Behind every journey is sacrifice, love and hope – behind every person is a unique story to be celebrated and honored.
For over 75 years, we’ve been coming alongside families displaced by violence, poverty and injustice — both in the U.S. and across the world.
Today is International Women’s Day—a day when women around the world are celebrated, their impact recognized, and their God-given potential affirmed. Today, we envision bolder, brighter futures for the world’s women.
Since 2007, February 20th has served as World Day of Social Justice—a day when the international community works together towards justice for all.
I haven’t always been this way. In fact, I first got involved with this work through colleagues. At the time, I worked with a few individuals whose hearts had been moved in very significant ways by serving the vulnerable around the world.
I made my first donation to World Relief in 2005, as a graduate student. At the time, a big focus of my church was financial discipleship, and I’d sat through many sermons and scriptural teachings on generosity.
Fourteen years ago, a partnership between Fellowship Missionary Church (FMC) in Ft. Wayne, Indiana and World Relief began. In 2005, no one could have predicted the transformational power this relationship would have. Today, it couldn’t be clearer that God was at work in majestic ways.
We first learned about World Relief through Park Street Church in Boston. They were running a series on global justice, with a real emphasis on mission work. It was great to learn about how we might expand our passion for justice globally through World Relief…
Five years ago, UN member states came together to designate July 30th as World Day Against Trafficking in Persons in an effort to “raise awareness of the situation of victims of human trafficking and promote and protect their rights.” As we acknowledge this day at World Relief, we encourage you to read on to learn more about our work to combat Human Trafficking.
“Love your neighbor as yourself,” Jesus taught us. So what does that mean for us here at World Relief? And what does it mean in the context of our work with refugees?
When violent extremists burned down his mother’s medical clinic and attempted to kidnap him, Al and his parents fled Iraq and were eventually resettled in the U.S. Watch his incredible journey, then join the campaign to help refugees rebuild their lives.
During a recent children’s sermon, our pastor asked a dozen elementary students: “What do you like best about your mom?”
April 7th is World Health Day. A significant day for the international community and the global population.
In January, World Relief co-hosted a consultation on “Development, Gender, and Christianity” with Wheaton College and the Imago Dei Fund.
It's International Women's Day!
This year, we say “Thank God for Women” not only with our words but with our commitment to create a better world for women—a world where every woman and girl has the dignity, opportunity and security she deserves.
We’re incredibly grateful to author and spoken word poet Amena Brown, who wrote an original piece entitled For The Women. We invite you to watch and share this video as widely as possible, inviting others to join the dance and fight for justice.
“2018 will be the year of women,” states the title of a recent opinion piece on CNN. “Women are rising,” “harnessing their outrage,” and more “engaged, energized, and resolute” than ever before.
As we reflect on 2017, it’s impossible to deny that the past year brought a lot of pain, destruction, tension and misunderstanding to people in all corners of the world.
While it’s important to acknowledge the hardships faced in the last year, we find it even more crucial to focus on stories of hope, kindness, mercy and selflessness.
To celebrate the good we saw in each other, and in you, the World Relief community, here are 17 moments in 2017 we witnessed Love in Action.
Nine year-old boy pays for Irma evacuee’s lunch
Landon Routzong of Alabama, with the help of his mother, paid for the lunch of a man who had evacuated his Miami home and was traveling to stay with family. "I didn’t want them to waste their money on food because they’re trying to escape the hurricane," Landon said.
Walmart Cashier Helps Nervous Elderly Man Count Change
Spring Herbison Bowlin observed a Walmart cashier patiently help an elderly customer as he nervously struggled to count change to pay for his items. “This is not a problem, honey. We will do this together,” she told the man. The post was shared over 40,000 times on Facebook.
Over 500 evangelical leaders join World Relief in support of resettling refugees in the U.S.
A full-page ad published in the Washington Post signed by 500 evangelical pastors and 100 evangelical leaders expressed concern over the president’s executive order temporarily banning refugees. A wide range of leaders across many denominations, regions of the country and theological philosophies signed the letter in a strong support refugees, some of the most vulnerable people of our world.
Over 200,000 donors give $37 million for Hurricane Harvey relief
On August 26th, J.J. Watt of the Houston Texans announced a goal of raising $200,000 for his Houston Flood Relief Fund. As word spread, the donations soared past his original goal and reached an astonishing $37,132,057 from 209,431 donors. “When times are the toughest, humanity stands at its strongest and you have all helped to prove that emphatically," Watt said.
Washington Post publishes open letter of repentance written by World Relief President Scott Arbeiter
In response to the act of hatred and terrorism which took place in Charlottesville, Virginia on August 12, 2017, World Relief President Scott Arbeiter penned a reflective open letter, grieving the affront of racism and committing to advocacy for just laws and rejection of unjust systems that perpetuate poverty, exclusion and bigotry.
