Category Archives: Volunteer

Ruth and Lizbeth

When Ruth first met her, Lizbeth was about to be sent to a country that she hadn’t seen since she was seven years old. And she was afraid to go.

US Immigration & Customs Enforcement called it her homeland, but to Lizbeth, Mexico was anything but home. As she awaited deportation, Lizbeth found herself in the Northwest Immigration Detention Center in Tacoma along with more than 1,000 other detainees. Some, like Lizbeth, had been arrested for committing a crime while in the US on a visa. Far more, though, were in the Detention Center because their immigration documentation was insufficient or contained errors.

Lizbeth was born in Mexico and came to the US illegally with her parents as a young girl; they eventually settled in Oregon. America would come to be home and English her primary language.

But when she entered adulthood, Lizbeth’s drug use led her into a long series of problems. By her own estimation, she’s been institutionalized more often than not for the last couple of decades.

Lizbeth’s history and immigration status would eventually land her in Tacoma’s Detention center. She hoped to be released so she could build a life with her new husband in Portland. But in time, Lizbeth’s fate became increasingly clear: like four out of five detainees in the facility, she was going to be deported.

While she waited, Lizbeth found World Relief Immigration Detention Center Ministry. She began to attend one of eight weekly worship services and joined a Bible study group with daily meetings. New in her faith, Lizbeth craved mentorship and friendship from another believer.

This is where Ruth comes in. Ruth had recently returned to the US after living in Mexico for more than thirty years. She and her husband planted churches, and Ruth worked with survivors of domestic violence.

After retirement, Ruth was looking for an opportunity to continue ministry. With a tip from her daughter, Ruth connected with World Relief’s window visit program, which connects volunteers with individual detainees who they can visit. For Ruth, it was a natural extension of her career in missions work.

“In some senses its the same thing,” said Ruth of her work in Mexico and Tacoma. “Being a missionary isn’t just a profession, it’s a decision you make every day.”

In their first window visits, Ruth could tell that Lizbeth was discouraged and depressed. Like many others in the facility who are far from their family and friends, she had few visitors. Through regular visits and notes of encouragement, the two women built a friendship in the months before deportation.

Beyond spiritual and emotional support, the friendship had practical benefits. Lizbeth was going to be deported to Tijuana, a city she knew nothing about. Having lived there for years, Ruth was able to point her to safe areas and refer her to friends living in the city.

Lizbeth was deported in December 2015.

But that wasn’t the end of Ruth and Lizbeth’s story: two weeks later, Ruth traveled to Tijuana to visit friends. Through a series of phone connections, they were able to make contact and they were able to meet up.

Ruth & Lizbeth in Tijuana.After retirement, Ruth was looking for an opportunity to continue ministry. With a tip from her daughter, Ruth began World Relief’s window visit program, which connects volunteers with individual detainees who they can visit.

Ruth & Lizbeth in Tijuana. After retirement, Ruth was looking for an opportunity to continue ministry and began to volunteer with World Relief’s window visit program to minister to immigrant detainees.

Providence was at play: as it turned out, Lizbeth was living just blocks from one of the churches that Ruth and her husband had planted years before. Ruth brough her to the church and introduced her to friends who were pillars in the congregation.

Ruth could see changes in Lizbeth in that first visit to Tijuana. Stuck in a difficult situation where drugs would’ve been an easy out, Lizbeth was firm in her resolve: “I’m not going that route,” she said. “I’ve given enough of my life to that.”

In a follow-up trip in March, Ruth was excited to see that Lizbeth had found a church home and was attending a women’s Bible study there. Ruth brought her friend a bilingual Bible so she could more easily follow the services in her ‘mother tongue’ which she still hadn’t mastered.

I want to give a testimony to the Church how missionaries like yourself can make a difference and have an impact in our lives. I thank God for you and pray that he will send you to more and more women who are calling out for moral support. Glory to the most high–he is working on me. I can feel him. 

-Lizbeth, Mexico

To support World Relief’s Detention center Ministry, please visit our donations page and select Seattle Detention Center Ministry as your gift designation. Through a generous $40,000 matching challenge, your impact in detainees’ lives will be doubled–please give today!

To learn more about how you and your church can get involved in the ministry, contact Jose Bonilla at

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 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.”


“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!




Syria and Seattle

Written by Scott Ellis, Volunteer Coordinator at World Relief Seattle

Syria and SeattleWhen heartbreaking pictures and video from halfway around the world begin to appear on the news, in the papers, and even on our Facebook feeds it is hard not to feel a range of emotions. Seeing the haunting images and hearing the stories of the families connected to them often brings emotions of grief, sadness and even anger.  After these emotions often come questions.

