“Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.”
— 1 Peter 4:10
When Andrea first arrived in Durham with her husband four years ago, she left behind a career as an ESL teacher. Burnt out and looking to apply her energies to other outlets, she discovered World Relief Durham through a friend of her husband’s. Andrea felt called to help.
At first, she was not looking to resume her ESL teaching. After spending time getting to know people within World Relief, Andrea was assigned to be a friendship partner to a family of new arrivals from Afghanistan.
“I was asked to accompany a now-former World Relief employee to visit two Afghan families – brothers, wives and nine kids all in one apartment,” Andrea said. “They told me their biggest need was for their wives to learn English.”
Upon hearing this, Andrea felt as though God was speaking directly to her through this family and challenging her.
“At the time, I was not currently teaching English and wasn’t planning on changing that, but I couldn’t stop myself from agreeing,” Andrea said. “Immediately, it became clear that this opportunity was a gift from God. I asked myself, ‘why was I not using what I knew how to do?’”
In rising to God’s challenge, Andrea has seen her community unite alongside her in leveraging talents and passions to serve. Now, as she works to mobilize other volunteers from her church she sees the immense impact World Relief has daily.
“You’re the first friendly face a new arrival sees in a place so different from where they came, and that’s a meaningful thing that they can hang on to when it’s hard and feel different,” Andrea said. “People are sometimes unkind. So, trying to love, lead and be friends with people arriving is a transformational act both for those arriving and those extending God’s love. It is an essential pillar of our faith and in being a good person in general.”
This week, as we celebrate and observe National Volunteer Appreciation Week, we’re excited to share more of Andrea’s story with you.
Tell us more about how you got connected to World Relief.
Before moving to Durham, I was an ESL teacher and worked with immigrants in class.
When I moved here, I wasn’t looking to teach ESL. I wanted to help refugees in other ways, and I was already comfortable working with people with the lowest level of English. Dave (Andrea’s pastor) pointed me to World Relief.
He paired me with a friendship partner, which was very difficult – the woman was older, and she had dementia which was unknown at the time. But it was a good learning experience. Next, I was then partnered with a 14-year-old girl from the Democratic Republic of Congo. [She had been] displaced to Kenya, and then arrived in the U.S. when she was in 4th or 5th grade.
The young girl had some learning deficits and posed a challenge. There have been periods when I’ve seen her multiple times a week when she needed more support. I would pick her up from school, grab a bite to eat, then work on vocabulary and tutoring.
Through this, I feel like I now have a close relationship with her family. I became close enough to go to her school with her mom and contact the teachers. We also have fun together. I will never forget when she said to me once, “You’re so much more than a teacher.” I’m sort of like the fun aunt in the family. She’s obsessed with K-pop, so I know all this stuff about K-pop.
How have you seen the community impacted by welcoming refugees?
There is an inherent joy in serving and connecting with people new to the community and from different backgrounds and cultures. That joy is transformational.
A few years ago, I was asked to accompany a now-former World Relief employee to visit two Afghan families – brothers, wives and nine kids all in one apartment at first. Eventually, they were able to rent the apartment adjacent.
They told me their most significant need was for their wives to learn English. At the time, I was not teaching English and wasn’t planning on changing that, but I agreed. Immediately, it became clear that this opportunity was a gift from God. I asked myself, ‘why was I not using what I knew how to do?’
For someone interested in getting involved with World Relief, what would you tell them?
I feel my faith tells me to get involved. There are so many passages in the Old Testament that command us to welcome foreigners. World Relief is a great entry point if this is put on your heart through your faith. It’s both a gift and a calling.
World Relief is the access point for us to reach out and impact. I’m always waiting for World Relief to call me and say, ‘we have a family arriving!’ I’ve realized that I have a gift of mobilizing people and getting them to join me on my mission – our mission. It’s what I love to do.
Nathan Spencer is a former Communications Intern for World Relief Memphis. A recent graduate of the University of Memphis, Nathan continues to volunteer for World Relief as a copywriter.