From Conflict in the Congo to Cycling the Cascades

will-4A year after arriving to the U.S., William found himself riding a bicycle up the steep roads of Mt. Rainier.  It was the beginning of a 400 mile journey he was taking to help other refugees like himself.  Years before, William and his younger sister and their aunt fled ethnic conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo.  They had fled to Uganda, but living as refugees was not a permanent solution for the small family. In Uganda, William studied English and looked for the little work that was available; the family waited.  They were waiting for a chance to move to Seattle and a new start.

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William riding along the 400 mile journey to Spokane – Photo Credit: Nathan Hadley

When William, his aunt, and sister arrived to Washington, they stayed with a local family in a Host Home before their own apartment was set up.  Later he was introduced to Sam, a student at Seattle Pacific University (SPU), who met with him each week to practice English and share their culture and lives with each other.  That wouldn’t be William’s last connection to SPU.  After improving his English in classes at World Relief, William got his first job in the U.S. and rode a donated bicycle rode to and from work every day like a true Seattleite.
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William’s bike-riding skill got him an invitation to join the second annual SEA-TRI-KAN: Ride for Refugee Employment bike team.  SEA-TRI-KAN riders travel from the World Relief Seattle office to our office in Tri-Cities before finishing the journey at World Relief Spokane.  Riders raise support and awareness for refugee employment in Washington State.

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A selfie moment with an SPU teammate – Photo Credit: Avery Parducci

Several of William’s teammates on the ride were from SPU’s cycling club.  They championed the cause of refugees on their college campus leading up to the ride.  Many of their classmates have been matched as Cultural Companions with families like William’s.  Toward the beginning of the ride, another rider noticed William struggling to navigate the gears on a newly borrowed bike.  Once that issue was fixed, William quickly shot to the front of the group.  William’s contagious smile and optimistic demeanor helped motivate the team all along their tough but rewarding ride. 

William,
Thanks for being an inspiration to all of us and helping to give other refugees the best opportunity to find their first job in America.

World Relief invites you to ride with refugees in 2017.  To learn more about SEA-TRI-KAN and how to ride or support a cyclist, please visit www.worldreliefseattle.org/stk

Let Every Heart Prepare Him Room

The following is a Christmas-time spiritual reflection by World Relief Seattle’s Interim Director, Luke Williams. 

The words of the well-known carol point to one of the primary questions of Christmas: Is there room in my heart for Christ? Particularly in the midst of the busy-ness, anxiety and consumerism of our modern world, so much can crowd out and clutter up the soul space Christ longs to fill.

When Jesus entered the temple and “drove out those who were buying and selling there, and overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves” (Mark 11:15-17), he quoted two Old Testament passages that have become important for us at World Relief Seattle. He contrasts the vision of “a house of prayer for all nations” found in Isaiah 56 with Jeremiah’s indictment of the “den of robbers” (chapter 7). Both passages speak strongly for inclusion of foreigners and against oppression of the most vulnerable.

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Luke greets a travel-weary refugee family at SeaTac Airport.

Now, I realize that clearing the temple isn’t a typical “Christmas story”. I’m not suggesting that you replace the nativity scene on your mantle with a statuette of Jesus chasing merchants and livestock with whip in hand. Yet, surely this is one key dimension of the incarnation: Jesus came to clean house. Further, in this particular story, I would argue that one reason, among many, that the marketplace in the temple courts so angered Jesus was simply that it got in the way. The outer courts were meant to be the place where God-fearing men and women from all nations could gather to worship the Lord. A bustling market is hardly conducive to the nations gathering for prayer.

Consistent with the special provisions and protections in the Old Testament around treatment of foreigners and other vulnerable people, Jesus consistently taught and acted in ways that challenge us to broaden our welcome. In fact, there are at least to ways in which Jesus personally identified with immigrants. First, before the age of two, he and his family fled to Egypt to escape political violence. Second, in the well-known parable recorded in Matthew 25, Jesus made the startling claim that whatever we do (or do not do) to the “stranger”, we do to him.

This Christmas season, in the spirit of cleaning house, I’m wrestling with a slight variation on the above question: Is there room in my heart and life for Christ to come as a refugee, as a foreigner, as someone very different than myself? As with any question worth pondering, it is best acted upon as well as reflected upon. The spiritual lessons and blessings of cross-cultural friendship can only be known by actually becoming friends. Hospitality is learned by giving and receiving it.

