Category Archives: Reflections

A Happy Birthday of Sorts

The following is a reflection by Liz Hadley, World Relief Employment Specialist. Names have been changed for privacy.

I brought a handful of daffodils to dinner–ones I had picked from the side of the rode en route to the apartment. I wanted to bring something to celebrate.

I knocked on the door, offered my handful of flowers and a hug to my friend, and then watched as her youngest child teetered around the living room. “She’s walking now!” I thought. The first time I had heard about this little one, she was mere months old, in hiding, and living far from her mom.

Our dinner tonight is a birthday dinner of sorts. Sayida calls this day her “new birthday”: it’s the day she was granted asylum and her life started over.

A year ago, I remember seeing her in our office for the first time. I had heard of a female asylee from Afghanistan being released from the Immigration Detention Center in Tacoma…and then I met her in front of the copier and fax machine. She was strong and relieved, but also anxious.

I remember holding in my hands the threatening letters from the Taliban that were posted on Sayida’s door back home. I remember her telling me that while in detention, she prepared her own asylum case by telling her story to an Iranian woman who translated it into English for a Congolese woman who then wrote it down in English. All three of them were awaiting their court hearing, all three of them believing in one another. I remember crying with her as she told me how old her children were, how they had to split the children up for safety, and how the youngest one should still have been nursing. I remember I couldn’t tell her if or when her family would be able to come.

 

Today I sit at their American-style dinner table and smile at how her husband, Mustafa, is patiently feeding the little one and leaning over to laugh and ask Sayida (again) what I’ve just said. And I’m in love with the joy and positivity of their journey. When I took her to her first job interview, she explained to the manager that she was an engineer in Afghanistan and had worked on water projects to help women in her country grow vegetables. I was so proud of how she communicated her own strength and story.

I remember bringing her a roll of bread while she worked her way through the company’s AutoCAD interview test…she hadn’t eaten all day but was intent on showing the company what skills she had to offer. And this interview turned into an internship, and the internship turned into a job, and now everyday she carpools with two other Afghans to work with the engineering team.

In the Fall I remember meeting her for coffee near her workplace and asking about an update…any news on her family? Nothing yet.

And I remember the text I received 2 months ago that read “I have good news. My family visas  issued” and then a week later a picture of all of them together at the airport.

I met her at our office by the copier and fax machine again, but this time everything was different. Her 1 year old in her arms and the older two in tow, she introduced me to Mustafa: the man who had supported her engineering work all along, who had phoned her to tell her it wasn’t safe to come back to Afghanistan, who had cared for their children while she sought asylum, and who had waited nearly a year to be all together in safety.

And now at dinner Mustafa pulls out a stack of old photos for me to riffle through–small memories of their life before–he practices the little English he knows, and laughs with his children who are all learning to be siblings again. He cares for the two youngest while Sayida goes to work during the week and he’s prepared us dinner tonight. When I ask him how things are, he tells me “America is good!” with a laugh and a smile.

We talk about how much a year has held – how much has happened to their family.

Today marks a year of freedom for Sayida, but only a mere 2 months for her family. “But everything is good, thanks God” she tells me as she pours tea and reminds me that I can sleep on the couch tonight since Seattle is so far away.

I decline the couch surfing option but take the tea, and thank God also for the strength and joy this family has given me.

Join us in Empowering Women like Sayida

 

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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

Their dreams

The following is a reflection by Calilee, a smart and spunky AmeriCorps member who teaches English to newcomers at World Relief and cares deeply for the success of her refugee students and friends. In honor of Martin Luther King Jr., the English classes had a writing activity in which they interpreted their own “I have a dream…” statements. 

I stood in front of my English students getting goosebumps up and down my arms as I read the speech that Martin Luther King Jr. gave on August 28, 1963. “I have a dream” I read aloud, “that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.” I am from Georgia. I have read this speech and have learned about Martin Luther King Jr. many times over the years, but the story of who this man was and the message that he brought to our country had never impacted be like it did during this particular class.

