This is a story about a small village in Mzimba, a northern district in the small Southern African country of Malawi. It is a story about love and the relentless pursuit of the truth—a truth that has set the village of Jenda free and paved the way for love to flourish.
Love feeds the hungry.
Love welcomes the stranger.
Love knows no limits.
This #GivingTuesday (November 28), put your love in action in one of two ways:
1. LOCAL — Give to change the lives of refugees and immigrants in the U.S.
- Help meet the needs of refugees by providing compassionate and holistic care from the moment they arrive at the airport through their journey to self-sufficiency.
- Help immigrants maneuver through the U.S. immigration system, reunite with family members left behind and gain access to economic and educational opportunities.
2. INTERNATIONAL — Give to change the lives of vulnerable families in Africa, Asia and Haiti.
- Help meet the immediate needs of those affected by natural disasters, regional conflict, drought and famine.
- Help empower local churches to break the cycle of poverty by loving, serving and extending the mercy of God to the most vulnerable around the world.
This year for #GivingTuesday, you can make a tangible difference in the lives of refugees and immigrants.
- Below, find the local World Relief office closest to you.
- Click the link to learn what you can do on or before November 28 to welcome refugees and immigrants from around the world.
Elias Kamau is the World Relief Country Director for Kenya. In the video below, he discusses the World Relief approach to sustainable change.
We at World Relief often spend 2-3 years in a community before introducing technical programs, because we believe and recognize that transformation must happen from the inside-out. We know that in order for behaviors to change, belief and value change must first lead the way. And that that change must be rooted in local leaders, addressing local challenges, with local solutions.
Too often, Elias notes, the international community expects instant and easy solutions to massive challenges. But it is vital that we take our time in finding the right solutions, rooted in culturally appropriate lessons, in order to address causation, not just effect. We must come alongside communities, at the right times, with the right local voices, seeking not to solve, but to understand. We must understand the unique values that drive action. That spectrum of understanding, Elias says, is vital for success.
Single-focus, short-term interventions fail to ensure sustainability – in fact, they often breed dependency. Yet through a holistic, nuanced, roots-based approach, harmful beliefs and behaviors can be changed, driving sustainable life-giving results.
We believe the video above gives insight, and helps bring to life, how this kind of transformation happens. And at World Relief, we believe this approach is the only way to achieve lasting change in a community.
"Immigration is not a political issue. It is a human issue. A biblical issue," says Liz Dong.
Liz is a Chinese American, and DACA recipient. Here she explains how a small clerical error thew her life into chaos, and how as a suddenly undocumented immigrant, she experienced God's profound love through the church as His people welcomed her in.
Reports from multiple news sources have confirmed that the Trump administration is poised to set 2018 refugee admissions levels at 45,000—the lowest in the nation’s history. Here’s what the administration has said in its report to Congress to justify these historically low numbers, at a historically high time of need, and the facts you should know:
There is no way to securely vet all refugees who come to the U.S.
FACT: The integrity of security procedures in the U.S. resettlement program is evidenced by the fact that, while over 3 million refugees have been admitted to the U.S. since 1980, not a single refugee has committed a lethal terrorist attack on U.S. soil.
Refugees are a security risk as demonstrated by the fact that the FBI is investigating 300 refugees for connections to terrorism.
FACT: 300 refugees is an immensely small fraction of resettled refugees in the U.S. and is not representative of the population writ large. According to CATO, 300 refugees represents less than 0.009 percent of all refugees admitted to the U.S. since 1975. It is a far cry from a statistically significant portion of the refugee population and should not have any bearing on our understanding of the resettled refugee population. Even if those 300 refugees were resettled to the U.S. in a single year, they would represent less than 1% of the total number of refugees accepted on average per year since 1980. 
Refugees are not terror threats; they are fleeing terror. Refugees are civilians who have fled their country due to fear of persecution or violence. By definition, refugees have not engaged in violence, persecution of others, or serious criminality. Persons believed to have engaged in war crimes, crimes against humanity or serious non-political crimes are disqualified from refugee status.
It is more cost-effective to help refugees in the region, in their first countries of asylum*.
FACT: Refugee resettlement in the U.S. is a solution with one-time, up-front costs that ultimately result in net fiscal gain to the U.S. as refugees become taxpayers.  Resettlement requires a short-term investment, but allows refugees to become full-fledged members of our society and economy, providing the refugee with a path to self-sufficiency and benefiting the American economy.
In 2016, over 72 percent of refugees resettled to the U.S. were women and children.  Many are single mothers, survivors of torture, or in need of urgent medical treatment. Women and girls are subject to heinous forms of persecution in wartime (such as gang rape) and suffer severe trauma that cannot be addressed in camps or difficult urban environments. Survivors of rape are often ostracized in their host countries, making them priorities for resettlement. For these women, resettlement is the only solution. No amount of aid in their host country could guarantee their safety and psychosocial recovery.
12 refugees can be helped in the region for every one refugee resettled to the U.S.
FACT: The comparison of one-time costs associated with resettlement with the long-term costs of assisting refugees for many years on end is not a reasonable one.
Refugees spend an average of 10 years displaced outside their countries of origin. For those refugees displaced for more than five years, the average soars to an astonishing 21 years. Refugees in these protracted situations require assistance over many, many years.
In stark contrast to the 21 years that some refugees spend in host countries dependent on temporary assistance, over the same period, resettled refugees rebuild their lives and contribute $21,000 more to the American economy than they receive in benefits.
The aim of U.S. refugee policy is for refugees to return home.
FACT: Of the world’s 22.5 million refugees, less than 1% have access to resettlement. In 2018, 1.2 million face extreme vulnerabilities or family reunification needs for which they are in need of resettlement. Yet fewer than 200,000 resettlement slots are available annually.
Refugee resettlement of a few is necessary for the successful local integration or return of the majority of refugees. Refugee resettlement relieves pressures on host communities and contributes to overall regional stability—contributing to the conditions necessary for the majority of the refugees that remain in the region to either integrate locally in their host countries or return home when it is safe to do so.
Conversely, retreating from resettlement commitments can have dramatic consequences for the eventual safe return of refugees—prolonging and sometimes even reigniting conflict.
Today, this risk exists in the premature return of Syrian, Afghan, and Somali refugees, which could further destabilize fragile and conflict-ridden countries. Over 600,000 Afghan refugees were induced to return from Pakistan in 2016—a six-fold increase from 2015—as Afghanistan struggles with growing insecurity, instability and gains by terrorist organizations. Such premature returns come at a time when growing instability in Afghanistan has required an increase in U.S. troop levels to reverse gains by terrorist organizations.
The number of refugees resettled is of no consequence to American interests abroad.
FACT: Refugee resettlement is not just a humanitarian program and a moral choice, it is a strategic imperative that promotes regional stability and global security in some of the most challenging parts of the world. Refugee resettlement is a critical foreign policy and national security tool—alleviating pressures on critical allies, helping ensure the international community maintains its humanitarian obligations, encouraging responsibility sharing, maintaining cooperation with allies for U.S. diplomatic and intelligence operations, and sending the message to terrorist groups that the U.S. welcomes those who reject terrorist ideologies.
Maintaining resettlement commitments is critical to the effectiveness of military, diplomatic and intelligence operations abroad and the safety of U.S. troops. Tens of thousands of Iraqi and Afghan nationals have put their lives on the line to support intelligence gathering, operations planning and other essential services, especially translation. These individuals and their families are often targeted by terrorist groups as a direct result of their cooperation with Americans. Resettlement is instrumental in ensuring their safety—a testament to the U.S. military’s commitment to leave no one behind.
Refugee resettlement signals support for those who seek liberty and reject ideologies antithetical to American values. Just as the U.S. offered refuge to those fleeing communist regimes during the Cold War, so too must the U.S. open its arms to those standing against terrorist ideologies, many of whom refused to join or be conscripted into terrorist groups, militias and state security forces persecuting fellow citizens.
The last thing that terrorist organizations like ISIS want is for the U.S. to be a beacon of hope, acceptance and inclusion for Muslims.
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) cannot safely vet more than 45K given that improved security vetting being put in place during the 120-day ban is more resource-intensive.