This Christmas, 5 local churches are serving as Good Neighbor Teams, a handful households have opened their doors to be hosts. 45 local volunteers are currently paired with newcomers as Cultural Companions. I trust they will find what my family has found to be true—making room is small sacrifice for the abundance we receive.

From all of us at World Relief Seattle, we wish you a very merry and roomy Christmas!

Joy to the world! The Lord is come.
Let earth receive her King
Let every heart
Prepare Him room
And heaven and nature sing
And heaven and nature sing
And heaven and heaven and nature sing

12 Days of Christmas Gifts

This year for the Christmas season, World Relief Seattle is inviting you to participate again in our annual 12 Days of Christmas Gifts. Each day between the 1st and the 12th, we will be collecting a different item that will be given directly to new refugee families.  These items range from Soccer Balls to Laptops and they will go a long way in making Seattle feel not just like another place families have fled to, but that this is now home and they are loved and welcomed by the local community here.

Soccer Balls and Coloring Books: Each year for our Refugee Christmas Party, World Relief Seattle gives away around 150 soccer balls to refugee youth who have arrived to Seattle in the last year.  We will also be giving coloring books and coloring supplies as well.
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Twin Sheet and Comforter Set: As the weather gets colder, we are asking for twin bedding.  Twin mattresses, box springs, bed frames, blankets and sheets are one of our largest needs each year.
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Rice Cookers: Rice is the staple food for more than 1.6 Billion people around the world particularly in Asia, Latin America, parts of Africa and the Middle East where many of our refugee friends are arriving from.  A high quality rice cooker can free parents up to spend more time with their children rather than spending time over a stove.
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Cookware Set: A new set of pots and pans will welcome families into their new kitchen as they prepare meals that are nourishing and familiar.

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Diapers…Size 3 and 4:  A new baby brings joy and happiness to a family and a lot of new expenses too.  When we sit down with families and go over monthly budgets, diapers always pop up as a huge expense that parents worry how to afford.
Diapers
Bed Frames:  We admit it.  There is nothing very exciting about twin bed frames.  But these are some of the hardest things for us to find in large quantities at an affordable price for families.  
Bed Frame
Baby Strollers:  Kids grow quickly and just like with the diapers, we have two different sizes of baby strollers on the registry.  With most of the items on the list we also take the gently used version and if you have an old stroller that you would like to donate to a family please contact our donations team at seattleGIK@wr.org or call (253) 277-1121 x233.
Stroller
Microwaves:  The apartments that families first move into have most modern amenities like a refrigerator, an oven and a stove, but they don’t come with microwaves.  A microwave isn’t a necessity, but it sure helps when you want to heat up some injera for an after school snack.
Microwave
Vacuums:  Keeping a home clean is a large part in making a new apartment feel safe and warm.  A vacuum is an essential piece of equipment and common ask for our donations team to find for new families.
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Infant and Child Car Seats:  Car seats are a necessary part of modern life and the transportation of newborns and young children.  They are also to put it mildly, very expensive.  Like diapers, strollers and clothing kids also grow out of them very quickly, which is whey we have added a few different sizes to our wish list.
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Pack and Play: A pack and play helps new parents watch over their young children in a safe space.  We know of several refugee mothers who are expecting in the coming weeks and months.  Please purchase this item with the matching mattress and sheet sold separately.
Pack and Play
Laptops:  A computer goes a long way in helping someone become self-sufficient here in the U.S. Kids can use it to do homework. Parents can use it to look for employment.  The whole family can use it to communicate with relatives back in their home country.
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We will be using an Amazon baby registry where you can purchase the items and have them shipped directly to our office.  If you already have a gently used version of the same item we are more than happy to accept those as well via our regular donations team which can be reached at seattleGIK@wr.org or by calling (253) 277-1121 x233.  A full list of all the household goods we furnish a home with can be found here.
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As a nation and as a community this holiday season, let us say to the refugee & the stranger among us: Welcome. There is Room. We wish you peace. 

Welcome a refugee family by making a gift to World Relief Seattle today.


When Hussein, Sabeeha, and their six children arrived to SeaTac Airport in August, it was the culmination of a years-long journey that spanned from Syria to Norway and many places in-between. IMG_5000.jpg

The journey began in their home in Baghdad, Iraq. Hussein and his seven brothers ran their own construction factories. “My family was so rich in Baghdad,” remembers Hussein.

When the US began its offensive in Iraq in 2003, the brothers were contracted to do construction projects for the American military, putting them in danger of retaliation from groups in opposition to the US. Two of Hussein’s brothers were killed by militants.