Our program participants have left their homes to find refuge for various reasons. One student explained that she came to America because her mother “has dark skin and curly hair, so people treated her badly.” I am sure there was more to the story than that, but truth was that this young, intelligent woman came to a new country so that her mother could live in a place were she wasn’t defined by her differences. We sat around a large plastic table, with our varying nationalities, speaking the only language we are all fluent in–broken English–and talked about how this was once a much larger issue that separated Americans from each other.I have a dream 6

My students were more engaged than I have ever seen them in any other writing activity. They have dreams that one day they will be able to find a stable country where they and their families will be safe. They dream that they will have a house of their own and find a job that can help sustain their families. They dream to return to school. They dream that one day they might contribute to our society and demonstrate their thankfulness for the assistance we have provided. Some even dream that one day it will be safe to return to where they fled from–they want to help the rest of the world fix what is broken.

These are our friends and our neighbors. God has called us to love them, to welcome them, and to stand beside them. These are their words: some of the structure has been lost in translation, but their dreams and ideas are evident. I hope you will take a moment to read through what they have to say.

I have a dream 3

“…to be some[one] with a kind heart and helpful to everyone”

I have a dream 2

“One day I will be 70 years old….I will be sitting in sunlight with all the grandsons around”

I have a dream 1

“Ukraine will be [a] good country where people can live and have equal rights”

I have a dream 5 I have a dream 4

I have a dream 7

 

Tireless friend of refugees

Lloyd Merry Evans, a dear friend of refugees and of the World Relief family, passed away on November 17, 2015.

Lloyd’s service to refugees began in the late 1990’s when his church, Maple Valley Presbyterian, sponsored a Kurdish family of refugees. As Lloyd remembered it, “My church friends invited me to a picnic with the Kurdish family. I wasn’t really interested.” But he had no other plans so he went to the picnic and was moved by the family’s story of arrival to the U.S. Through this experience, he found out about refugees’ need for furniture and household goods for their first apartment in America.

From then on, Lloyd was known as “the Furniture Guy” to everyone at World Relief. He volunteered for more than a decade and helped furnish apartments for literally thousands of refugees. As his former World Relief colleagues, Lidija Rudenky, remembers, “Lloyd loved refugees and often he would be the first from the American community to visit them upon their arrival, deliver household items and befriend them for life.

Lloyd

Lloyd volunteered for more than a decade and helped to furnish apartments for literally thousands of people

Lloyd did the physically demanding work of picking up and delivering furniture donations into his late sixties, oftentimes logging more than 50 hours a week—all as a volunteer. He was recognized for his service with the Jefferson Award from the American Institute for Public Service. This award is given to “an ordinary person who does extraordinary things for others.”

But Lloyd did more than deliver furniture. He opened up his life to refugees in so many ways. His World Relief coworker, Nataliya Semeshchuk, recalls once when a Ukrainian refugee family arrived and–with no prior notice–needed a place to stay for their first days in the country. Without hesitation, Lloyd offered his home. This sort of joyful generosity is something that Lloyd’s World Relief friends remember as typical.

Even after he finished delivering furniture at World Relief, Lloyd continued to serve refugees. He sold his truck to the organization for a fraction of what it was worth so that the work of delivering furniture to refugees could carry on. He also continued to visit refugee families on a regular basis. He had a special heart for Iraqis and Kurdish people, in particular. Because of his incredible service, he was given the name “Shwan” by the Kurdish community, which means, “The Shepherd.”

Lloyd

“I’m busy. No time to get old!”

One thing that all of Lloyd’s World Relief colleagues remember about him was his sense of humor. One former colleague, Antonina Bozhko, remembers that whenever someone commented that Lloyd was doing the work of a much younger man in moving furniture, he’d smile and reply, “I’m busy. No time to get old!” It must have been this sense of humor, surmised another former colleague, which enabled Lloyd to do his work in the face of such incredible need.

All of us at World Relief extend our deepest condolences to the Evans family and join them in mourning their loss, while also celebrating Lloyd–a joyful and tireless friend of refugees. We praise God for this good and faithful servant!

 

 

 

A Christian Conversation about Refugees

by Damon Schroeder, World Relief Director for US Integral Mission

Like a tsunami, waves of terror from the Paris attacks are crashing upon American shores. Valid questions pour in about the U.S. refugee resettlement screening process. Securing personal safety – in the face of sometimes overwhelming fear – drives these understandable questions.