FACT: Even in the face of the worst terrorist attack on our nation’s soil on Sept. 11, 2001, President George W. Bush set an admissions ceiling of 70,000 refugees and continued to do so in the years that followed. Doing so signaled that the U.S. would remain a humanitarian leader and demonstrated that the administration understood the critical role resettlement plays in supporting our allies.
The global context was also different under President Bush. The global refugee population was nearly half of what it is today (12 million in 2001 vs. 22.5 million in 2016).
Refugees are too costly; they are a drain on local economies and take jobs away from Americans.
FACT: All evidence points to the fact that refugees benefit local economies and fill empty jobs in the workforce.
A July 2017 report by the Department of Health and Human Services, commissioned by the Trump Administration, found that over the past decade refugees have contributed $63 billion more in government revenues over the past decade than they cost. 
Even with an admissions ceiling of 45,000 refugees, the U.S. will remain the world leader in refugee resettlement.
FACT: The average annual admissions ceiling since 1980 has exceeded 95,000. A refugee admissions ceiling of 45,000—the lowest level ever set—is a drastic departure from historic tradition, signaling a retreat in leadership on the world stage. Presidents from both parties in the past two decades have set robust refugee ceilings as a proud humanitarian tradition of welcome.
Last year, Canada resettled 46,000 refugees, more than the new cap. Canada is roughly one-tenth the size of the US population and economy (smaller, in both regards, than the single U.S. state of California)
Refugees are imposed upon unwilling and overburdened communities who wish to care for their own people first and foremost, not the foreign born.
FACT:. The private sector, faith institutions and local communities are all deeply invested and involved in welcoming refugees and helping them achieve successful integration in their new homes. They do so with a commitment and desire to reflect the values of America, and build better, stronger, more vibrant communities here in the U.S.
Communities are enriched—spiritually, socially, and economically—through diversity. Immigrants and refugees have enriched our nation, our community and our churches for generations through the unique cultures and traditions they bring. Hundreds of employers around the country work closely with resettlement agencies to systematically hire refugees (mainly in the manufacturing, hotel and food industries) in many industries that native-born Americans will not work in. Employers look to hire refugees because they find refugees to be among their most stable, reliable employees.
Thousands of volunteers and members of congregations donate tens of thousands of hours and in-kind contributions each year to support refugees, lowering costs to the federal government. Community members donate household items to help furnish a refugee family’s first apartment, teach financial literacy and cultural orientation classes, help new arrivals prepare for job interviews, mentor refugee families to help them adapt to the American way of life, and much more.
* UNHCR says "The ‘first country of asylum’ concept is to be applied in cases where a person has already, in a previous state, found international protection, that is once again accessible and effective for the individual concerned."
 “Trump’s claim that ‘more than 300’ refugees are subjects of counterterrorism investigations,” Washington Post, March 2017
 “These researchers just debunked an all-too-common belief about refugees,” Washington Post, June 2017
 “Fact Sheet: Fiscal Year 2016 Refugee Admissions,” U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration January 2017.
 “Rejected Report Shows Revenue Brought In by Refugees,” New York Times, September 2017
DRC: The Conflict in Context
“Conflict spares no one,” writes Cyprien Nkiriyumwami, World Relief Africa Director for Peacebuilding.
The context in which he writes is that of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). For twenty years the DRC has experienced continuous and brutal conflict, originally a result of the tribal animosities unleashed by the Rwandan genocide in 1994, then exacerbated by the military overthrow of its president, Mobutu Sese Seko, in 1997.
There are now as many as 70 armed militias operating in the DRC, fighting over control of the land and the rich mineral resources buried within it. As many as 6 million people have been killed in the fighting or by related impacts such as disease or malnutrition. Women and children are those most affected and victimized by this conflict—including recruitment into armed groups, sexual violence, and many forms of gross physical violence. Today, the United Nations estimates that there are 4.7 million people displaced from their homes in DRC and another 450,000 who have fled the violence as refugees living outside of their country.
On the UN Human Development Index, which measures for life expectancy, educational, and economic factors, DRC is ranked 176 out of 188 nations worldwide. And despite its people’s deep desire for peace, the conflict and resulting corruption too often benefits those in positions of power, creating little incentive to stop the violence that causes so much unbelievable suffering.
In the midst of this chaos and constant simmering of open-conflict, Cyprien has been facilitating World Relief’s efforts to transform communities of conflict into those characterized by peace through the formation of our Village Peace Committees (VPCs). VPCs are community structures composed of ten trained and respected community members who work together to solve disputes and conflicts within their localities before they reach violence. Today, the VPCs are incredibly successful vehicles for conflict prevention throughout the DRC. The road to their installation however, was not an easy one.
A Difficult Task
Over ten years ago, World Relief’s work in the Democratic Republic of Congo experienced disruption upon disruption due to constant violence. As staff came together to discuss solutions, two staff members who worked with local churches observed that the tribal divisions in churches typically mirrored the conflict they saw in the wider community. Pondering how they could act upon this insight, Cyprien and local pastor, Marcel Serubungo, called together church leaders from across the area to a 3-day pastoral retreat to address the conflict in the community.
This task was harder than it sounds given the history and context of this request. At the time, pastors and their churches were largely segregated by tribal identity. So too were the relationships among pastors. In fact, pastors would normally avoid meeting one another or even gathering in the same room with pastors of another tribe. Now tensely gathered together in one room, Pastors Cyprien and Marcel shared their vision of pastors leading the way in bringing peace to their community and providing care to victims of violence, without consideration of tribal affiliation. Discussion was difficult and quickly devolved into accusations from pastors of one tribe against pastors of another, even as Pastors Cyprien and Marcel tried to bring pastors together in unity around their shared purpose and design as image-bearers of God.
That night, by design, Pastors Cyprien and Marcel assigned each retreat room to two pastors, one from each combating tribe. Each room was furnished with one bed. The pastors were forced to decide if they were to sleep on the floor or on the bed. In customary African fashion and considered culturally appropriate, the pastor-pairs reluctantly agreed to share each bed. Yet lying back to back, the pastors could not sleep because of the level of bitterness and mistrust against one another.
The Birth of the VPCs
The next morning, the pastors wearily re-convened to continue conversation about their influential roles in conflict mediation. As the day went along, defenses began to fall and conversations moved into a recognition of the need to be involved in brokering peace. That night, back in their rooms, the pastors engaged in willing conversation and were finally able to sleep, this time side by side. The next morning, well rested, the pastors regathered. The conversation turned personal as one pastor stood and confessed publicly his hatred for pastors from the other tribe. One by one, pastors stood to confess their own sin against one another. Confessions turned to weeping and forgiving-embraces, which turned to corporate repentance and a final decision as a group to pursue reconciliation and peace in their communities. The Pastors shared a collective and unifying sentiment as they left the retreat, “How can we expect our people to live any differently, if we ourselves cannot gather together in peace and unity?”
That water-shed gathering shifted things significantly. Meaningful pastor-friendships formed across tribal differences. Regular pastor gatherings commenced to discuss peacebuilding in their congregations. These gatherings and relationships soon led to pulpit-exchanges, where pastors from opposite tribes would preach at the other’s church on a Sunday. At first, parishioners were shocked by these actions, but eventually began to realize that “If pastors could meet together, so too could they.” The example of these pastors cascaded into their churches and out into the community, as tangible hope began to form within their people.
VPCs Around the Globe
The lessons learned from the early peacebuilding efforts in the DRC have today formed the foundation from which World Relief’s peacebuilding efforts have expanded into other fragile countries, including South Sudan, Burundi, Pakistan, and elsewhere.
Today, VPCs are able to operate independently and successfully because they are acknowledged by villagers as neutral, impartial and effective conflict resolution facilitators. Not only do they formalize the process by which tribal leaders and community members publicly address past and current tensions, but they also encourage and offer this process free of charge. These local committees have resolved thousands of conflicts which would have otherwise escalated into cycles of violence causing loss of land, property, and life on mass scale and tearing families and communities apart.
Peace building matters because it helps people and communities to refrain from using force to impose their views on others. It helps people to accept others as they are, to tolerate differences, respect the vulnerable, especially women and children, and eventually, to come voluntarily to solutions acceptable by all.