Terminally ill woman writes dating ad for her husband in New York Times
Amy Krouse Rosenthal only had weeks to live, but she wanted the world to know how amazing her husband was in hopes that he could find love again. On Valentine’s Day, she wrote “You May Want to Marry My Husband.” Amy passed away five days after the piece was published.
Tens of thousands of you stand publicly with Dreamers
In response to the president’s decision to rescind the DACA program, over 20,000 of you shared our Facebook post in support of the Dreamers who would be affected. We thank you for standing with our immigrant brothers and sisters!
Supermarket employee has ‘dinner date’ with elderly man who has no friends or family
Ellie Walker, 22, invited widower Edwin Holmes, 86, to dinner after she heard he spends most days alone. “He said it was his first ‘date’ in 55 years and he was as nervous as a schoolboy. It made me cry because I could see how much it meant to him. For me it’s the most important part of my job to speak with customers and see how their day is going,” Walker said. Holmes showed up in his best suit and the two meet for coffee regularly.
Thousands of you advocate for refugees by calling your representatives
In response to the administration’s decision to limit admission of refugees into the U.S., you—thousands of World Relief supporters and others around the country—made your voices heard to stand with the most vulnerable and marginalized. Bestselling author Ann Voskamp and others joined the effort.
Foster father chooses to only take in terminally ill children
Mohamed Bzeek cares for his six year-old foster daughter knowing her time with him will be short. "The key is, you have to love them like your own," Bzeek said. "I know they are sick. I know they are going to die. I do my best as a human being and leave the rest to God."
NBA owner allows player to borrow team plane to fly relief supplies to Puerto Rico
Dallas Mavericks owner, Mark Cuban, allowed Mavericks guard and Puerto Rico native J.J. Barea access to the team plane in order to fly supplies to those in need in the wake of Hurricane Maria. “I was really proud of J.J. and how quickly he got involved and how hard he worked to make all of this happen,” Cuban said.
Strangers on subway throw ceremony for student who misses graduation
When Jerich Marco Alcantara’s train broke down and caused him to miss his graduation ceremony, passengers on the New York subway decided to celebrate him by throwing a mock ceremony in his honor.
Your donations aid those affected by the African food crisis
In response to the devastating food shortages across multiple countries in Africa, inviduals and churches from all across the U.S. have sprung into action, donating to provide food and water for those in desperate need of it. Your support also allows us to continue developing long term solutions to combat the factors that have led to the crisis. Thank you!
Heroic man protects others during Las Vegas shooting, survives bullet to the neck
Jonathan Smith risked his life to save others as bullets flew through the air during the October shooting in Las Vegas. A bullet caught him in the neck and doctors have decided to leave the bullet in his body fearing that removal may lead to more damage. Some estimate that Smith saved up to 30 people during the shooting.
Four year-old girl donates piggy bank money to police officer with cancer
A Colorado police officer battling Leukemia received a surprise donation from an unlikely source. Sidney Fahrenbruch, a local 4 year old girl who frequently visits police officers, decided it was “the nice thing to do” to give the money in her piggy bank to Officer Kyle Zulauf to help pay for surgery. Sidney’s proud mother, Megan Fahrenbruch, said “She wanted to save the money for a toy but decided someone needed it more than her.”
22 year old rapper and 81 year old woman form unlikely friendship
Spencer Sleyon of East Harlem, New York and Rosalind Guttman of Palm Beach, Florida struck up an unlikely friendship after chatting with each other through the Words With Friends app. Sleyon said “A lot of people I saw online said, ‘I needed a story like this, especially with the race relations in this country right now.’”
Millions celebrate International Women’s Day by sharing our short film, Proverbs 31
Last March, World Relief debuted the Proverbs 31 short film on Facebook to celebrate and honor International Women’s Day. Viewers shared the film over 25,000 times and its message of strength, grace, grit and love of women has been viewed 1.6 million times.
For the past month, we've been featuring stories of individuals and communities putting Love in Action—bringing hope to the hurting and shining light in the darkest hours.
Learn more and put your Love in Action today.
What happens when an affluent, conservative, and mostly white church’s neighborhood is suddenly inundated with hundreds of international people?
That’s what happened to us.
In May of 2016, I was called as senior pastor of South Tulsa Baptist Church, a prominent Oklahoma church with strong denominational ties to the Southern Baptist Convention. South Tulsa is well-known among the one million people in our metro area as the destination for Tulsa’s “white flight.” It is a relatively homogenous area, and our community boasts dozens of gated neighborhoods filled with luxurious homes. We are adjacent to the most popular retail stores, desirable restaurants and high-end gyms.