Answers are not difficult to come by; but not every answer is actually grounded in the facts. Ideological agendas have seeded an answer-seeking rumor mill that spreads myths-as-fact via social media. As Charles Spurgeon quipped, “A lie can travel halfway around the world, while the truth is still putting on its boots.”

Church leaders like Leith Anderson, President of the National Association of Evangelicals, have called for reasonable security combined with Christian compassion, “Of course we want to keep terrorists out of our country, but let’s not punish the victims of ISIS for the sins of ISIS.” “It is completely right to ensure that the United States have a strong process to discern who are truly refugees and who are trying to take advantage of refugees,” says Russell Moore of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, but “we cannot love our neighbors at the same we’re standing aside and watching them be slaughtered.”

Screening out terrorists is imperative and is the responsibility of our country’s national security agencies. That said…as Christians, what is our unique responsibility as followers of Jesus in all of this? What should we be most concerned about – should it be our safety?

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Our biblical identity makes us Christians first and Americans second – not the other way around.

Let’s take a step back. What if we moved from a security-centered refugee conversation to a Jesus-centered refugee conversation? It might look like exploring the Scriptures surfaced in Relevant Magazine’s article, “What the Bible Says about How to Treat Refugees.” It might also look like Christians in the West learning from Christians in the majority world who face terror and persecution daily as explained in the Christianity Today article, “Terrorists are Now the Persecuted Church’s Greatest Threat.” It might look like Christians asking the question, “What is God up to?” like the Desiring God blog that sees a sovereign God purposefully bringing the nations (rather than fear) to our shores.

A Jesus-centered refugee conversation might cause us to remember that we are in fact following a Middle Eastern Refugee Savior whose family fled a genocide to Egypt. We might remember that our biblical identity as “strangers and aliens” here on earth makes us Christians first and Americans second – not the other way around.

A Jesus-centered refugee conversation might look like learning how to follow a God who “did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all” (Romans 8:32). This same sacrificial God commands us to “welcome the stranger” and “love him [the immigrant] as yourself” (Leviticus 19:34).

As the tides of terror wash up on your emotional shores, make sure your fears are not being whipped up by rumors or by a loss of focus on Jesus the Refugee. Following Him as we welcome Muslim Syrian refugees into our homes and hearts might be the courageous mission He is inviting us to join.


Washington welcomes refugees!

If you live in the Puget Sound Region and would like to welcome refugees into our community, you can:

  • Build a Welcome Kit
  • Donate to provide resettlement services for the newest arrivals
  • Call or email your Senator and Congressional representatives to let them know that you support refugee resettlement in Washington and want to continue to see our State as a safe refuge for people fleeing terrorism and persecution.We Welcome Refugees Hashtag

The People in the Masses

Sofia recently worked with refugees as an AmeriCorps member at World Relief Seattle, getting to know people as they looked for their first jobs. World Relief is grateful for her service and her insightful perspective.

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By Sofia

People are paying attentionsyria sunset to refugees. When I scroll through my Facebook feed, in between the selfies and #tgif’s, there are stories, and articles, and calls to action about the high number of refugees around the world and the fact that something needs to be done to help. There are stories about the people who have drowned on boats, who are stuck in Serbia, or Hungary, the children without families, or the people who have been granted asylum but still have a long journey before they feel at home in their new countries. These stories are true, and they are important. People deserve to have their stories told.

Yet, I feel uncomfortable.

I feel uncomfortable because there is a disconnect between the stories in the media and the refugees and asylum-seekers whom I know and have worked closely with throughout the past year. Many of the people I know…

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On privilege

The following is a reflection by Emily, a very talented World Relief Seattle resettlement intern.

I sometimes wonder if I possess natural talents that I don’t even know about. Like maybe I have innate soccer-playing abilities that were never harnessed, or an inborn knack for speed cup-stacking, but the opportunity to discover this talent never presented itself when I was growing up. (Technically, the soccer one did have the opportunity to shine, but I’m told that 5-year-old Emily was more interested in the food on the sidelines than the game on the field.)