VPCs have resolved conflicts as small as land and livestock disputes, as well as cases referred to them by the local police, but they also accomplish something much bigger: They create hope, courage and faith. Hope that problems can be resolved and that a better future exists. Courage to address larger relational issues and conflicts despite historical failures and fatigue. And faith, as communities begin to see that the church is both relevant for their communities and that the teachings of scripture do make a difference.
Today, World Relief continues to pioneer our VPC work across fragile states. Though we face countless challenges and roadblocks to this work, we take heart, because of our confidence in men and women like Cyprien who lean into the discomfort and fear courageously, in faith. And we have great faith that this work will continue to be transformative in the lives of thousands across the world.
Gil Odendaal, Ph.D, D.Min, is the SVP of Integral Mission Division at World Relief. He previously served as the Global Director for PEACE Implementation with Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California as well as Global Director for the HIV/AIDS Initiative under Kay Warren. Gil has 30 years of ministry experience as a missionary, pastor, educator, leader and public speaker, including serving as Regional Coordinator for Africa, Russia and Easter Europe with Medical Ambassadors International. Gil serves on the Lausanne Movement Integral Mission leadership team as well as a board member of ACCORD Network. Gil and his wife, Elmarie, were born and raised in South Africa. They have three adult children and five grandchildren.
Cyprien Nkiriyumwami is World Relief’s Africa Director for Integral Mission, Church Empowerment and Peace Building. Trained as community development facilitator and working in that capacity since 1984, Cyprien has designed and led programs that lean on local churches and grassroots structures of volunteers in reconciling people and communities in the war torn Democratic Republic of Congo and in Pakistan.
Damon Schroeder is the Director for US Integral Mission at World Relief. Springing from his experience as a missionary kid from Cyprus, he has worked for 17 years, equipping churches in the US to holistically welcome and build community with newly arriving refugees and immigrants.
On September 5, 2017, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the termination of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. Those whom this directly affects have an all-too-clear understanding of the realities this decision creates. For those who may not fully understand DACA, The DREAM Act and Dreamers—and the issues surrounding each—we hope this brief primer will help.
What is DACA?
The short story is that DACA has provided a pathway for children and young adults who came to the United States with their parents to legally obtain a Social Security Number, driver’s license, enroll in college and work. While their parents either came to the U.S. unlawfully or overstayed their visas, these kids usually had no choice but to come with their parents, and this immigration policy helped provide opportunities for those youth who had already been in our country for years. DACA doesn’t offer a pathway towards permanent legal status or U.S. citizenship. It also doesn’t give individuals access to federal financial aid programs. It simply affords them the opportunity to further their own development, provide for themselves and their loved ones, and participate in their communities without fear of deportation.
Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), announced by President Obama on June 15th, 2012, has allowed immigrants who
were born on or after June 16, 1981,
arrived to the United States before age 16 and
have lived in the U.S. since June 15, 2007
to be eligible for work authorization in the United States and protection from deportation for two years. These individuals are generally called “Dreamers,” named so after the DREAM Act, a piece of legislation first introduced in Congress in 2001 that would afford these individuals permanent legal status.
How many people have DACA?
According to the Department of Homeland Security, as of March 2017, 787,580, individuals have been granted DACA. Individuals from Mexico represent the largest number of DACA recipients, followed by El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Peru and South Korea.
What does the termination of DACA mean?
It means that 800,000 children or young adults would––at a minimum––lose their jobs which may mean lacking the income to make payments on a car loan, rent, mortgage or school tuition or to help support their families. It could also mean being sent back to their countries of birth, even though many cannot remember living in any country other than the U.S., where they have grown up.
The White House and Department of Justice announced the termination of DACA on September 5, 2017. This means the Department of Homeland Security is no longer accepting any new applications for DACA. Those with DACA due to expire between September 5, 2017, and March 5, 2018, can apply for a two-year renewal by October 5, 2017. For others, DACA could end as early as March 6, 2018. Work permits issued under DACA will be honored until they expire.
What is the DREAM Act?
A permanent solution.
The DREAM Act is a bipartisan bill that would offer a permanent solution for Dreamers by allowing them to eventually earn citizenship if they go to college, maintain a job, or serve in the U.S. military. The latest DREAM Act was introduced by Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) on July 20, 2017, and a companion bill with bipartisan support has also been introduced in the House of Representatives.
What happens if Congress doesn't act?
If Congress does not pass a measure protecting DACA recipients, nearly 300,000 people in 2018 alone would lose their permission to work and be at risk for deportation, with DACA protections for all 800,000 individuals to be phased out by March 2020.
Both the Senate and the House need to pass it, and the President needs to sign a bill by March 6, 2018, in order for DACA recipients to continue to be protected from deportation.
But aren’t Dreamers here illegally? Why should the U.S. allow them to stay?
While their parents made the choice to enter the U.S. illegally or overstay a visa, Dreamers, who were children when they arrived, did not make that choice for themselves. There’s no place in American law that penalizes children for the action of their parents. For many Dreamers, the U.S. is the only home they’ve ever known. Passing the DREAM Act is an opportunity to fix the law so that Dreamers correct their situation, earn citizenship and remain the country they call home.
Where can I find more information?
The website of the US Citizenship and Immigration Services has more information on DACA. Also, the Department of Homeland Security has posted answers to a list of questions about its plans to rescind the program.
Individuals who believe they may be eligible to renew DACA should immediately consult with an experienced immigration attorney or a non-profit organization (including many World Relief offices and local churches supported by World Relief) that is recognized by the U.S. Department of Justice to provide low-cost immigration legal services. Refer to this map for a site near you.
I support DACA and Dreamers, but am not sure how I—one person—can help. Do you have any ideas?
There are many ways you can help. Here are five simple ideas:
To take action, write your members of Congress urging them to support the DREAM Act.
If you’re a church leader or pastor, consider signing onto this letter which we will send to your Representative and Senator.
Write and submit an op-ed or a letter to the editor of the local paper about why you support Dreamers.
If you have a story to tell about yourself or someone you know who has DACA, consider sharing how it’s helped your or their life on social media. This is a human issue and we need to keep it humanized.
To support the work of World Relief, you can donate today.
While living in the south Asian country of Bhutan, Pabi’s family was forced to flee their home due to political and ethnic persecution. At a young age, Pabi became a refugee. And like many refugee children, Pabi’s education risked coming to a halt. When her family fled to nearby Nepal, Pabi received some education, but the conditions of the school proved too harsh for her to flourish.
Eventually, the UN selected Pabi’s family for resettlement in the United States—specifically in the western suburbs of Chicago, Illinois. As World Relief’s Dupage/Aurora office began to resettle Pabi’s family, staff and volunteers carefully considered how they could help provide Pabi with the tools she needed to thrive in her education.
Pabi was only in 5th grade when she began schooling in the U.S. She remembers not being able to speak English and feeling fearful. “It was really scary, and I was worried every day,” Pabi recalls. “For a month I cried every night because students were not nice. I used to cry under the blanket so my parents couldn’t find out that I was crying.”
Thankfully, Pabi was able to join World Relief’s after-school program at an area church where she quickly found friends and academic assistance. She also befriended Nepali students, who were in higher level classes in school and helped her quickly learn English.
With a strengthened foundation because of the support Pabi received in the after school program, Pabi was poised to flourish in her academic pursuits. She continued to excel throughout middle school and high school. In fact, her academic achievement has resulted in a college scholarship through philanthropist Bob Carr’s Give Something Back Foundation (GSBF); Pabi was selected as only one of seven scholarship winners out of over 40 applicants. The scholarship, along with government financial aid, will allow Pabi to attend college tuition-free.
Pabi’s education could have ended the day she and her family fled Bhutan. But by the grace of God, Pabi’s tireless efforts and the help of World Relief and partner churches, Pabi will become the first in her family to attend college and is now filled with hope for her bright future.
Pabi’s story is one of many. Around the world, World Relief has made it a priority to partner with local churches and organizations to provide safe spaces for refugee children to continue learning, especially when formal education is not a viable option. In the U.S., we help newly arriving refugee families enroll in schools, provide school supplies to children and conduct after-school tutoring—ensuring that refugee children like Pabi can not only restart their education but thrive at every level. You can play a critical role in supporting refugees like Pabi through the work of World Relief.
