Written by Andrew Hays, Investments Coordinator at World Relief
Loren and Karen Marston have a good-sized yard that wraps around their house. When I came to visit on a recent day with temperatures reaching into the 80s, Loren was out amongst the trees, sprucing things up.
“I don’t have a pretty garden,” he said.
But apparently, he does have a popular one.
A week before our meeting, Loren was gathered with others at World Relief’s Welcome Home when he got a call. It was a refugee friend from Afghanistan with a request: could he and a group of Afghan friends have a picnic in the Marstons’ yard…tonight? The park where they’d planned to meet was closed. Loren agreed.
He left his meeting early and returned home to a small crowd of men and boys setting up their picnic. “There were about six cars when I pulled up,” Loren recalled. More showed up, and soon the Marstons’ yard was playing host to more than 30 guests. Loren strung up a shop light so that the picnic could continue after sunset. It was close to midnight when the last guests drove away.
“Strange things happen,” Loren said with a smile.
The Marstons will tell you that opening their lives—and their home—to refugees isn’t something that came easily.
“We had to grow into this,” Karen laughed as she recalled their early interactions with refugees.
Over the years, they hosted families that were resettled by World Relief Seattle, first from countries such as Burundi and Congo and more recently from Afghanistan and Iran. The day that I visited them, the Marstons had friends from Afghanistan staying in their basement.
But it was a partnership between their church, Faith Kent, and the local school district that spawned the Marstons’ most recent work with refugees.
Church members volunteered in an English program for refugee students at the elementary school across the street from Faith Kent. When the program’s funding dried up at the end of the 2014 school year, Faith Kent began hosting classes on site at the church through the summer.
What started with school children soon grew to include their parents and siblings. In total, Faith Kent hosted two elementary classes, young children’s care, ESL classes for parents, and a class for middle school and high school students.
Classes continued for the next six months at a local apartment complex where many of the students lived, but space constraints proved problematic. Faith Kent volunteers got into contact with the local school district and were able to secure a building across the street from several apartment complexes that are home to many refugees in the area. One evening a week, they offer activities for the children and English practice time for their parents.
Connections in the classes often occur naturally. “It’s not like we had a plan of what was going to happen,” said Loren, referring to the bonds that have developed between the refugees and volunteers. Now one year on, several American volunteers visit their new refugee friends outside of class on a regular basis.
Connections can also be unexpected. The day before I met with the Marstons, a public health nurse showed up to volunteer for the first time this year. Much to her surprise, she was greeted by hugs from students who she had previously helped in her work with them as expectant moms.
As Loren put it, “Strange things happen.”
If you’re interested in befriending or volunteering with refugees in King County, there are always people in need of friendship and community. Check out some local volunteering opportunities or email the Volunteer Coordinator at firstname.lastname@example.org. Find your place in the story!