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Volunteer Appreciation Week: Q&A with Volunteer Laura Hornby

April 21-27, 2024 is Volunteer Appreciation Week — to all of our volunteers around the world, thank you for serving alongside us!

If you’d like to learn how you can volunteer with World Relief in your local community, click here.

For 80 years, World Relief has partnered with local churches and communities to boldly engage the world’s greatest crises. But what does partnering with the church and community really look like? 

For the hundreds of thousands of volunteers who have served with World Relief over those eight decades, it begins with individuals saying “yes” to taking selfless actions with transformative impact.

Volunteers define World Relief — regular folks sacrificing their time, money and comfort to be a kind face, helpful hand or reliable guide to people looking for a brighter, more flourishing future.

Volunteer Appreciation Week is about celebrating those stories of sacrifice. Laura Hornby, a World Relief volunteer in Greenville, South Carolina, is one such story.

Laura’s Volunteer Story

Jump to Laura’s Interview

Laura, a mom with young children, first learned about World Relief in 2016 from her sister, who was interning with World Relief Upstate South Carolina

Her sister knew of a Burmese family with twin baby girls who needed some extra help. One of the girls was battling illness and required frequent trips to a specialist. Laura, a trained nurse, offered to pick up the mother and baby and drive them to their appointments.

“I would drop my baby off with my mom, then go pick up this mother and her baby,” Laura said. “This lasted for several months and we developed a friendship. After this, I realized I wanted to keep serving.”

We appreciate our volunteers serving around the world! Hear from Serafina in Rwanda about how she’s helping others flourish and thrive.

Laura soon joined her first Good Neighbor Team, a group of church-based volunteers who commit to walking alongside a newly arrived refugee family as they rebuild their lives in the U.S. Then, after changing churches in 2021, she helped her new church establish its first Good Neighbor Team.

Laura also began volunteering with WELL (formerly called Refuge Sports), an English program for refugee women founded by a retired missionary couple, becoming WELL’s coordinator in 2022.

At the time, there were only three students enrolled in the program. But as resettlements increased across the U.S. from Afghanistan and other regions, the program soon grew to serve 23 regulars. 

Advice and Encouragement for Volunteers

In honor of Volunteer Appreciation Week, we wanted to share some of Laura’s wisdom, advice and encouragement for volunteers from our recent interview with her. 

Whether you’ve volunteered with World Relief for a long time or are considering saying “yes” to boldly acting on behalf of others in your local community alongside us for the first time, we hope her words will inspire you.

How has your faith motivated you to volunteer with your refugee and immigrant neighbors? 

It started with a very simple awareness of the biblical command to welcome the foreigner. That’s still a big piece of it, but my spiritual walk has been informed in a lot of ways by walking through this story with my refugee friends of their displacement from their home, and then their beginning a new home here, and all the things that have gone into that.

What happens to them in a physical sense reflects the spiritual reality for every person — that we’re all lost and searching for a home. As believers, that home is Jesus. The fullness of my welcome in him is overflowing, so I ask myself, “Who can I extend that to?”

What are some of the challenges you’ve faced when volunteering?

Americans are very busy. Many people hear about World Relief and are interested, but then feel like there’s no time in their schedules. I felt that, too. I had two little kids at home. There was an irony of dropping my children off with my mom so I could go take care of somebody else’s. Rethinking your approach to your schedule and finding or creating time is a challenge. 

There’s also some inherent awkwardness in cross-cultural relationships at the beginning, like the silence in the car when you’re driving someone. It’s just the intimidation factor of, “I don’t know if I can do this.” And, “What are we going to talk about?”

A lot of people would resonate with those challenges — how have you overcome them?

In a lot of situations, I have just brought my kids along with me. They are as much a part of it as I am. They have spent hours in the back seat of our car taking people to appointments, and they’ve had more cross-cultural experiences at their ages than I had when I was their age. I eventually realized that volunteering wasn’t something that I had to protect my kids from, but something that benefited us all. 

They’re often the ones opening up the relationships we now have with families. Through them, I’ve connected with other moms. Even when you can’t speak the same language, having children is its own shared experience. There will always be some awkwardness. I still have to take a deep breath and choose to show up or choose to dive into a new situation. But, I’ve experienced so much grace in those moments.

What keeps you coming back and diving into new situations?

It’s the grace of being welcomed by someone who is new here. I show up planning to welcome, but I am also welcomed by people who don’t know me, and who can’t speak my language. They feel the same barriers that I feel even more so, but still choose to show up and work towards a relationship. They choose to share themselves with me. That is such a privilege.

How has being involved in this kind of ministry transformed you?

I’ve learned so much from our students at WELL about navigating complicated relationships and things as simple as new ways to cook. I come back to food a lot because food is a symbol of culture and connection. They are so eager to share it because it’s a way of sharing themselves across barriers. They’ve taught me more ways to use ingredients like corn and rice, things I’ve only ever used one way. It symbolizes that I need to have humility in my worldview and my ways of doing things. It’s a reminder that I always need to be learning.

How have you seen World Relief’s presence benefit your community?

World Relief’s resettlement work benefits our community by adding to the diversity of our city and bringing together people from a beautiful range of backgrounds and cultures. 

When churches are also part of the resettlement process, there’s the potential for significant transformation within the church itself. People who may not have had many cross-cultural experiences in the past are changed by their relationships with World Relief clients, and that change can then ripple out to the larger congregation.

What would you say to someone considering volunteering with World Relief?

Through volunteering, you have the potential to gain lifelong friendships. I get excited imagining 10 or 15 years from now and our kids growing up together and the ways that we will get to continue to learn from each other. In this season of so much division and isolation in our culture, taking advantage of an opportunity to get to know someone whose story is completely different from yours has so much positive potential.

The mom in one of the refugee families I partnered with had a baby just a few weeks after they arrived here. Walking through the resettlement process with them has given me lots of opportunities to watch that baby grow. She’s one year old now, and a couple of weeks ago she walked over to me for the first time. 

I was there when the mom went into the hospital to deliver her, and now here she is walking across the room — I was so moved by the gift of sharing this past year with their family.  Her mom thought it was funny that I was so emotional about it, but I think for me, watching this little girl flourish is symbolic of the roots that her family and others are planting in our community

Extending Jesus’ Embrace Around the World

For Laura, volunteering and serving others acts as an extension of Jesus’ embrace. And that’s what we believe World Relief volunteers are helping us do around the world.

In 2023, 46,714 World Relief volunteers served globally and 4,440 churches mobilized to engage with the world’s most pressing crises and transform communities socially, economically and spiritually. 

This Volunteer Appreciation Week, we celebrate the incredible work of these volunteers, and we thank them, from the bottom of our hearts, for the difference they’re making in lives around the world. 

Are you ready to take your first step as a World Relief volunteer in your local community? Click the button below for opportunities.

Nathan Spencer formerly served as a Communications Intern for World Relief Memphis. He is now a freelance writer and full-time social media account manager for Remember Media. He achieved his master’s in Journalism and Strategic Media from the University of Memphis in 2022.

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