Join us as we invest in the future of refugees around the world.
Children across the U.S. are returning to school. Recently resettled refugees will be among those children. Tabitha McDuffee, Communications Coordinator for World Relief Dupage/Aurora (WRDA) sat down with both Malita Gardner, Children & Youth Program Manager at WRDA, and Deborah, a former refugee from Southeast Asia and staff member at WRDA, to discuss what the back-to-school season means for refugees.
Their conversation addresses the challenges refugee children face in their education and the ways World Relief and our partners come alongside them, working to ensure a bright educational future for each child.
Tabitha: What happens to a child’s education when his or her family is forced to flee their home and country?
Deborah: When a family is forced to flee their home and country, a child’s education is interrupted. In some cases families may have to flee on such short notice that they do not have time to gather school documents or transcripts before leaving their home. This can make it difficult for children to enroll in school in the country they flee to.
What are some of the challenges refugee children face when they arrive in their temporary host country, before they are permanently resettled? Do they even have the option of going to school in these other countries?
Deborah: Oftentimes, the classes are very large, and the teachers are not well trained. The quality of education is very poor. Parents often do not encourage their children to attend school in the host country or refugee camp because they view their situation as temporary. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees [UNHCR 2016 Global Trends Report], refugees remain in a host country for an average of 17 years before returning home or being resettled. This means that refugee children may miss out on large portions of their education while in a refugee camp. If a child escapes their home when they are 12, and then they spends ten years in a refugee camp before coming to the U.S., when they get here they are too old to attend school.
When a refugee child’s family is resettled in the U.S., is public education immediately available to them?
Malita: Yes. U.S. resettlement agencies like World Relief assist refugee families to enroll their children in school, usually within 30 days of arrival.
And what are the greatest challenges refugee children face as they restart their education in the U.S.?
Malita: Refugee children’s biggest hurdle is learning English. They must progress in their language ability in order to thrive and succeed in school. However, children tend to learn a new language very quickly, so they may become fluent in as little as 18-24 months after arriving in the U.S.
Deborah explains that schools are operated very differently in different parts of the world, so refugee children must adjust to this as well. Co-ed schools may be a new experience for some children. For her own children, the differences in grading systems were confusing.
Deborah: “I wish that teachers were more direct when telling me about my children’s progress. One of my kids was struggling in a class, but his teacher did not sound very serious or urgent when she told me, so I didn’t realize how important it was.”
Refugee children can become isolated when they begin school in the U.S.
Malita: Refugee children are enrolled in an ESL (English as a Second Language) track so that they can improve their English while they attend school. While they benefit from spending much of the day with their assigned ESL teacher and other refugee children, it may isolate them from the rest of their classmates.
In the Middle East, World Relief works alongside local partners to host Kids Clubs, safe spaces for children to learn, play and grow. How does World Relief help refugee children arriving to the U.S.? What ongoing help and support does World Relief and its partner churches provide as children continue their education?
Malita: World Relief assists refugee children by enrolling them in school. Some local offices and partner churches organize after-school clubs or one-on-one tutoring for students. In some cases, ongoing help and support may include regular follow-up visits during the first year of resettlement to make sure that refugee children are adjusting well. Refugee families may also be connected with an individual or group of volunteers from the local community who visit them weekly to help the kids with homework, practice conversational English with the parents and answer questions they might have about American culture and practices.
What is the outcome when a refugee child begins to thrive educationally here in the U.S.?
Malita: Refugee children have a lot of potential. For instance, I think of a high school girl who was nominated as the school district’s “Student of the Month,” just four years after arriving in the U.S. She gave a speech to the school board and did an amazing job. It was so encouraging to see her success. When refugee children learn English, become involved in extracurricular activities and have access to academic support and resources, they begin to thrive. Through our youth programs, World Relief is privileged to play an important role in many success stories like this one.
World Relief’s work with refugee children and youth plays a vital role in their adjustment to new schools and their success in their new communities.
If you would like to donate to the work of World Relief during this back-to-school season visit our Refugee Crisis page.
It’s a known reality that Sunday mornings are an ‘experience’ for young families. Getting everyone up, ready, and out the door for church provides numerous joys and challenges. For me, this Sunday morning was particularly challenging.
On one hand, it was full of joy. My two-year-old daughter had spent her first night in the ‘big girl room’ we have been preparing the past few weeks. We were woken to the joyful scream of, “I slept in my room!” Laughter is a great way to start the day.
We went through the normal morning routine—family cuddles in bed, breakfast and the ritual Sunday morning playing of VeggieTales 25 Favorite Sunday School Songs!, in which my daughter gets ready, eats breakfast and plays all while singing along with ALL 25 SONGS.
On the other hand, my wife and I would both sneak away with our phones to read the updates on what had happened 142 miles down the road from us in Charlottesville, VA—a weekend getaway for those of us who live in the Baltimore/Washington D.C. metro area.
I sat at my kitchen table with my coffee, watching my daughter and wife play and sing on the floor. So much joy. But on the phone in my hand were pictures of people with torches marching with through the streets who did not think that my wife and child—the daughter and granddaughter of Ugandan immigrants—were worth the same as those of us who are white. So much hate.
It was an especially hard Sunday morning.
I wanted to share thoughts on what was wrong, on how it could be addressed. I wanted to experience the joy in my house and join the lament happening across the country. I didn’t want to dive into politics and policy, but speak to the church. I offer not solutions, but perspective and I am choosing to do it through the eyes of my daughter, and her favorite Sunday school songs.
This Little Light of Mine
As followers of Jesus we know that we are to be light in the darkness (Phil 2:14-16). But so often the darkness surprises us. It shouldn’t. There is real evil and hate in the world. It stands against everything that is good. It stands against people realizing their full potential as image bearers of God—with dignity, purpose and vocation. It specializes in dehumanizing each and every one of us. This weekend we saw just a glimpse of it.
This same darkness keeps people trapped in systems of injustice, perpetuates generational poverty and causes us to fear people who are different from us. What we saw this weekend is born of the same darkness we find in a brothel full of sex slaves, an encampment of rebels training stolen children to be soldiers, the violence plaguing Syria, the shooting on the street corner or in the expanding opioid crisis. It is vile, it is disgusting and it is not far from any of us. This darkness, when combined with our personal flaws and sin, is dangerous and pervasive. If we let ourselves be surprised by it, then it will consume us. If we pretend we are immune to or above this darkness, then we are blind.
Shining our light means that we expose darkness for what it is—evil. If we are to be light, we need to call out racism, white supremacism, Nazism and xenophobia as evil, expose it as evil and let the light of God cleanse it. May the church do just that this week. May we realize the power in naming evil while at the same time recognizing the long journey ahead toward rooting it out. Yes, public policy and political leaders have a role here, but we don’t control them—we control ourselves, our families and our churches. Let’s start there.
This is My Commandment
This is my daughter’s current favorite song. “This is my commandment that you love one another that your joy may be full.”
The hate we saw perpetuated this weekend was committed by people who, we can argue, do not have much joy. Their obsession with dehumanizing people of color, immigrants and people of different faiths consumes them. They are angry and bitter.
Let’s not become like them.
This morning I found myself full of two types of anger. First, righteous anger at the injustice. But also, an unholy anger directed towards the people who marched. I hate what they did. They frighten me. With highly armed people who are this passionate, I worry about the safety of my wife, daughter and soon-to be born son. But I cannot let myself hate them. If I do this, I become just like them and give up my own humanity. Hating them will rob me of the joy that I believe God wants me to experience.
Yes, I should be angry—we all should. But let’s afford them what they seek to take away from others. Let’s extend to them the love of God.
Let us also not forget the many, many people of all colors and creeds who are afraid this week. My prayer for the church is the same prayer that we try to teach my daughter: “God teach us to love you more, teach us to love each other more and teach us to love people who are different from us more and more each day.” If the church would seek to understand this simple, yet high, calling we could change the world.