I think about “what if” often–what if I had been exposed to this or pursued that, or given that cup stacking thing a try–how might my life have been different? But then I realize how luxurious and rare it is to even wonder if I have “untapped speed cup stacking potentialWhat a privilege that I can even entertain such thoughts!

I recently saw this thought-provoking post by “Humans of New York” floating around Facebook. It was a quotation reflecting on how the lives or refugees in Iraq have been affected by recent events:

“They have no place to be a child, so their only frame of reference is war and fighting. And when that’s all they know, how can they grow up to be doctors and teachers? All they can possibly know is the desire for revenge and hatred for their enemies. I wish people would understand that Iraq is filled with intelligent, civilized people. This was the cradle of civilization in the ancient world. Even the Garden of Eden was here. These aren’t dust-covered, nameless refugees being forced from their homes. The refugee camps are filled with architects and musicians and teachers.”

Growing up, my basic needs were a given. My thoughts had room to frolic, to entertain big dreams, and to get full of knock-knock jokes. I wondered what my next meal would be, but never questioned that it would exist. I fussed over which college I’d go to and what I’d study, but never questioned that I would be able to go. The thought never even crossed my mind that a given grocery store might not carry a shampoo for my hair type. And I have never feared for my safety because of my faith; no, I’ve always gotten to be picky about where I worship, and sip a latte while I do it.

Photo credit "Humans of New York"

Photo credit “Humans of New York”

Several months ago, with the “Humans of New York” quote floating in my head, I had my first encounter with refugees. Since then, I’ve been humbled, and have had many of my stereotypes about this population broken down. I’m not a fan of generalizations, but one you could perhaps apply to refugees is that they all have untapped potential, stalled by anything from access to basic nutrition to personal political affiliations.

The quote about the Iraqi people took on a completely new meaning when there were 4 faces attached to it–a family whose past circumstances appear to have so starkly suppressed the individuals they could have been. My gut reaction was pity, but pity isn’t the right response. Pity is an emotion of the “haves” for the “have-nots” that allows the former to still “have”. It’s a feeling that reinforces a hierarchy.

Above all, these people deserve dignity.

I’ve not always been one with swelling pride for being an American, nor have I been shy to express as much (this, too, is a privilege). But for many refugees, America represents freedom, potential, dignity, and an opportunity for growth where before it was suppressed.

I’m still trying to figure out how to respond to my privilege, but I recognize that I don’t want to be part of a game where winner takes all. I can mourn the untapped potential, innovation, and creativity of millions of people like those referenced in “Humans of New York”. I can continue to seek out conversations that open my eyes to the realities of the world, and I can try my best to dignify everyone I meet.

Young Emily explores her soccer potential...and the food on the sidelines.

Young Emily explores her soccer potential…and the food on the sidelines.

 

English as a Second Life

The following is a reflection of Michael, who participated in a 9 month program through The Union Gospel Mission’s Serve Seattle program as a classroom assistant at World Relief.ESL Class 007

When I first started at World Relief it was very daunting to have so many people who spoke very little English and spoke languages that I knew very little about.  I came into this internship thinking that I would be helping all these refugees learn English and other life and job skills.  But I was surprised when I realized that I was also learning a lot from these people.ESL Details 007

It has been amazing to get to see the progress that they have made in their English speaking and reading skills.  To a native English speaker it may not seem like much, but I know that going from learning letters and numbers and basic words to being able to speak and write complete sentences in English is a huge accomplishment.  Some of my favorite memories have been taking the students on bus trips to Goodwill.  Being able to interact with them outside of the classroom has been very impactful for me. Just being able to talk with them and helping them on their English skills makes me proud of them.ESL Details 001

The most rewarding aspect has really been the relationships that I have developed with both the students and the staff here. Arriving at the classroom each day that I am here, I am always greeted by several of the students, all who know me by name now.  Now arriving at the end of my time here, and the start of a new adventure I can look back and say that helping people from so many different countries and cultures learn English (among so many other things) has been an experience that I will never forget.

Michael is just one of many people that have invested time into building relationships with ESL students at our on-site classes in Kent, WA. If you would like to volunteer as a tutor or class assistant, we would be glad to have you join the team! For more information, visit worldreliefseattle.org/eslclassroomassistant or email volunteerseattle@wr.org