What can I do?  Where do I even start? This problem seems so big…

For those here in Seattle seeing tragic images of Syrians and other refugees fleeing into Europe, one answer to these questions is to come alongside the work that is already happening locally and across the globe by Learning, Responding, and Welcoming.


According to the UNHCR’s latest figures, 7.6 million Syrians are displaced within Syria, and 3.8 million have sought refuge in other countries.  This video by statistician Hans Rosling breaks down where Syrians are right now.

Due to the long vetting process that includes medical checks, several interviews and intensive background checks, only about 1,500 Syrians have been resettled into United States so far.  We at World Relief Seattle have yet to receive our first Syrian case, but other World Relief offices across the US have resettled families. We are preparing for them to come shortly, while at the same time resettling refugees from Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia and other countries facing turmoil.

World Relief Seattle has been welcoming and resettling refugees into Western Washington since 1979.  Our experience over those years has taught us that we are not meant to do this alone and so we invite local churches and the whole community to come alongside us in the work of empowering refugees who are arriving here weekly.

epa04915599 Migrants arrive on a special train service from Austria to Saalfeld, Germany, 05 September 2015. The refugees will be taken to accommodation in Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt and Thuringia Saalfeld by bus. Thousands of refugees streamed into Austria and on to Germany after being allowed to leave Hungary, putting further strain on EU unity as the bloc struggles with its biggest influx of migrants since World War II. EPA/HENDRIK SCHMIDT


Pray – We have developed seven major prayer requests that begin to encompass the vast, often immeasurable needs of this vulnerable group. This SundaySeptember 13, 2015, we are inviting all churches and Christian Leaders to take a moment in your services and gatherings to discuss the incredible humanitarian tragedy faced by Syrian refugees and those fleeing persecution around the globe.

Advocate – Call your Senator and Congressional representatives to tell them you are in support of Syrian resettlement in the U.S., and encourage your church to rally behind the cause and do the same. Sign the White House petition for the U.S. to resettle more Syrian refugees.

Give: To give directly to World Relief’s work in Northern Iraq, Jordan and soon Turkey, click here.

  • Urgent Supplies – World Relief is providing urgent supplies for refugees like temporary shelter, hygiene items, pots, pans, cooking utensils, and more.  Supporting a refugee family with a kit of supplies in a place like Northern Iraq costs on average $550.
  • Trauma Therapy – World Relief is empowering local churches to provide therapy for women who have experienced unspeakable atrocities at the hands of Islamic State fighters. One Syrian refugee in Jordan said, “We have made so many friends. One day a week, I walk into this place and I can breathe.” The cost to provide trauma therapy for one woman for a year is $100.
  • Child Friendly Spaces – World Relief is working with local churches to provide child-friendly spaces for children to have a safe place to play, get basic education, process the trauma they have experienced, and be ministered to by loving Christians. This ministry costs about $120 for each child for one year.

Welcome RefugeesWelcome

World Relief Seattle will welcome its first Syrian family in the coming months and there are several ways you can come alongside us in that effort.

World Relief Resettlement Services Here in the US, World Relief works with local churches to welcome thousands of refugees every year. These refugees are supported with ESL classes, job training, house support, and in relationship with Christians from a local church.  Supporting the financial needs of refugee family making a transition to life in America costs about $3,500.

To give directly to Refugee Resettlement in Seattle, click here.

Hosting, Housing and Welcoming Refugees – TACOMA We are having a special training for families and individuals who wish to welcome refugees into our communities. We will be focusing on the following topics:

  • How to HOST families for 1-2 weeks or RENT directly to refugee families in need of sustainable housing
  • How to WELCOME refugees as Cultural Companions in one-on-one relationships
  • How to COME ALONGSIDE those seeking Asylum at the Northwest Immigration Detention Center
    What: A training for volunteers who wish to come alongside new refugee families in Western Washington
    When: Friday November 20th 5:30pm – 8:00pm
    Where: University Place Presbyterian Church – 8101 27th St W, University Place, Washington 98466
    RSVP: Please RSVP to Scott at by November 15th

The training will also go over the mission of World Relief to empower local churches and communities to respond to the needs of newcomers. We will talk about who refugees are, where they are coming from and why.

We Welcome Refugees No HashtagIf you have any questions about World Relief Seattle or want to learn more about how you can welcome refugees, please visit our website 


The Beginning of Friendship

The following was written by one of our Cultural Companions – Diana.  She and her family wrote about their experience going to the Seattle Aquarium with a refugee family who had arrived from the Democratic Republic of Congo via Mozambique.