Leaning on the Everlasting Arms
At the end of 25 Sunday school songs sung by vegetables you would think that I would have been done. Most Sundays you would be right. But this Sunday, right now, as I am writing this, the vegetables are singing “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms” and I have tears streaming down my face.
The chorus goes: “Leaning, leaning, safe and secure from all alarm, leaning, leaning, leaning on the everlasting arms.”
Why tears? There have been too many mornings like this one over these past few years. Mornings that alarmed me. Mornings where I grieved, lamented and cried out to God asking, “Why do You allow this hate to continue, why don’t You root it out right now?” Mornings praying that my family would be protected from the narrative of hate in the world. Mornings coming to grips with the fact that the world treats me differently than it treats them. The painful and confusing reality that I, James, am privileged in a way that causes people to treat me in a more favorable way than they do my wife, daughter and soon-to-be son. Mornings feeling demobilized, confused and not knowing what to do.
Why tears? Reality sets in. We might not always be safe; it is not guaranteed to us. The promise of a future reality being sung in the song does not govern this present day. But I know how the story ends and can live in light. I see the picture of the people of God gathered from every tribe and tongue. I see a throng of distinctly different people, celebrating one another’s heritages, cultures and histories. I see that same throng unified in adoration of the One who made it possible for them to finally, after millenniums of strife, come together. They come together in celebration of the One who is Light and who once and for all will do away with darkness.
For me, immigration is not a political issue or a policy issue; it's a very personal issue. My own family's history has fundamentally shaped who I am as an American, and who I am as a Christian. And as an American Christian, my fear is that the conversation about immigration in this country has become so political that we have missed out on what God is actually doing through the migration of millions of people and may potentially miss the unique missional opportunity that is in front of us.
From Korea to the United States
I am the daughter of two Korean immigrants.
My father was born and raised in South Korea when Korea was in the midst of a significant war. My grandfather was a reporter for a newspaper, and during the beginning of the war, the military was targeting media personnel. When my father was three years old, soldiers pushed him aside as they went upstairs into the house, found my grandfather and pulled him out of the house. My father never saw his father again.
A few years later, my grandmother came to faith in Christ because of American missionaries sent to Korea at that time. Although my father and his mother were desperately poor and alone, they read Scripture and prayed together, and that is what sustained them during this troubling time without my grandfather. Sadly, my grandmother got sick and passed away, so at 7 years old, my father became an orphan.
As an orphan, my father heard about the United States of America, and knew that if he could make it here, he wouldn't be defined by his poverty or the fact that he was an orphan. After high school, he entered into a national car repair competition where he won first place. This was his golden ticket, his opportunity to move to a country he saw as the land of opportunity.
I know that my family is not unique: it's estimated that there are over 200 million individuals around the world that are migrating from one place to another to seek better opportunities for themselves and their families. And about 60 million of these individuals are people who are refugees or those who have been forcibly displaced from their homes. This is the greatest number of refugees and displaced since World War II.
But the history of displaced people stretches back much farther than the mid 20th century. In fact, forced migration runs through the very fabric of history itself.
A Biblical View of Immigration
From Genesis to Revelation, the entire Bible is fundamentally a book about immigrants and about immigration. In fact, almost every single Biblical character in the Bible was an immigrant at one point in another.
Abraham—who is considered the father of our faith—was called by God to leave his home and to go to another land that God would show him. Abraham didn't know where he was going or how he was going to get there. Becoming an immigrant, leaving behind everything that he knew, would be a test of God's faithfulness to him and his family.
Ruth was a Moabite woman and a migrant worker gleaning barley in the fields when she was noticed by Boaz. Boaz noticed her as a migrant worker, as someone whose character and dignity was worthy of respect and of love. And it was through her experience as a migrant that she was able to meet the love of her life.
Joseph was a victim of human trafficking. He was sold into slavery by his brothers and was transported across borders, and that fundamentally shaped his experience as an immigrant.
Jesus the Middle Eastern refugee
Perhaps the greatest immigrant of all in Scripture was Jesus himself. He was a single, male Middle Eastern refugee. He fits into every category of an individual whom we have said that we don't even want to come into our country. So my question is: “If Jesus were born today, would we as a country even welcome him into our community?”
Immigration: A missional opportunity
At World Relief, we've resettled over 300,000 refugees from all parts of the world. We've resettled individuals from Iraq, Somalia, Syria and Afghanistan—places where it's very hard for the Church to thrive.
What we have found is that the mission field is not just overseas anymore. Because of migration to the United States of America, the mission field has literally arrived in our own backyards. It is an incredible opportunity for the church.
Dr. Timothy Tenent, President of Asbury Theological Seminary, said: “86% of the immigrant population are likely either to be Christian or to become Christian. And that is far above the national average.” He said that "The immigrant population actually presents the greatest hope for Christian renewal in North America. This group of people we want to keep out is the group that we actually need the most for spiritual transformation. We shouldn't see this as something that threatens us. We should see this as an incredible, missional opportunity.”
It isn’t only refugees who have never heard the Gospel who are coming to the U.S. Many refugees are arriving with a vibrant Christian faith that is renewing the life of the church. Refugees and immigrants are not just the recipients of mission, but they are also the agents of mission.
As an example, Abundant Life Church in San Antonio started with a few hundred members but within the span of five years grew to over 1,300 members, offering both English and Spanish-speaking services. The immigrants coming into this church community are actually reviving the spiritual life of the church. And it's not just these small immigrant churches that are experiencing tremendous growth and spiritual renewal. Megachurches across the country, like Willow Creek Community Church, are also experiencing a transformation and revitalization of their ministries.
A test of faith
When we talk about immigration, I believe it's not just a test of our politics. Our response to immigration fundamentally is a test of our faith, what we fundamentally believe about the gospel and about people who are made in the image of God.
Are we willing to risk our own comfort and security to welcome our neighbors into the kingdom of God? Do we really actually believe that Jesus died for people of all nations and of all ethnicities and of all cultures and of all languages? Because I believe if we do, we will choose to welcome and love the very people the world wants us to hate. In fact, when we as a church love and welcome the very people the world wants to marginalize, we will advance the mission of God.
This post was adapted from Jenny Yang’s talk at Cru 17. Watch the entire talk.
Jenny Yang provides oversight for all advocacy initiatives and policy positions at World Relief. She has worked in the Resettlement section of World Relief as the Senior Case Manager and East Asia Program Officer, where she focused on advocacy for refugees in the East Asia region and managed the entire refugee caseload for World Relief. Prior to World Relief, she worked at one of the largest political fundraising firms in Maryland managing fundraising and campaigning for local politicians. She is co-author of Welcoming the Stranger: Justice, Compassion and Truth in the Immigration Debate, serves as Chair of the Refugee Council USA (RCUSA) Africa Work Group, and was named one of the “50 Women to Watch” by Christianity Today.
Thank God for Women is a blog series rooted in gratitude for the strength, courage, and incredible capacity women demonstrate.
Listen, women. It’s been a particularly difficult year. The assaults, insults, and violence towards women in this country and around the world have been devastatingly awful.
Yet, the power, strength, beauty, and creativity found in women continues to rise. I’ve noticed women all around me, called by God, for purposes beyond themselves can’t be contained or shut down. Pastors, politicians, musicians, athletes rising, rising, rising, as they add love and justice and peace and beauty into the world.
Earlier this year, I started a new church — it’s called Sunday Supper Church — because I had heard from God that this is who He made me to be, and that it was time for me to lean into my calling, and follow Him as He made something great. I felt unqualified, insecure, and scared. But God’s gentle voice reminded me day-after-day, that we were in this together, and that because He had made me to do this, He wouldn’t leave or forget to help me.
Because when the call of God is clear, you can’t wait to start. You can’t wait for the day you don’t feel scared. You have to start scared. You can’t wait for permission, or for the negative internal voices to be silenced. You have to start without permission, while the doubtful voices continue to shout inside. You have to create and lead as God intended, because the world needs you and your unique, one-of-a-kind offering.
Women, the world needs us to lead as God intended, specifically in this difficult time, to lead with strength and wisdom and compassion. To stand tall and proud while doing our thing, unwilling to turn back.
