Read the powerful stories of Melanie, a Friendship Partner with World Relief North Texas, who obeyed God’s call to love and serve the most vulnerable.
Melanie Lemley has served as a Friendship Partner with World Relief North Texas for several years now. She is currently a friendship partner for two different families. She was placed with one family by World Relief, and the other she personally “adopted” after meeting them at English as a Second Language (ESL) classes.
Six years ago, Melanie and her husband started volunteering by filling gaps wherever there was a need, such as buying groceries, setting up apartments, enrolling people’s children in school, etc. But, when COVID-19 hit, it changed things for them.
Melanie made the hard decision to stop teaching full-time at a private school during COVID-19. As she tried to decide how to fill her time, she determined to get an online TEFL degree – Teaching English as a Foreign Language. After this, she was introduced to ESL at World Relief and knew this is where the Lord was leading her to serve.
At the same time, she and her husband decided to become Friendship Partners through World Relief and were placed with a family. While they have been matched with a few families throughout the years, she has been deeply touched by the two she currently serves.
Melanie was paired as a Friendship Partner with Christina from South Sudan, a sweet woman with 8-year-old twin boys. They have become very good friends that go out to lunch and the boys enjoy ice cream outings. When Christina first arrived to the U.S., Melanie helped furnish their first apartment and regularly takes them grocery shopping. Melanie even arranged for Christina’s sons to attend a week-long day camp this summer so they could have some fun and experience summer camp!
She spent hours helping Christina apply for jobs, work on her resume, and additional encouragement and support in the job hunt. “I told her, if you need to go to an interview I’ll stay and watch the boys. Tell me when you need me and I’m there.” Christina recently found an affordable apartment in Dallas and a job assembling cell phones, and is very excited about it. Melanie is excited to see Christina start to become self-sufficient and provide for herself, just as anyone is when someone they love succeeds. “She’s like family to me. I love her and I love the boys.”
Katima and Nooria
Katima and Nooria are two young Afghan girls Melanie met one day at ESL. They came to ESL a few times and told Melanie that they did not know how to use a computer but they needed to get a job. When Melanie heard this, she decided to “adopt” these girls, proclaiming herself their Friendship Partner. Melanie had an old computer to bring them and helped them fill out job applications.
Katima then got a warehouse job loading boxes at Best Maid Pickles. When Melanie asked Katima how she liked her job, the response was, “it’s very long and tiring, but I’m learning English!” Melanie was blown away at Katima’s positivity in such a physically taxing job and her love of learning English as she interacts with her American co-workers.
Melanie has assisted this family with broken TV’s, sourcing furniture for their apartment, and grocery shopping with the family while they do not yet own a car. Melanie’s husband helped Katima and Nooria’s father, Abdul, look for a car, as that was an important goal for Abdul. The girls have even started taking online driver’s ed so they can learn how to drive, but have to do all of their lessons through Google Translate since they are not yet fluent in English. When the girls wanted cell phones, Melanie showed them how to find used iPhones that were not expensive, explained what a sim card is, and how to get on an affordable phone plan based on their monthly budget.
When the girls wanted to shop for modest American-style clothes, Melanie invited the girls and their mother on a shopping trip to thrift stores as a way to buy nice clothes inexpensively. The girls and their mother had such a fun time and were able to find affordable clothes!
Melanie and her husband had the whole family over for dinner one night and grilled out. Abdul bonded with her husband over grilling and decided that Melanie and her husband have to try Afghan Kabobs. The real joy of becoming a Friendship Partner is that while it does entail many questions and teaching moments, it also entails building a lasting friendship where men bond over grilling for their families and girls enjoy shopping sprees together!
Katima and Nooria have three brothers who are still in Afghanistan with their wives and families. The girls worry about them often. They are desperately trying to find a way to get their brothers and their families to the U.S. and have many questions for Melanie on how they can make this happen.
“For people who think friendship partners are simply for taking clients to doctor’s appointments and school registrations, it actually can be a little bit of everything, and it can be a lot of fun! Go to their house, go to their apartment, meet at Starbucks…go anywhere. Take them to get ice cream and do ESL. But the best thing is to go to their home. When you go into their home you are accepted and they know you care.” – Melanie Lemley
What Does it Really Mean?
Melanie’s husband always teases her about spending so much time with these families. Sometimes when Melanie thinks about it, she even asks herself if it’s too much! But she challenges herself by asking, “are they really asking too much of me? They really are not asking for too much because they have had to start from nothing. They have lost so much.”
It is sobering to reflect on what Katima and Nooria’s family has gone through. In Kabul, Afghanistan they lived a normal life where they hung out with friends, went to school, and spent time with their family. Life for them has completely changed. However, to see how quickly they have adapted to a completely new life is encouraging. Thanks to a welcoming community and their own determination, their lives are transforming. “I think…this is something I can do. This is not hard for me, especially when I remember what they have overcome.”
Living as His Ambassadors
“We are His ambassadors, and an ambassador embodies everything that is about who they represent. If we have to be everything that Christ is, does that not mean sacrifice? If in fact we are His ambassadors, should we not be like Him and be totally sacrificial?” When these families ask her for help, sometimes it is an inconvenience, but it never hurts. It will always make a difference. In what she first viewed as sacrificing her time, she has now learned that she is abundantly blessed by knowing these families.
Melanie reminded us of Romans 10:14-15, “How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!’” Melanie has been challenged in many ways, and mutually transformed alongside these families. Sacrifice and service is never one way, and Melanie’s radical change is simply a testament to this.
How will you tell people about Jesus if you never go and be with them? She has had many conversations about faith with these families, and that would not be the case if she did not go. “How will people know how much God cares about them if we do not live like Christ?” We simply have to go, and God will do the rest.
She was reminded of the Henry Blackaby quote: “Watch to see where God is working and join Him in His work.” God opened the door for Melanie and these families to develop a friendship, and grow together. Now, no matter what changes Melanie or these families go through, they are walking alongside it together.