cherie on two different occasions, but I was deeply impacted by the way she radiated Jesus’ love and joy! She lived to serve. Not only in TRM, but in the countless daily needs of those around her. Her life was a living sacrifice for our King! May her memory continue to inspire us to imitate her as she imitated Christ!