As women, we might never have full permission to engage: in church, in our communities, in politics, or in the corporate world. But we’re going to lead anyway––overcoming withheld permission and our internal fears––because our permission to engage and lead comes from our Father. The one in whose image we are equally made.
Because that’s the thing about women.
They are brave and unstoppable, resembling their Maker.
I thank God for this unquenchable, courageous spirit in women.
If God has called you to do something—start a new church, open a business, start a family, travel the world, argue cases in court, train to be an elite athlete, do it! If you’re waiting for the right moment, enough money, everyone’s approval, the system to change, you’re going to be waiting a super long time. Don’t wait. Do your thing.
I thank God for women. Strong, brave, creative, unstoppable women.
In his farewell address to the nation in 1989, President Ronald Reagan, borrowing a line from Jesus, described the United States as a “shining city on a hill” for those seeking freedom, a place “teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace” whose “doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here.”
Over the course of centuries, the United States certainly has been a place of refuge for many fleeing persecution and “yearning to breathe free,” which is an honorable legacy. But when Jesus talked about a “city on a hill,” he was not referring to the United States of America, nor to any other nation-state. Jesus told His followers that they—those early disciples who would go on to form the earliest church—were the light of the world, which, like a city atop a hill, could not be hidden." (see Matt. 5:14) “Let your light shine before others,” Jesus told them, “that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” (Matt. 5:16)
Faced with a global refugee crisis unprecedented in recorded history, now is the moment for the church to shine, not to hide our light. Millions of displaced people, desperate for hope yet reviled and feared by many, will decide what they think of Jesus based on how His followers throughout the world respond to this crisis, whether with welcome, love, and advocacy, or with apathy, fear, and scapegoating. Across the nation and the world, local churches are seeing this moment of crisis as a chance to live out Jesus’ instructions, shining their light, so others may look to and glorify God.
“You are the salt of the earth,” Jesus told His followers, each of us—you. He continued: "But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot. You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead, they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven." (Matt. 5:13–16)
Our ultimate hope is that the church would shine its light through the refugee crisis. As we access the same power that rose Jesus from the dead, we pray God’s people would rise up as never before to welcome strangers, each doing what God has called all of us to do:
To bind up the brokenhearted.
To love our neighbors.
To do justice.
To love mercy.
To pray without ceasing.
To practice hospitality, and to learn to receive the hospitality of others.
Maybe just to take a plate of cookies across the street, trusting that smile can overcome a language barrier.
To write a letter to a congressperson, or gently speak up at the workplace water cooler when someone repeats a false rumor about refugees.
Perhaps to forego a vacation to give sacrificially for those whose travels were involuntary.
To stand with our persecuted brothers and sisters, mourning with those who mourn, rejoicing with those who rejoice.
To proclaim the love of Christ in word and deed to those who don't yet know Him.
Our prayer is that as the church lets her light shine and steps into the good works God has “prepared in advance for us to do” (Eph. 2:10), the displaced of our world will praise our Father In heaven.
Adapted from Seeking Refuge: On the Shores of the Global Refugee Crisis by Stephan Bauman, Matthew Soerens, and Dr. Issam Smeir, available on Kindle for $1.59 throughout the month of July. For more about the book including a Bible reading plan and small group discussion guide, visit www.worldrelief.org/seekingrefuge
Picture a village. Remote, undeveloped, overwhelmed by poverty and characterized by broken relationships. Where malnutrition, illness, and a small number of positive role models oftentimes leave children extremely vulnerable. And where the perpetual cycle of poverty cripples entire generations, decade after decade.
My grandson had a birthday recently. He’s two. He blew out candles, devoured cake and ice cream, and tore into presents. His favorite was a large bubble machine that floated huge translucent bubbles all over the room when he blew with all his might.
My work every day at World Relief involves birthdays. We mark them, celebrate them, prepare for them, and advocate for them. No, not birthdays with cake and bubbles, but birthdays with critical significance: the milestone of reaching a precious child’s fifth birthday.
The months of life in a mother’s womb and the first five years of a child’s life are the most critical. These are the years of rapid brain growth, physical, mental, and developmental growth, of early adaptation to our world of disease, of bonding with mother and family, and of discovering personhood, belonging, and identity. These are the “magic years” as described by author Selma Fraiberg. 
Too many children in our world never reach their fifth birthdays. In fact, nearly 6 million children under-five die every year.  They die prematurely from diarrhea, malnutrition, malaria or pneumonia; all of which are preventable deaths. Today, however, we know how to simply, cost-effectively and radically ensure that no child fails to reach his or her fifth birthday because of these causes.
Recognizing what nutrition experts call, a “Window of Opportunity” to promote nutrition and early development during the first 1000 days of life (counted from conception to two years), World Relief and the communities and churches we work through are seizing this opportunity to protect and nurture these precious children under the age of five. The interventions are basic:improved nutrition for mothers, infants, and children; prevention of life threatening pneumonia and diarrhea;and prevention and early treatment of malaria. Something as simple as hand-washing with soap can prevent persistent diarrhea that may eventually lead to severe dehydration, malnutrition and even death in a two-year old.
So what prevents this life-saving work from saving the lives of more children? How can we reach the millions of children needing this support throughout these early months and years? How can we impact behavior, especially where some cultural practices and a simple lack of knowledge can impede growth and development?
Long ago, a practical solution to reaching large masses of people was proposed by Jethro, a simple farmer whose son God chose to lead the Israelites to the Promised Land—Moses. Today, World Relief and many other NGOs and governments are using the same model Moses initiated…and we call them Care Groups.
Care Groups are an integral part of our Church Empowerment Zone (CEZ) model, pioneered in Rwanda and used across many of our programs in sub-Saharan Africa, and parts of Asia and the Middle East. As a part of the process, small groups of 10-15 community members are formed, trust is built, information is shared, volunteers support one another, and then share their learnings with neighbors in their village. Complete community saturation is the goal and the means through which Care Groups can potentially reach every child under five to ensure they safely navigate their early years.
The implementation and impact results of this biblically-designed approach has a growing amount of evidence-based findings. The peer-to-peer approach has reached over 1.4 million households in more than 28 countries globally.  It is attracting public health experts, government ministries of health, and large development funders. And, it is at the very core of what we do here at World Relief.
World Relief’s Pieter Ernst first developed the concept of Care Groups in 1995. In his words:
About 3,500 years back in history, a skilled and educated leader by the name of Moses from a nomadic nation of around 3,000,000 people wanted, on his own, to judge and resolve all the social and many other problems they had as a result of living so close together. Interestingly, in spite of all his education and his close relationship with God, he was unable to see beyond his own experience, and God sent his less educated father-in-law, Jethro, from a distant country to visit and advise him about the advantages of Care Groups. He also gave him some important selection criteria for choosing the right volunteers, and gave him guidance on an accountability that included a supervision structure that would help secure sustainability. Therefore, in reality, Care Groups is a design structure that is 3,500 years old. It is God’s doing… 
With a little updating from Moses’ time, today we are pressing our technological age to do what works, no matter how simple it may be. Public health experts who studied eight Care Group projects found that as a result of the group teachings and outreach, under-five mortality decreased by 32%. And the cost per beneficiary per year for such impact? Only US $3-$8. 
Once scaling and saturation takes place in communities, the Care Group model allows communities to reach a critical tipping point that has the potential to transform entire nations. As a result, the Care group model becomes an efficient, inexpensive, self-sustaining vehicle for transformation.
It is a future that is bright, and filled with healthy, joyful children, celebrating many more birthdays to come.
 The Magic Years: Understanding and Handling the Problems of Early Childhood (Fraiberg, Selma. Simon and Schuster.)
 CORE Group Conference for Global Health Practitioners, Silver Spring, MD October 16, 2014, Acceptance Speech by Pieter Ernst for Dory Storms Award
 Global Health: Science and Practice 2015, Vol 3, Issue 3, p. 370
Deborah Dortzbach is the Senior Program Advisor for World Relief. She has been involved in church-based HIV/AIDS prevention and care since the early 1990s. Prior to joining World Relief she directed MAP International's HIV/AIDS programs from 1990-1997. Doborah is the author, with W. Meredith Long, of The AIDS Crisis: What We Can Do (2006), as well as Kidnapped (1975), which chronicles her 1973 abduction with her husband by the Eritrean Liberation Front while they were working as missionaries.