Fleeing the dangers that had claimed his brothers’ lives, Hussein brought his family from Baghdad to Syria, where they stayed for three years. It’s a period that Hussein doesn’t talk about much. “When we were in Syria we felt hungry many, many days,” he says.

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Seeking greater opportunity for his family, Hussein made the heart-wrenching decision to leave his wife and young children behind. He hoped to reach Europe and, upon establishing a safe life, to eventually bring them to join him.

Hussein found himself on an overcrowded boat from Turkey to Greece for three days. He remembers well the fear he felt in that moment: “You choose between two points. There is death here and death there. I just preferred the sea more than to return to Iraq and the horror”.

Surviving the harrowing boat ride, Hussein made it to Norway where he spent more than three years trying to gain legal residency. His efforts came to naught, though, when the Norwegian government deported him back to Iraq in November 2011.

Hussein reunited with his family in Baghdad, but his presence made it unsafe for them to stay. Again they fled, this time north to Turkey. Stuck between a homeland that couldn’t protect them and a neighboring country hesitant to welcome them, Hussein and Sabeeha felt desperate.

“Every night at that time, I just cried inside my bedroom,” he remembers. After several days waiting and a night spent on the streets at the border, the family was granted entry to Turkey.IMG_4963.jpg

Here they stayed for four more years, waiting on the extensive security screening process required for resettlement into the US. Sabeeha gave birth to their sixth child–a spunky little girl.  The older children learned Turkish and studied in school.

Finally, they received their visas to come to America.

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“I’ve spent a big period of my life looking for shelter,” says Hussein. “This is the end of my mission. I started my life from the beginning again.”

The family’s new life in America has been marked by struggle and generosity. The shortage of housing in King County meant that the family spent weeks waiting to secure an apartment they could afford. While they waited, they were warmly welcomed into the home of an American family who learned about World Relief through their church.

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Today, Hussein and his family are beginning to gain their footing in their new homeland. The teenagers are attending school and learning English. The oldest son, Omar, has a job doing auto detailing at the airport. The entire family is enjoying the security and warmth of a new apartment.

World Relief comes alongside newcomers like Hussein & Sabeeha, helping them learn English, get jobs, and become thriving members of their new community. 

Will you extend a warm welcome to a Seattle-area refugee family this holiday season? Give online today.

Veterans Day 2016—Sami’s story

When Sami talks about what motivated him to work with the U.S. military, one thing jumps out.

“I was interested to see what an American guy looked like. Are they like us?” he wondered.

You see, although he worked for the U.S. military, Sami isn’t American; he’s Afghan.

Sami (right) interpreted for the French and American military in Afghanistan

Sami (right) interpreted for the French and American military in Afghanistan

Sami learned English as a teenager and spent two years as an interpreter for French and American troops in Afghanistan. His work went far beyond just interpreting, though. Sami was often present in dangerous active combat conditions; his cultural knowledge helped American troops avoid even more treacherous situations.

For Sami and other interpreters, though, their work came at a cost beyond the battlefield. After he finished his service, Sami began receiving suspicious calls from unknown people asking for his address. One night, as he returned home from the gym, Sami was brutally attacked by three people and nearly died.

To protect these vulnerable veterans, in 2009 the U.S. began issuing Special Immigrant Visas (SIVs) to Afghans who worked for or on behalf of the U.S. government. Seven years later, 12,000 Afghan veterans—not to mention their families—are stuck in limbo and in danger as infighting in Congress leaves the program in jeopardy (NY Times).

Sami

For Sami, the wait to arrive to America lasted 18 months. Despite his long and traumatic path, he arrived to SeaTac Airport in July, eager to contribute to his new homeland.

Sami hit the ground running. Alongside the World Relief employment team, he found work within two months of his arrival to America.

“Sami’s personable and communicates well,” says World Relief employment specialist, Ellie White. “You can really see him succeed because of the way he interacts with people.”

Even as he builds a new life here, the repercussions of Sami’s U.S. military experience are still with him. He says that his greatest fear is that someone will take revenge on his three younger brothers who remain in Afghanistan.

Despite this worry, Sami is enjoying his new life in America. In his free time, he likes listening to classical guitar music and reading self-development books to continue to better himself. He’s already making plans to study accounting to one day become a CPA. Ultimately, he hopes that a degree will enable him to again bridge the gap between his first and second homelands.

“My life purpose is that Afghanistan should have mutual strategic business interests not just with the U.S. but with the rest of the world.”

