Category Archives: Staff Reflections

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

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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

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. 

Bal: Are you my Brother?

Written by: Luke Williams, World Relief Seattle Interim Director

I vividly remember the night, in November 2011, that I met Bal—I helped his caseworker pick his family up at the airport. One of the first things he asked me about in excited, thick-accented English was my faith. He wanted to know if I was a brother in Christ. As someone who had endured significant persecution and isolation as a follower of Christ, he was eager to meet other believers and to find out if what he had heard was really true: could his family finally enjoy religious freedom here in the States? As we walked back and forth from the World Relief truck to their apartment, bringing in the last few household items, Bal was already encouraging me in my faith, telling me how God was using me for his purposes by welcoming families like his who needed a safe place to live in freedom.

That was the first of many times that Bal has spoken encouraging and challenging words to me. Our families have become friends, sharing meals together, going to the zoo, deciphering our different accents and phrases, and of course praying together. Today, Bal is working hard in a housekeeping job. He recently changed his work schedule to allow him to continue his studies in the afternoons. His wife, Uma, has learned a lot more English and their little boy is growing up strong and healthy. Perhaps the thing that Bal is most excited about these days is that he is now leading the youth group of the Bhutanese Christian Fellowship at Kent Covenant Church. Each Saturday morning, Bal gathers a group of young men and women to grow in their faith and develop their God-given talents. I doubt there is a youth leader in the American Church who is more thrilled simply to have the chance to teach a Bible study in freedom.

Ashmi and Ayan: March Fourteenth, Two Thousand Twelve

Written by: Stephen Johnson, World Relief Employment Specialist

“What is today?” Ashmi asked. She had a certain smile on her face that, even after 6 months of knowing her, I had not seen before.

“Today is March 14th,” I replied.

“I will always remember this day,” she assured me.

Today, Ashmi and her husband, Bhutanese refugees from Nepal, were hired at separate hotels an hour and a half bus ride from their humble apartment just south of Seattle. (For resettled refugees, and countless other new-Americans, distance is often measured in the time it takes on public transportation.)

As an Employment Specialist for World Relief, one of the highlights of my job is the day when refugees become employees. Less than one percent of refugees worldwide make it to a third country. Most end up staying in the country to which they initially flee, which is usually not much better than what they left behind. For individuals and families who have survived systems of oppression and confronted tremendous barriers, getting your first job in a relatively safe place can seem like winning the lottery. I like to think that I play a part in the puzzle, but I am also certain that in this economic environment, employment is truly an act of God. Alhamdulillah, praise be to God, as our Arabic-speaking friends often remind us.

Only two hours earlier, we were preparing at the office before we left, going over a list of practice interview questions that this particular employer has asked in the past.

“What does task mean?” “What is attention to detail?” “Should I sit or should I stand during the interview?” I did my best to answer as many questions as possible. If this manager likes these two, maybe she will want to hire more refugees in the future.

As we walked to the car, Ashmi could not hide her ample apprehension. “My heart is beating so quickly—ninety beats per minute,” she laughed. Today, I would take Ashmi and Ayan, a Somali woman who recently arrived from Ethiopia, to interviews for housekeeping positions. Two stoic women of the same age and demeanor, yet their stories remained worlds apart. Despite the disparities, they seemed to genuinely enjoy each other’s company.

“Do not worry, we can help each other,” Ayan assured Ashmi.

There were two interviews. The first was a pre-screen with someone from Human Resources, at which they both did very well. Just smile and nod, I’d joked with them both before. The second interview was slightly more difficult. The manager spoke quickly, with a sense of urgency that every housekeeping supervisor seems to develop over time. I did my best to “translate” complex questions into simple sentences that they could understand.

Alhamdulillah. They were both hired on the spot.

“March 14th, 2012,” Ashmi pronounced each syllable. “Today, we are so happy.”

From my rearview mirror, I could see both of them surreptitiously wiping small tears from their eyes on our short drive home. Today, I was a reminded that I will never fully know where my client’s have been or what they have gone through to get here. I will also never fully know the impact of our work – the privilege of being a part of God’s Kingdom here on earth. Today was truly a significant day for me as well.

“Thank you to America, and thank you to the American people.”

“Thank you to God also,” Ashmi added.

Taghreed: First Day of Work Feast

Written by: Ellie McDermott, World Relief Seattle Employment Manager

I sat down to eat my lunch of hastily-thrown together stir-fried vegetables when my coworker, Santa, entered the lunch room.

Tagreed“Taghreed!” She exclaimed and ran out of the room.

My mind raced to decipher what had happened. I looked at the clock – it was 12:30pm, an hour after a client, Taghreed, was scheduled to start her first day of work as a packager at a bakery in Kent.

Thinking that Taghreed hadn’t shown up for Santa to drive her to work, my heart skipped a beat and I quickly ran to Santa’s office.

“Is everything okay?” I asked Santa. “Is Taghreed at work?”

Santa was holding out a heavy plastic bag to me.

“Taghreed made you dolma as a thank you gift for finding her a job,” Santa told me. She had forgotten to give it to me and remembered when she saw me eating my lunch.

On more than one occasion during the job search process I had told Taghreed that I loved dolma, a Middle Eastern stuffed vegetable dish. She had remembered and, quite thoughtfully, made some dolma for me – on her first day of work no less!

Taghreed’s dolma is just one example of the generosity and thoughtfulness (not to mention delicious cooking skills!) of the people I work with at World Relief.

It is truly a blessing it is to work with such amazing people!