Approximately 70% of all refugees resettled by World Relief are for family reunification. So when we saw the video below, we were deeply moved.
Produced last year, "Dyan Comes Home" captures the story of one Sudanese family resettled by Catholic Charities, fueled by the commitment and care of volunteers from The Village Church in Forth Worth, TX.
Having seen similar stories unfold in the lives of refugee families we serve and at airports around the United States, we hope you'll be as inspired as we are to continue welcoming refugees to the U.S. and to make moments like this possible for more families.
How Loving Our Neighbors Makes Space For Success
For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” — Galatians 5:14
Original reporting and photo below courtesy of Noell Dickmann/USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin
We can’t wait for June 20th. It’s World Refugee Day and World Relief is ready to join with activists and advocates to bring awareness and focus to issues facing refugees around the globe. We believe that truly loving our neighbor can be the key to moving displaced men and women from simply surviving to truly thriving.
Originally living in Myanmar, Wai Hinn Oo and his wife, Nang Shwe Thein, dreamed of safety and a place to live in peace. They’d spent a decade living in fear, being wrongfully arrested and forced into labor. Hinn decided they could stay no longer. Finally, in the middle of the night, they fled their home. Hopping trains with no water and terrible breathing conditions, they made it to Kuala Lumpur, where they lived as undocumented refugees for six years. But when it was time to give birth to their first child, they knew they needed help. Without an option of returning to Myanmar, and unable to provide adequate safety for their child in their current conditions, they reached out to the UN Refugee Agency. After being vetted for two years, the couple was finally resettled, an ocean away, to Oshkosh, Wisconsin by World Relief. In fact, Hinn and Thein became the very first family resettled by World Relief’s then-new Fox Valley office. And while they felt lucky to be safe, they were unsure if they would be able to survive the unknowns they still faced in an unfamiliar country, with a new culture, and a new language. After years of hiding and running, they couldn’t have imagined the feeling of being welcomed that awaited them.
In partnership with World Relief Fox Valley, members of Water City Church joyfully greeted the family at the airport and provided them with a modest, yet fully stocked, apartment and a “Good Neighbor Team” to fill their fridge and welcome them into their new home and community. In addition, World Relief offered the family ongoing resources, training and education upon which they could build their new lives. Hinn and Thein were welcomed as neighbors into a community of support, which gave them just what they needed to begin the hard work of resettling. They are so thankful for the way a local church on a different continent embraced them and for the continued support and encouragement they have received from World Relief.
At World Relief, we believe that to love is to welcome. That’s why we continue to commit ourselves to resource, support and welcome refugees from all around the world. Loving displaced people means seeing them, not simply as a number or as a group in need, but as unique individuals with stories to be celebrated and honored—their losses and victories, their survival and resilience, and their contributions and cultures.
This past February, Hinn and Thein celebrated a significant milestone as they marked five years of life in Oshkosh—a span in which they started a family, purchased a home and became actively involved in their work and community. Their story is a beautiful and successful example of what is possible when we take Jesus at his word to welcome and love one another as neighbors.
As we approach World Refugee Day on June 20th, we invite you to speak up for refugees—advocate by calling lawmakers and congress members, download a World Relief prayer card and commit to praying for refugees in a specific area, and consider donating to help World Relief show refugees great love by extending a much needed welcome.
Margaret Hogan is a writer living outside of Chicago with her husband, Blaine, and two daughters, Ruby and Eloise. She worked at Willow Creek Community Church as Performing Arts Director for the high school ministry before she left to work as a freelance writer. She currently writes for World Relief, and continues to write scripts, articles, devotionals, curriculum, for churches and nonprofits all over the county. Most recently, Margaret authored The Hope Book for Willow Creek’s Celebration of Hope.
Susan Sperry, Executive Director of World Relief Dupage Aurora, has worked within refugee resettlement for over 15 years. Susan says, “The shocking thing is that many refugees we work with now have been displaced far longer than I have done this work. They are the true experts on the realities of displacement and resettlement, and I encourage you to read stories written by refugees to learn more about their experiences.
Recently, we asked our social media followers to submit questions to be answered by Susan, along with Alison Bell, Senior Resettlement Manager at World Relief Dupage Aurora. Susan notes, “Each resettlement office around the country has threads of continuity and similarity, but also a lot of difference. The responses about local programs for refugees are based on programs offered in the western suburbs of Chicago, and may not fully reflect individual local agency programs.”
Susan, can you help us better understand: Who is a refugee?
A refugee is someone who has had to leave their country and can’t return due to persecution because of their race, religion, nationality, political opinion or social group.
How does a refugee end up in the U.S. and what role does World Relief play?
Refugees are first given “refugee status” by the United Nations, which then refers groups of refugees for resettlement in countries like the U.S. With 21.3 million refugees worldwide according to the UN, the proposal that the U.S. welcome 50,000 represents .002%. The U.S. evaluates these groups and agrees to accept a certain number each year. Then each refugee must undergo a thorough vetting process including security screening, in-person interviews with U.S. officials, biometric screening and medical checks. Only after refugees pass each step will they be admitted to the U.S.
The U.S. Department of State has agreements with agencies, like World Relief, to provide services to refugees who are admitted to the U.S. Services begin from the time refugees are met at the airport as they enter the country and continue as the agency completes all of the government required services and other support services offered through local programs and partnerships.
The flow of refugees coming in has decreased dramatically in our city. Are refugee applicants still being vetted anew or has the ban stopped that?
Refugee arrivals to the U.S. have continued this spring, but have been much slower than usual. Uncertainty surrounding the Executive Order led to a pause in most new vetting of refugee applications, so everyone who is currently arriving was already approved for resettlement prior to the Executive Order.
What impact does the Supreme Court ruling on June 26, 2017 have as it relates to the 120-Day refugee resettlement ban?
Through two court cases, federal judges halted the implementation of the President’s Executive Order from March, including the 120-day moratorium on refugee resettlement. The administration appealed both cases, and on June 26, 2017 the Supreme Court agreed to consolidate these into one case and hear it in October. In the meantime, the Supreme Court is allowing for partial implementation of the Executive Order.
This means that the 90-day ban on travelers from 6 countries (Iran, Libya, Sudan, Somalia, Yemen, and Syria) and the 120-day moratorium on refugees is in effect beginning June 29. There are exceptions to this implementation; for refugees, the exceptions mean that refugees who are close family members of people already in the U.S. (defined by the State Department to include parent, spouse, child, an adult son or daughter, son-in-law, daughter-in-law, or sibling) could still be welcomed into the U.S. during this time period.
At World Relief, we advise that anyone with questions about their own situation contact an immigration attorney or Department of Justice accredited representative for specific guidance about what this means for you.
How have the policies of the new administration impacted your day-to-day work?
With the dramatic cuts ordered in the number of refugees to be welcomed to the U.S., we have lost World Relief offices and some staff expertise due to budget cuts. Our work has shifted to a greater focus on expanding our base of funding and our partnerships with churches, volunteers and community organizations. We also continue to advocate with Congress to maintain the programs and funding needed to provide the services refugees need to achieve stability and move toward healthy integration.
Are we able to sponsor refugees or refugee families directly?
While individuals and churches can’t sponsor refugees directly, they can serve as co-sponsors with local resettlement agencies to assist in resettling refugees.
Do you have any advice on key strategies countries could implement in order to create effective and inclusive communities, thereby enabling productive citizenship for immigrants?
While we don’t have specific advice for other countries, within the U.S. we highly recommend the Welcoming America initiative. This is a great resource for communities seeking to be more inclusive of immigrants and refugees. The Welcoming Pittsburg Plan is an excellent example of how these resources can be implemented.
I've often wondered about the children in this crisis. How many have been orphaned and where do they end up?
Over half of the 21 million refugees in the world are children. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) aids refugees and displaced people around the world, including children. According to UNICEF, in 2015-16, over 300,000 children—unaccompanied or separated from families—were registered after crossing borders alone. They often end up in refugee camps, and face possible exploitation or abuse. The U.S. does welcome some unaccompanied children, but also makes a priority of single mothers with children as part of our humanitarian resettlement program.