Sami arrived to the Seattle Area in July

As we take time this Veterans Day to recognize the brave people who risk everything for our protection, I’d invite you to think about Sami and the thousands of others who are still in danger for their service to the U.S. military. What they lack in a common nationality, these men and women share in a mutual cause. As Sami put it:

“I thank the brave U.S. families who sent their sons [and daughters] who died in Afghanistan. If they are thankful for our service, we are more thankful to their sons [and daughters]. We are in one line against the same danger—fundamentalism. “

You can help welcome Afghans and Iraqis who have served alongside our forces by advocating for their families overseas who are still in danger.  Our hope is for them to be allowed to join their family members here in safety.  Visit worldreliefseattle.org/SIV to learn how you can help.

SEA-TRI-KAN -Day 5

This week, we will be bringing stories from our SEA-TRI-KAN bike riders who cycled across the state to raise awareness and support for World Relief’s refugee employment program.  They rode from our office in Kent to our office in Tri-Cities, then finished at our office in Spokane.

Author Bill Roberson, recreational cyclist

On day 1 we left our homes with our first destination in mind: a Boy Scout Camp in the Cascades Mountains. After a lunch and celebration in the sun, our spirits were high! After a few challenging hills, some traffic situations, and our first rest stop, the rain began. We continued to climb to the camp and it got colder and wetter as we rode. Most riders were not prepared for the conditions and arrived at camp soaked and chilled to the bone. We hit the community showers, hung our soggy clothes up to dry, and spent the night in bunk beds.

I had the thought that this is analogous to refugees who leave their homes and flee to a refugee camp. There is relief from a bad situation, but the journey is harrowing and the camp can also be crowded and sometimes dangerous. I thought of those who spend not one night, but decades in such a camp.

On Day 2 we started in cool weather, heading up to the top of Chinook Pass. It was a challenging ride, with temperatures dropping to near freezing with heavy fog and light snow on the top. Not everyone made it on their own power. But shortly over the pass began our long, downhill ride. The sun came out and soon our clothes dried. A lot of smiles. One of the support vans broke down, which created a lot of challenges for the team.

Day 3 started out as a lovely sunny day with all the cyclists together. Unfortunately, my riding partner, a very experienced cyclist who was well-prepared for the ride hit a root and crashed. Since we were in a tight group it was a miracle that no one else went down. While he took an ambulance to the hospital, the rest continued on, but with much greater caution. After seeing him safely to the hospital I rejoined the ride and joined a different group of riders. When discouraged they would begin to name all of the things they were thankful for. How cool?! I learned a lot. Spent the night in a hotel! Lovely! A surprise massage! How wonderful!

When refugees make their way to a new country for resettlement it can be a challenging journey. They cannot make it on their own. Upon arrival, life seems much better, but unforeseen challenges will always come up. When disaster strikes, it takes the help of others to get them back on track. And small acts of kindness go a long way!

Day 4 was our longest day at 113 miles. Back-to-back long days are a challenge for anyone! Some of the cyclists showed real grit to knock off the miles. Everyone needed encouragement to get through. There were flat tires and mechanical issues, but everything was handled well with the support of Steve (bike mechanic extraordinaire!). The forecasted strong winds appeared, but for the most part, they were tailwinds! Hallelujah!

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Grateful for some tailwinds, Bill cruises through the green hills of the Palouse.

With only 79 miles left, Day 5 felt like an “easy” day. The group was now hardened to challenges. With the goal in sight, thunderstorms with lightning rolled in and some of the group even had to seek shelter from hail! For safety reasons, we loaded up into the vehicles and drove the last couple of miles to finish our journey at World Relief Spokane.

Refugees are a very resilient people. They face challenges with determination that comes from experience. Even with the “end” in sight, it’s never easy. Assistance to meet education goals, get better jobs, find better homes, and make a better life for their children is like a “tailwind” of support from agencies and volunteers. As they work through things on their own, they are not doing it alone. 

Overall, I was happy to do SEA-TRI-KAN. The funds raised will be put to good use by World Relief to support employment opportunities for refugees facing enormous challenges. Separating from my dear friend and riding partner early in the journey was disappointing, but it encouraged me to get to know the other riders much better. Our short journey was a major challenge for all of the riders. The tenacity and perseverance show by so many to overcome significant obstacles was truly inspiring.

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A road-weary team celebrates 400 miles in 5 days upon their arrival at World Relief Spokane!