In early February, World Relief invited our family to join up with the Muhammad family and another volunteer Francoise for a visit to the Seattle Aquarium. Francoise and I had been meeting with Nguza and Mujinga and their 8 children for a few months, and I had wanted my girls to meet their children – there were age similarities to ease the meeting and my girls were very curious about the family I had talked about after my visits to their Kent apartment.Aquarium 2

The aquarium with its touch tank of bright sea anemones, octopus display and playful otters was a delightful venue for this meeting of curious but shy individuals. We all laughed and struggled to remember names properly. We took turns holding the toddlers and were impressed by the way older siblings held and guided younger siblings with such generous attitudes! We tried to ask “usual” questions of the school-aged children: What do you think of your school? What is your favorite subject?   But these questions seemed very direct and were more difficult to answer than we intended. It was no surprise that Karumbu and Matemba answered math, a universal language for children who are already bi- and trilingual with Swahili, French and some Portuguese. Naweji enjoyed science. As the youngest children, Latifa, Yussra and Nassra were outgoing with our family and embraced the outing with exuberance that put us all at ease.Aquarium 1

Afterward, outside the aquarium, we relaxed on the pier and enjoyed snacks, pictures and the stunning views across the Seattle waterway, taking in the ferries and seagulls. Conversation turned to job interviews and the realities of getting settled in the Northwest. Driving home, our family reflected on the challenges and adaptability necessary to resettle in such a different culture as the Pacific Northwest is from the East Coast of Africa. My girls felt the divide in language and the difficulty establishing lines of connection but we all felt the rewarding experience of just being together at the beginning of friendship.Aquarium 5

If you and your family are interested in becoming Cultural Companions with new refugee families, we invite you to learn more about the program at and attend one of our upcoming trainings.

May 9 Vol Training

What are you doing for others?

“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is: ‘What are you doing for others?’”
-Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Barry and Sofia

The sun was shining brightly as students from Canyon Park Junior High in Bothell pulled into the World Relief parking lot on Martin Luther King Day.

The culmination of a weekend of service opportunities, these CPJH students came down to Kent to participate in a city-wide clean-up with recently-arrived refugees and asylees at World Relief.

The students and World Relief participants carpooled over to the Interurban Trail, gathered trash bags and safety gloves, and set out collecting garbage along W Meeker Street through downtown Kent. Empty bottles, bits of plastic and paper, gloves, food wrappers, and a tire rim were among the items that began to fill our bags. One volunteer’s bag got so full that we had to leave it on the path and collect in when we returned to the park!

MLK service

After collecting what felt like hundreds of pounds of garbage, we headed back to the World Relief office, washed our hands, and gathered in our conference room.

With a generous pizza donation from Naked Pizza, students and World Relief participants shared about their hobbies, life experiences, and culture over a delicious pizza lunch.

The common theme to the question: “Why did you come to the service project today?” was to meet people and give back to the community, a notable response for the World Relief participants who have only been a part of the community for a matter of weeks.

MLK service 2

What a blessing it is to have such engaged students and recently-arrived residents in our community!

Now announcing: 2015 SEA-TRI-KAN Ride for Refugee Employment!  This summer, join World Relief Seattle in cycling from Seattle to Tri-Cities to Spokane to raise support for resettled refugees working toward self-sufficiency.  The 400 mile journey across the state is from June 17th-21st, and discounted early registration is open now.  Information sessions will be held in North Seattle, South Seattle, and Kent next week.  Are you in?  Visit World Relief Seattle’s website or contact Caitlin at 253-277-1121 or for more information.

Ride for Refugee Employment: SEA-TRI-KAN from World Relief Seattle on Vimeo.

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 or email 

Working and learning: they go together

The following is a personal reflection by Rachael, a summer Resettlement Intern. World Relief’s Refugee Resettlement internship connects students and recent graduates with opportunities to serve newly arrived refugees in a variety of ways, while also encouraging meaningful cross-cultural relationships and training them in professional casework skills.

This is the beginning of my third week of interning at World Relief and every day is a new adventure. Today was no exception. My job for the day was to meet a husband and wife at their apartment in Tukwila and teach them to ride the bus. A bit of a daunting prospect, since I don’t generally take the bus myself. But one thing I’ve learned in my two weeks here is that even if I don’t know how to do something, at least I have the skills to figure out how—I know who to ask and what kinds of questions to ask.

After getting lost trying to find their apartment and almost going to the airport instead, I found their building, asked the maintenance man where to park, and walked up to their apartment. A minute later, a young woman opened the door with a small girl peeking around from behind her. I smiled and the little girl gave me an endearing grin. I figured out that the woman’s name was Hawo, the one I was coming to find, but that she spoke absolutely no English. She managed to tell me that her husband was coming too, but that we had to go find him. So off we went to another apartment where we waited for her husband to get back from meeting with a friend. The other apartment was very warmly furnished. I felt like I was somewhere in the Middle East or North Africa with the rich colors and patterns in the curtains, couches and rugs. Hawo’s husband, Isak soon arrived and we went back to their apartment to get the bus tickets, drop their beautiful three-year-old daughter off with friends, and then hurried down the street to catch our first bus.