How can those who live in cities that don't see many relocated refugees best help?
There are so many ways you can help!
Share facts about resettlement with others who may not know much yet.
Pray for refugees around the world, and those resettling into the U.S.
Speak up and advocate with your Congressional Representatives, asking them to maintain policies that welcome refugees. Learn more about one specific opportunity June 12-16, 2017.
Welcome everyone. You may not know any refugees, but you likely interact every day with people who face hardships or feel unwelcome. Find ways to give and serve others in your own community, and contribute to making your community one in which everyone feels welcome.
Can you tell us what the first year in America might look like for a new refugee family?
Refugees are faced with completely starting over during their first year, and relationships with people within their own language group and with Americans are vital to their success. During their first 30-90 days in the U.S., refugees receive services to assist them to stand on their feet. These include receiving social security cards, enrolling children in school and starting English classes. During the next three months, adults begin working and learn to pay bills, bank independently and become more familiar with American culture. The latter months are focused on becoming increasingly independent, building stronger English and working toward greater integration into their communities.
What kinds of jobs are refugees able to obtain once they arrive in the country? What if they don’t speak English?
Refugees are legally able to work when they arrive to the country, and many begin in entry level jobs in manufacturing, hospitality or meat packing industries, depending on the local jobs available. Even if they don’t speak English, many refugees are able to find their first job with the help of job placement agencies or resettlement agencies.
How does World Relief help refugees become economically self-sufficient?
Similar to all immigrants throughout American history, it takes time for refugees to be fully self-sufficient. Initially, refugees are assisted by World Relief or a job placement agency to find a “survival job," usually a low-wage job that helps pay basic bills. From there, we aim to help refugees plan toward future career and financial growth. Learning English is key to long-term financial growth, and World Relief encourages all refugees to continue learning and practicing English. Community volunteers play a key role with both English practice and employment-related networking.
What kind of social services are in place for refugees upon their arrival in the U.S.? Are these services under now under threat?
Initial case management services are provided by resettlement agencies, like World Relief. Longer-term services vary by region, but may include case management, employment services, after school programs, counseling and medical case management. Many communities also provide social services to refugees through mainstream programs or through refugee-specific services offered through private foundations, churches and community groups.
The president sets the number of refugees admitted each year, and funds for services are allocated by Congress. Once Congress drafts initial budget proposals for FY18, we’ll have a better idea of what services may be at risk of cuts.
Navigating the complexities of U.S. laws, systems and social services must be daunting for new refugees. How does World Relief help with this?
During their initial months in the U.S., World Relief takes an active role in assisting clients to apply for eligible services and provides orientation to understanding U.S. culture, laws and available services. Volunteers and churches also play a vital role in helping refugees navigate their new country. By partnering with World Relief and refugee families, they walk with refugee friends as they find their way in a new country.
Tell us about a typical day for you and your staff in DuPage. Do you work directly with refugees, or are you mostly working on advocacy and settlement logistics?
This is always a fun question to answer, because there are no typical days. Most of our staff works directly with refugees and immigrants, and days may involve the following: home visits; appointments with clients, volunteers or government offices; coordinating service logistics for newly arrived refugees; cultural orientations and trainings; completing paperwork and case notes; and inter-office service coordination. We always engage in a lot of problem solving with the many stakeholders we work with.
What other organizations are working with refugees here in the U.S.? What distinguishes World Relief from them?
There are nine organizations that resettle refugees in the U.S., and many others that serve refugees once they have arrived. Like World Relief, many of these organizations are faith-based and work with volunteers. World Relief is the only evangelically-rooted resettlement agency whose mission is explicitly to partner with local churches to serve the vulnerable.
Do you do any work with refugees in their home nation before their arrival in the U.S. in terms of preparation and education? Do you work in refugee camps?
While World Relief does work in several of the countries either producing or hosting refugees (including Jordan and South Sudan), we do not have an active role in these locations preparing refugees for U.S. resettlement.
What is the most important message you want to convey about refugees here in the U.S.?
I have gotten to know Al, a volunteer who came to the U.S. as a refugee from Iraq, and often speaks at events with World Relief. Al’s response to this question sticks with me: refugees want the same things we want. They want peace, freedom and safety. They want to contribute to their new community. They are fleeing the same type of violence that we are afraid of, and they care about the refugee program being safe and secure, just like U.S. citizens do. Above all, they want to build a good life for themselves and their families, and hope for good things for future generations.
Susan Sperry is the Executive Director of World Relief Dupage/Aurora. Previous to her role as Executive Director, Susan served in a variety of roles in the Dupage/Aurora office, including Refugee Services Director, Resettlement Director and Community Relations.
Alison Bell serves as the Senior Resettlement Manager for World Relief DuPage/Aurora and sits on the Illinois Human Trafficking Task Force. With a BA and MA in urban studies, Alison oversees social services and case management for refugees, asylees, and victims of human trafficking served by World Relief throughout DuPage County.
Thank God for Women is a blog series rooted in gratitude for the strength, courage, and incredible capacity women demonstrate.
My mother was raised in a religious family. She taught me and my three siblings the basics of Christianity and taught us to love people around us. When my father died on the battlefield, my mother was there for us, uniting us as a family—loving and caring for each other even though we had hard times. As a single parent, it was never easy for my mother to provide everything but she made sure we had what we needed.
For many years, my mum worked endlessly to see that my siblings and I got the best education, all while looking for jobs that would sustain us as the needs of our family increased. We always had people from different backgrounds staying with us, and my siblings and I couldn’t understand why. As time went by I came to realize that my mum was always friendly and hospitable to everyone that came by. She wanted to give the best of her time to them.
After the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi occurred, my mother and I moved from Uganda back to Rwanda (where she was born) to get a more stable life—my siblings stayed behind to finish school. For 6 years, we went back and forth between Uganda and Rwanda to visit my siblings because I missed them. I once asked her why she had brought me alone along with her and left my siblings behind. She told me that “I love you so much and your siblings can’t be with us now, but I love them very much too.” It wasn’t long before we were reunited with them for good. In the meantime, my mother had found a job as a nurse at a clinic in Kigali. The school I went to was close to the clinic and after school, I would meet her at work and we would walk home together.
The nature of my mother's relationship with me was not only of a child and a parent but also of a friend and confidant. She encouraged me and made me feel important to her. This made me a very confident person.
Along the way, my mother found salvation and she found new meaning and purpose in life. Life as a single parent was never easy for her, she was constantly striving hard to make ends meet—the weight of that was often heavy. With Jesus in her life, she was so much happier and full of hope because she had found faith.
In 2002, my mother started working with World Relief Rwanda, which at the time was helping people to understand and accept living positively with individuals who were HIV positive. She endeavored to get to know and establish relationships with them, so they could trust her and accept her teachings. As a result of her counseling and spiritual mentoring, these individuals were able to reunite and live in harmony with other people, which wasn’t the case before because a stigma had isolated them. The more she worked and the longer she stayed with them, the more my mother got closer to the most vulnerable.
The more I saw my mum go every week to spend hours and days with suffering people, the more I learned from the stories she shared about her experience. She always reminded me that even if it doesn’t feel like you have enough to give to the most vulnerable, physically being with them, praying with them and socializing with them provided relief and community for them. For over 15 years, she has always been an advocate of the most vulnerable, and most especially for women in the community.
In 2007, I joined a program called Choose Life at my high school to receive training to then train my peers in the community. I was excited for this opportunity because I was able to reach out to my fellow youth, and because of the stories my mother would tell me about serving the most vulnerable.
I thank God for my mum and her lifelong impact. Because of her I went on to study Computer Science in college where my passion to serve the vulnerable grew stronger and led me to pursue my second degree in Community Work and Development. She has influenced me to pursue the work I am doing today.
Bob Allan Karemera is World Relief Rwanda Strategic Partnership Officer for more than 4 years. In his role, he coordinates relationships with with seven church partners and donors, connecting and engaging them in meaningful ways to WR Rwanda’s work. With a degree from Mount Kenya University in Kigali in Social Work and Administration, Bob further developed his passion for community work.