SEA-TRI-KAN -Day 4

This week, we will be bringing stories from our SEA-TRI-KAN bike riders who cycled across the state to raise awareness and support for World Relief’s refugee employment program.  They rode from our office in Kent to our office in Tri-Cities, then finished at our office in Spokane.

Author Garrett Berkey, an SPU student

Day 4: 109.8 miles, Tri-Cities to Endicott. Although we started together, it took some convincing to ride at the same pace today. We were like a community riding together–everyone had someone to ride with and we knew who to go to for each stretch of the way. There were the moral boosters, the pace-setters, the conversationalists, and the others in-between. We each found our individual pace and pushed on.

It was a long day, and it was punctuated by another long journey: the story of a woman who had come to Seattle as a refugee from Afghanistan. At each stop today we read through a part of her story and thought about it on the long, straight road. I spent a lot of today thinking about the things we see and read on the news. They are real. The terror that I hear about in the Middle East is something that people fear each day. This is the first time I heard a story like this about a real person and told on a personal level. It made the stories of all the people I had heard about on the news seem to jump out at me. I am so blessed to be in this safe place. I want to be able to help those who live in fear to instead thrive in this world.

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109 miles through the Palouse is easier with the encouragement of a supportive team.

While riding today, I pushed myself in many ways. Climbing the mountains and pushing the clock, I knew that I could only hold pace for so long. I only had so much in me. Maybe this is like a refugee running for her life? Tiring and seemingly never-ending? But then coasting into the flat lands, I reflected on how the support and encouragement of our little community helped me to push through. Maybe a refugee in America can move through challenges faster with a community to help them out.

Raising money for this program–and being that community of support for someone–is something that I am so glad to be doing.

Garrett was proud to wear the World Relief colors on the ride and hopes that others will be compelled to come alongside refugees fleeing a life of fear and hardship. 

SEA-TRI-KAN -Day 3

This week, we will be bringing stories from our SEA-TRI-KAN bike riders who cycled across the state to raise awareness and support for World Relief’s refugee employment program.  They rode from our office in Kent to our office in Tri-Cities, then finished at our office in Spokane.

Author Ann Janda, a World Relief enthusiast and passionate caregiver.

“Give and it will be given to you: good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be put into your bosom. For with the same measure that you use, it will be measured back to you” Luke 6:38

Day 3 of STK should have been easy.  After going over Chinook Pass on day two, I was mentally prepared for smooth sailing, even though it going to be 100 miles. What could be harder than Chinook Pass?

Our morning began beautifully: the sun was shining and breakfast was FANTASTIC. It felt wonderful to leave in the morning as part of the pack instead of trailing behind like I had for the last 2 days.

Ten miles in, I wondered when the seasoned cyclists were going to pull away from the beginners–our unity couldn’t go on forever. Within 5 minutes of this thought, it happened. As we passed under some lovely trees, one of our number hit a root the wrong way and tumbled to the ground. Man down! While the others swerved to miss the fallen biker, my first thought was “This is what I do!”. I have been a caregiver for several years and I know what to do when people are hurt.

As I ran over my heart skipped a beat–it was John. I had only just met him at breakfast! We prayed and helped to clean him up (his face was pretty beat up!) and I waited with him for the ambulance to meet us.

I didn’t feel like what I did was extraordinary. But just before he left to accompany John, Bill gave me a hug and expressed how touched he was by the way I had mothered John for those few minutes on the side of the road.

We continued on cautiously, but there was more to come. After lunch I began to experience excruciating knee pain. I knew things were getting bad when I went up one hill and Calilee had to physically push me just to make it to the top! I prayed over the idea of spending the rest of the day in the van–I can’t put into words how important it was for me to ride every mile–but I also knew that finishing would not be worth permanent knee injury. I took it slow.

When Bill rejoined the group, even though he was much faster that Calilee and I, he eloquently told us that he would rather bring up the rear with us than join the frontrunners. My knee pain that afternoon was continual and excruciating. We took our miles one by one. Bill stuck with us all day–helping us find restrooms in the middle of nowhere, giving us invaluable tips and cycling techniques, and even protecting us from dogs!

Calilee, Bill, and I finished Day 3! Praise the Lord! We ended our day at Old Country Buffet and had chair massages back at the hotel. I will forever be grateful to God for the dear friends I met through STK. Each day I learned major lessons and today the lesson was this: Give what you have. What may seem like very little to you may be just what someone else needs.

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Ann (middle) celebrates her accomplishment with her new friends Bill and Calilee