My Neighbors Think We’re Crazy: Reflections From the Refugee Welcome House

Ellie; PlantingNine months ago, my partner and I moved into what has become known as the Refugee Welcome House (RWH). The RWH is a residential space on the Kent East Hill designated for the purposes of community building and refugee integration with the local community. The house is currently a partnership between Kent Covenant Church (KCC) and World Relief Seattle. One of the primary goals has been to create a safe space for people from different backgrounds to interact and build mutually-transformative relationships.

Over the past several months, we have hosted movie and game nights, container gardening classes, fellowship group meetings, volunteer and intern trainings, job club meetings, family-style dinners, and even a baby shower for an Eritrean woman thrown by her American-born friend. Over 500 refugees, volunteers and community members have connected with one another in this humble, 1000 sq ft house. We have temporarily hosted 22 refugees for various reasons – mostly because they needed a place to stay for a couple of nights. Just last week, we hosted a family of seven from Colombia. Last month, we had a BBQ with almost 100 people in attendance from what felt like just as many countries. Summer BBQ

Living here has been quite an adventure, to say the least.

As many of you know, the heart of community development work often translates into doing dishes and mopping the floor. To be candid, we are often tired and weary from all the activities, not to mention our full-time jobs. Sometimes I retreat to our room and binge on some trivial show on my computer. (Anyone else watching The Newsroom?)

And yet, we are convinced that it is a great privilege to be in this place. We can tell you compelling stories of families who have defied the odds and escaped repressive regimes, only to find themselves sipping tea in our living room. We’ve shared in the joy of first jobs, new-born babies, and families reunified after many years apart. Unfortunately, we can also tell you sad, difficult stories of individuals who have struggled to find community in a nation who often fails to welcome their neighbors.

Speaking of neighbors, one of our biggest regrets has been our inability to spend time with the people right next door – most of whom have lived in this neighborhood for their entire lives. Our neighborhood is a rapidly gentrifying place with a diverse mixture of people who have lived here for many years alongside others who are just arriving from all over the world. Those who have lived here for awhile must think we are absolutely crazy – with all the coming and going of cars (World Relief’s 12 passenger van can look a little sketchy) and vibrant, multi-cultural parties. We have the looks of some type of multi-ethnic, drug smuggling ring. (See, I told you I’ve been watching too many TV shows.)

The RWH has funding for the remainder of the year, and we are currently looking for more partners to continue the project. If you or your faith or civic community is interested in partnering with World Relief Seattle, please contact Luke Williams at (253) 277-1121.

Like most of the grand initiatives to be birthed from our office in the last 30 years, this project was originally the idea of Cal Uomoto. His photo hangs in the house as a tribute to work he started and that continues to multiply each day. We miss you, Cal.

This post was written by Stephen Johnson, Employment Specialist at World Relief Seattle. Stephen, and his wife Whitney, currently live in the RWH as live-in hosts and facilitators. 

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