The trip to the World Relief office in Kent was uneventful. We caught all of our buses smoothly, dodged the raindrops on our final walk from the last bus stop, and arrived early. After waiting for a little bit, they had a job skills assessment that I got to sit in on. They were asked questions about former education and jobs, what things they felt particularly good at, and what their dreams were for ten years from now. The assessment would be used to help find them a job. Hawo couldn’t think of anything she wanted to do someday, but Isak wanted to be a mechanical engineer. For the present though, he was ready and willing to take any job available. He knew that they would most likely be hard jobs requiring long hours, but he was eager, saying he would do anything.

On our walk back to the bus stop, Isak asked me how it would be possible to go to school, saying, “Working and learning—they go together. Both are important. You need both to get somewhere.” I told him that maybe after working for a little bit he would be able to pay for classes at a community college. He then began to tell me how, for human beings, everything is possible. If something feels too hard, he said, you must say to your soul, “I can do it,” because it is possible to do it. I was impressed and told him that this attitude would get him far. I told him that so many Americans like having it easy and will stop doing something if it gets too hard. This, however, is not the attitude of the refugee, and it was not the attitude of Isak. He knows that the next couple months will be incredibly hard as he and Hawo learn about American culture and struggle to accustom themselves to this new lifestyle, but he is up to the challenge and willing to persevere through the hard transition for the hope of a better future.

In the end, the journey back to the apartment took way longer than needed. I got buses mixed up and we went in the wrong direction, ended up at the wrong end of the line, and had to turn around and take the bus all the way to the other end. It was a long afternoon, but Isak and Hawo were incredibly patient and gracious as we all learned a new system together. That is another trait that I have noticed in many new refugees—they are thankful for whatever help you can give, even if you don’t have all the answers, because it is more than they could do on their own. And as you figure it out, they learn how to figure it out too.

As I left their apartment, I reflected that we had all been learners together that day. And ultimately, that is a good position to be in. We can both learn so much from each other; it’s not a one-sided relationship. I look forward to seeing them again soon and asking them how their bus rides are going and what they are learning in English class. I hope that next time I will be able to have a short conversation with Hawo in English. And I am looking forward to learning together with more refugees this summer—teaching them about my culture, and learning about pieces of theirs. It’s a rich experience.

If you are or know a student or recent graduate who is interested in the Refugee Resettlement internship, find out more information at Applications are accepted on a first-come, first-serve basis.

A 35-year tradition

Seventy years ago, as WWII was coming to a close and war-torn Europe was facing a monumental humanitarian crisis, a vision was born in the Church. Faithful believers around the country began to fast, pray, give, and volunteer to assist those impacted by the war, in an effort that would later become known as World Relief.

In 1979, the Church responded again with unprecedented effort and vision, and World Relief opened its doors in cities across the US to welcome refugees from Laos, Burma, Vietnam, and Cambodia. World Relief would go on to become one of the largest refugee resettlement agencies in the world.

World Relief Seattle's first home in the International District

World Relief Seattle’s first home in Seattle’s International District

This year, World Relief Seattle marks 35 years of operation, and we hope you will take a moment to reflect with us on the faithfulness of volunteers and the overwhelming provision of God that has sustained this ministry of welcome.

In the early days of World Relief Seattle, volunteers were vital to the refugee resettlement process. Members of local churches opened their homes and lives, sacrificing their time to pick people up at the airport, to prepare meals, to help children enroll in school, to teach English classes, and to invest in the lives of newcomers. They saw the unique needs of refugees and immigrants, and immediately and creatively mobilized to address those needs. Their vision helped shape the direction and build the capacity of World Relief Seattle, eventually contributing to Seattle being one of the top refugee resettlement cities in the country.


Refugees and volunteers continue to be connected in mutually-transformative, life-changing relationships.

Today, although the geographic areas of turmoil have changed, the response of the Church in Seattle is constant. As World Relief Seattle celebrates 35 years of operation, we also celebrate a 35-year legacy of faithful service. Individuals of all backgrounds, ages, and levels of experience pour themselves into the refugee and immigrant community, and remain essential to the life-transformation that is our goal.

Are you a volunteer? Then your story is our story! Whether you’ve served for 1 day or for 35 years, we would love to hear from you. Share your stories and memories with us by emailing with the subject “looking back”.