In the last few years South Tulsa has also become the temporary home of nearly 10,000 resettled refugees and immigrants. Families from all over the world now reside within blocks of our well-manicured church campus and first-generation children have begun attending our very best schools. Our community is no longer homogeneous.
And there is no doubt in my mind that we are better off because of it.
An Opportunity to Love
As I began to examine our changing community, it was obvious that there would be significant needs, as well as missional opportunities amidst the newly arrived families. Here in South Tulsa, God was bringing the nations to us, and the prospects of serving people from at least five different continents were promising.
The most glaring needs were among adult refugees and immigrants. At the time, new families were arriving weekly. Their children were thriving in South Tulsa’s local schools. Yet for many adults, integration was far more difficult. These families provided us with a unique opportunity to love and serve our most vulnerable neighbors, and to direct hope toward them in expectation and trust of God’s plan.
Our church is constantly looking for ways to improve our ministries. Initially, I pursued help from many organizations who were ahead of us in the field, but ran into several roadblocks. That’s when I reached out to World Relief. Even though they have no office in our city, they graciously jumped into the fray with us and began to share information, strategies, personal support, invitations to refugee events, advocacy support and even overseas training to help us become educated and equipped for the growing challenges we were facing.
Soon after our relationship with World Relief began, however, our most formidable obstacle emerged.
As the presidential election was heating up last year, so was the topic of refugees. The rhetoric on both sides grew quickly intolerable, and any space for reasonable dialogue fell by the wayside. When the executive travel ban was announced in February, we went through several weeks of conflict and distraction. I heard phrases like, “we are voting on whether or not ISIS gets a free pass into our country,” and I saw the difficult impact of those opinions on our ministry. One family organization who had been using our facility terminated the relationship with less than a week’s notice because they felt we were putting children in danger by holding English classes and serving Muslim people in the building.
Of course with several families from the Middle East now connected to our church, tension was building rapidly inside our walls. It was in the midst of this that I chose to advocate for welcoming refugees publicly.
One Sunday morning, I asked the congregation to affirm with me, out loud, that we would not let this one issue distract us from our call to the Great Commission. I also asked them to agree that we not allow the current political climate to infect our congregational unity. In both services, there was a hearty “Amen.”
Becoming A Congregation of Hope
As more members of the congregation stepped out in faith and began to welcome refugee and immigrant families, loving relationships began to form. Our congregation and these families realized they could learn a lot from one other, that each of them had something unique to give. The depth of those connections surprised them. And we were reminded once again that God is constantly at work in changing all of us. After six weeks of very intentional reconciliation of church members, we emerged stronger than ever.
Today we are becoming a multi-cultural church. Our international families are involved in nearly every part of our church life. We translate sermon notes into four languages and our Scripture reading is done regularly in multiple languages. Several international adults and children have been baptized or have dedicated their families to the Lord. And the surprise exodus of that family organization mentioned earlier? Well, it opened up rooms for us to serve even more refugee and immigrant families in our church.
Through God’s grace, hope is alive in South Tulsa. Our prayer is that God will continue working in and through us, and pull us forward, so that we might demonstrate His love and the hope of Jesus to those from the nations who are coming to us.
As I reflect on the changes in our church, I am amazed that all this has happened in less than a year. It is a testament to the fact that love always hopes, in all things.
For those who would prayerfully seek to take on similar endeavors in their own churches, I hope our story provides encouragement to you.
Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you will abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. - Romans 15:13
Eric Costanzo has served as Pastor at South Tulsa Baptist Church since May 2016. Eric has a B.A. in Bible from Oklahoma Baptist University, and both a Master of Divinity and Ph.D. from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. In 2013, he published his first book entitled Harbor for the Poor. Eric is married to Rebecca (2001) and they have four incredible children—\Adin, Noah, Abigail, and Kynzleigh. In his spare time he enjoys being run ragged by his four children and all of their activities (which includes coaching), traveling, reading, and collecting antique books.
The Formation of The Sewing Program
In 2016, World Relief conducted a focus group with recently-arrived Afghan families in Seattle, WA. In it, we discovered that while many of the Afghan men are well-educated and fluent in English, most of the women, like Fatima, are pre-literate, meaning they cannot read or write in their own language. In Afghanistan, where women are culturally bound to stay at home surrounded by friends and family, this presents few issues. Isolated and alone in a new nation, and unable to communicate with others, however, this tradition was hugely damaging to these newly arrived women who were clearly suffering, and in some cases even struggling with depression.
