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Churches in Washington are Using Coffee to Change the Lives of Refugees and Immigrants

If you’ve been to Western Washington, you know that coffee is a big deal. Seattle consistently ranks near the top of “best coffee cities in America.” One analysis even found there are 56 coffee shops for every 100,000 people. 

Coffee is such a big deal, in fact, that many local churches have fully outfitted coffee shops to meet the caffeine needs of Sunday morning guests. But what if those coffee shops could serve an even bigger purpose — what if they could help welcome refugees and immigrants?

That’s the question Holly Andrews asked herself when she moved to Washington in 2011.

The Seed of an Idea

Holly’s interest in welcoming refugees and immigrants started when she tutored a Somali family in college through World Relief. “It was such a great adventure getting to know [the family’s] culture and language, sharing food together and growing in a trusting relationship,” Holly said. 

Inspired by this family’s story and a growing awareness of her refugee and immigrant neighbors, Holly went on to become a teacher for English language learners, eventually completing her masters in linguistics. 

Later, while working at Bethel University in Minnesota, she led a study-abroad course in Cambodia where the seed of an idea was planted

One of the agencies she and her students visited ran a cafe where they provided job training for women survivors of trafficking. “I loved that [the program] gave women a chance to work with dignity and demonstrated the grace of God by meeting them where they were at,” Holly said. 

She felt so moved that she even hoped to return to Cambodia to help with the cafe program. But, “God had different plans.” 

Barista Training for Newcomers

Shortly after returning from Cambodia, Holly and her husband moved to Washington, and Holly began working at World Relief. She also started attending Calvary Chapel South in Kent. The church had a coffee shop, which reminded her of her time in Cambodia. 

Calvary Chapel South’s coffee shop, where Holly held her first barista training program for refugees.

“I thought, wow, this would be a really neat opportunity to partner together — the church and World Relief — and provide some practical training [to refugees].” 

Within a year, Holly helped Calvary Chapel South launch a barista training program for newly arrived refugees and immigrants. Since then, Holly has also launched the training program at Brooklake Church in Federal Way, where she now works as the Outreach Director. 

Both churches partner with World Relief Western Washington’s Employment Services to identify and refer participants to the programs. So far, the two churches have trained more than 25 refugees. 

More Than a Training Program

Much like the Cambodian cafe that first inspired Holly, the barista program in Washington is designed to meet each participant’s individual needs. Focusing on only a few students at a time, training sessions are tailored based on the trainee’s prior work experience and English level.

Participants are enrolled in a 12-week program that takes place every Sunday while church coffee shops are up and running. Each week, participants focus on learning how to run one aspect of the coffee shop, while also practicing their English and customer service skills.  

Olena recently arrived in Washington from Ukraine. She learns barista skills alongside volunteer Addy (right). Photo © Christopher Marcus

But there’s more to the program than barista skills and English — there’s an opportunity to form friendships. Tutors intentionally leave space for navigating culture and offering encouragement, advice and even prayer when appropriate. 

“The churches don’t just help our participants learn new skills,” said Santa Pradhan, Employment Program Manager at World Relief Western Washington. “They also welcome them with open arms and give them a sense of community.”

As tutors help trainees feel like “less of a stranger,” trainees help tutors expand their understanding of refugees and immigrants and clarify misperceptions. “Our participants have been instrumental in helping the church to be better at following God’s call for us to welcome the stranger,” Holly said. 

As participants and volunteers become invested in one another’s lives, many form friendships that last long beyond the end of the program.

Careers Beyond Coffee

This was the case for Hawraa. After resettling in the U.S. from Iraq, she joined the barista training program in early 2016. Today, Hawraa remains friends with Holly and the volunteers from Calvary Chapel South’s coffee shop training, and she credits the program with teaching her more than barista skills. She also learned customer service and how to interact with others in a U.S. workplace, lessons that would carry her career beyond the coffee shop.

“[The barista program] was the first thing that I participated in that was close to a job when I first came to the United States. It prepared me for bigger things that I went on to do,” she said.

Hawraa is now working as a case manager with Puget Sound Training Center, helping other refugees, immigrants and under-served populations achieve career success in the U.S.

When asked what advice she would give to U.S. churches hoping to welcome refugees and immigrants, she said, “Please offer them participation in programs and events, help them as much as possible with their English since most are too embarrassed to make mistakes, and just smile! Seeing smiling, welcoming faces was one of the best things when coming to the United States.”

Why the Church?

Like World Relief, Holly believes the church is called to embody the hope of Jesus in the midst of a hurting world. One of the ways churches in the U.S. can do that is by welcoming new immigrants into their communities and seeking to learn from one another.

Holly (middle) meets with current trainee, Olena (right), and volunteer, Addy (left). Photo © Christopher Marcus

“We see in the establishment of the early church, God’s design… is for people to come together, pour over his Word and to fellowship with one another in a deep and devoted way,” she said. “How amazing when the local church can enfold newcomers into this kind of community.”

For churches not yet connected with refugees and immigrants, Holly suggests first discovering who is already providing services for refugees and immigrants, including established immigrant communities. Work together to determine how best to be a supportive partner in the resettlement process.

She also recommends taking note of what your church already has that might help in welcoming someone who has recently arrived in the U.S.

While not every church has a full coffee shop, others may have shuttles available to provide transportation to local thrift stores or markets, or business owners from local churches might host a small job fair. English tutoring, access to computers, job search assistance and fun after-school activities can also make a big impact.

But most importantly, Holly emphasizes the value of friendship as we seek to create more welcoming communities where everyone can thrive.

“The church can first and foremost be a friend,” she said. “Rest from ‘doing’ and leave room for just being together, sharing life and learning from one another. Be hospitable and accept hospitality. This is a ministry in itself.” 

Want to be a part of creating lasting change for refugees, immigrants and people experiencing vulnerability around the world? Learn how we’re moving forward together. 

If your church is ready to dive deeper into how best to love and welcome your refugee and immigrant neighbors, check out The Workshop, World Relief’s e-learning platform. Use code  CHURCH25 for 25% off through January 31, 2023.

Kelly Hill serves as a Content Writer at World Relief and previously served as Volunteer Services Manager at World Relief Triad in North Carolina. With a background in International and Intercultural Communication, she is passionate about the power of story to connect people of diverse experiences. 

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