Husbands in the focus group identified this isolation as an insurmountable challenge and sadness, and wanted an opportunity for their wives to participate in activities with other women. As we brainstormed solutions together, the group raised the idea of sewing. As we talked through the potential of a vocational ESL and skill-building sewing program, we realized that not only would it give the women the opportunity to learn new skills that are prized culturally, but that it could also pave the way for them to learn English and join together in community with other refugee women, supported by one another.
The barriers to developing a sewing program however, seemed insurmountable. Where would we find volunteer teachers, sewing machines and adequate space to provide a sewing class for this especially vulnerable group of women? How would we address the issues of transportation and childcare?
Enter Jeanine Boyle.
Jeanine attends Hillside Church, a partner of World Relief Seattle, and is also a national educator for the Singer Sewing Machine company. Three years earlier, Jeanine had felt strongly about starting a sewing class for women. She asked her company for some donations and received ten sewing machines for her class at a local non-profit, yet sadly the logistical issues did not work out. Consequently, Jeanine had 10 machines sitting in her garage.
With the help of Hillside Church and other volunteers, we cleared out space at the church that could be used for a sewing classroom, with an adjoining room for childcare. Two retired members of the church with carpentry experience helped to build four beautifully designed cutting tables, saving several thousand dollars. Our English (ELS) teachers at World Relief helped design the English portions of the class. And Jeanine, with her vast sewing education experience, developed a sewing curriculum. Volunteers came from churches all over, and in February 2017 we enrolled our first cohort of students.
For many of the volunteers this would be the first time they had ever interacted with refugee women, especially Muslim women. Even Jeanine herself had deep reservations about this new experience.
“My life did not include any contact with anyone of the Muslim faith. I had a lot of apprehensions about starting this whole journey. I had a fear of what I did not know. But teaching this class has been a life changing experience. I love these women.”
For highly skilled volunteers like Jeanine, this service is a sacrificial labor of love. Jeanine owns an interior design business and has to juggle her extremely busy business schedule to spend time teaching and preparing for the sewing classes. Yet Jeanine is motivated by love, and by her desire to help bear the burdens of these women, coming alongside them in support.
Debra Voelker, Missions Director at Hillside Church, also volunteers by managing the day-to-day operational details of the class. Debra drives over an hour to volunteer each week.
Like Jeanine, Debra realizes the burden these women face and seeks to ease it through love. She drives long distances and coordinates the many time consuming details each week in a tireless effort to foster and preserve the gift of life-giving relationships for these women.
“I’ve realized that women are women - wherever they are from. Our life circumstances are vastly different, but we have the same concerns – wanting to create a loving home for our families, wanting to provide for our kids, the joy of being in a safe community, and sharing with like-minded women,” Debra says.
The impact of our sewing program has been transformative. Many of the volunteers, including both Jeanine and Debra, have been invited into the homes of the participants and have reciprocated in kind. The sharing of food and friendship outside of class has formed lasting bonds. It has been a beautiful and mutually transformative journey for all the women involved.
Several weeks ago, I ran into Fatima at the local grocery store. She called out my name and we enthusiastically greeted each other in the bulk section. She asked about my children, my husband and my health. We compared our carts and asked each other what we were going to cook. We hugged goodbye and I got a little teary eyed as I reflected on the power of a simple conversation, which wouldn’t have been possible even five months before without the investment of amazing volunteers like Jeanine and Debra.
Yet our sewing program is just one example. Whether it be in the classrooms of Hillside Church, in local community gardens, in hospital waiting rooms, in social security lines, or simply in our living rooms at home, the loving relationships between our volunteers and newly arrived refugees and immigrants has been a joy to witness.
Jeanine and Debra’s story is one of so many, and it’s hard to put their dedication and sacrifice into words. We have volunteers who have sacrificed friendships and even jobs as they’ve embraced God’s call to welcome the stranger, put their love into action, and lighten the burden of others. Oftentimes they are fearful. Oftentimes they are reluctant. Oftentimes it just seems too difficult. Yet they listen, they trust, and the fruits are transformative not only for those they serve, but also for them. It is an example that inspires, and one that should encourage each one of us as we think about how we might continue to live lives of love in the year ahead.
“Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” – Galatians 6:2
Tahmina Martelly serves at the Programs Manager for World Relief Seattle. Originally from Dhaka, Bangladesh, Tahmina lived in Yemen before arriving at a farm in Idaho. A registered dietitian by education, Tahmina has worked with refugee and immigrant resiliency projects for the last 25 years. Most recently, she taught at the University of Utah, division of Nutrition and developed and taught computer literacy classes at the Utah Refugee Education Center. Tahmina has been with World Relief Seattle since 2017 overseeing the new resiliency project multiplier and managing state-funded employment and case management programs.