17 Moments We Saw Love in Action in 2017

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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.


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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.

 

Love Endures All Things

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"You have to keep holding on to HOPE to keep holding on.
You having to keep finding your HOPE when you’ve lost it, or you lose your way.
You have to breathe HOPE to keep your lungs and your dreams from collapsing.
You have to let HOPE always carry you or fears will carry you away.
And these days? The world needs less fear mongers and more HOPE Mongers.
Fear says our only choices are either fight, flight, or freeze, but HOPE says we always have the choice of optimism, options, and optimizing all things for good.
HOPE mongers knows there will always be obstacles in the way, but there is always still a way.
HOPE mongers believe The Way forward is always greater than any obstacles in the way.
HOPE mongers know there is always a way to get from here to there."


Ann Voskamp


Love in 2017

As I read these words by Ann Voskamp over the weekend, I couldn’t help but think about the unprecedented year we’ve had at World Relief, and the love, hope and tenacity of our staff. I reflected on what we had been through together as an organization—as colleagues and as friends, often in the midst of hardship and uncertainty. I reflected on this love that has endured all things. And I was reminded of the deep pride and gratitude I have for our staff and volunteers around the world.

Love that "endures all things" is love that hopes in the face of circumstances that often seem dark. In the last year in particular we have faced a world which in many ways seems to have lost its bearings, but we have placed our faith in the Lord and we continue the work in the face of adversity, overwhelming challenges, and even hatred and physical danger.

Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.
— Hebrews 11:1

A Defiant ‘Nevertheless’

We do this following the example of the Apostle Paul.  When Paul writes his letter to the church at Philippi encouraging them to “Rejoice in the Lord always” (Phil. 4:4), he is writing from a dark cold prison cell, where painful chains, cramped quarters and the sickening stench from poor sanitation made sleeping impossible and waking hours miserable. And yet his focus is not this misery but his joy in seeing the gospel flourish. In fact, the words “joy” or “rejoice” are used 16 times in Philippians as Paul calls us, his brothers and sisters, to serve selflessly.

Of course the very same Person who inspired Paul to write those words and to overflow with love and joy in the midst of hell on earth is the risen Jesus. And if you believe in Him and are one of His own, He is with you to give you the very same supernatural, invincible, unconquerable and undefeatable joy and strength that Paul had.

Few of us will likely be called to such sacrifice. Nevertheless, this year across the globe our staff have endured imprisonment, been separated from their families and confronted famine, disease and suffering on a scale we have not seen in many years. At times they have even risked their own lives to serve the most vulnerable. Here in the U.S. in the wake of cutbacks in refugee resettlement, our staff have seen their friends laid off due to office closures, received hate mail and endured threats to their families and homes. As an organization, we have been the target of a constant barrage of vitriol from those who believe that security and compassion cannot co-exist, and that our security is more important than loving our neighbor or welcoming the stranger.  

And yet, we endure all things, in love. And we claim joy as our “defiant nevertheless.”

Hope Mongers

We live in hope. We live on the shoulders of the saints. We live confident in Jesus's victory over the world as we know it. And so we hope, and we endure.

We choose to be “hope mongers” and people who "let our footsteps be our preaching."  We choose optimism and the belief that there is always a way. We choose the path forward, the path of enduring love. Because to us, there is no other path worth choosing.

Whether in the midst of conflict in places like Yemen, South Sudan or Congo where our staff encounter genuine threats to life and limb, or in drought-stricken regions like Turkana, Kenya, where staff spend months at a time separated from families and loved ones to bring hope to communities in crisis, or even here in the U.S., where staff selflessly give of themselves in an environment  that—after years of bipartisan consensus on our obligations to refugees—has in many places turned hostile to our ministry of helping foreign born vulnerable people, we choose enduring love.

Our staff chose to be defiant in the face of adversity and to be bold in faith. To, in spite of their circumstances, choose His joy. They dare to believe in our God, saying, as Swiss Theologian Karl Barth wrote in 1934:

“I will NOT let this beat me. I will make the choice to praise Him all day, every day. Yes, Jesus has allowed this into my life but I will trust Him. What the enemy means for evil, He intends for good. I will not deny that I am in a rough season. I will face it head on in the strength and power of His Name. For as long as I need to walk this difficult path, my spirit will be marked with a blazing NEVERTHELESS for all of earth and heaven to see. Jesus has never known defeat and I will not either as long as I am clinging to Him. He always leads me in triumph!”

Love Endures

All over the world our staff and volunteers choose to get up each day, to come alongside the most vulnerable, to touch people with compassion, to love, and yes, to hope as they serve them, resisting the currents of our time, believing in the goodness of our God and Jesus' call to "love our neighbor as ourselves," choosing the narrow path, choosing hardship in the face of skepticism, hostility and even danger.

And so I want to say thank you. Thank you for your choice. Thank you for your brave and defiant nevertheless. Thank you for your enduring love. The world is a better place because of it.


Through the end of the year, we'll be 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.


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Tim Breene served on the World Relief Board from 2010 to 2015 before assuming the role of CEO in 2016. Tim’s business career has spanned nearly 40 years with organizations like McKinsey, and Accenture where he was the Corporate Development Officer and Founder and Chief Executive of Accenture Interactive. Tim is the co-author of Jumping the S-Curve, published by Harvard Publishing. Tim and his wife Michele, a longtime supporter of World Relief, have a wealth of experience working with Christian leaders in the United States and around the world.

Love Hopes All Things

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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.

Internal Conflict

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


Through the end of the year, we'll be 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.


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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.

Love Bears All Things

This is Fatima, a 30-year-old Afghan woman and a mother of four. On the first day of World Relief Seattle’s inaugural Women’s Sewing Class, Fatima clutched her pencil and laboriously copied her name on a pre-test. She had gotten her children ready for school, walked nearly a mile to the bus stop and arrived at her first official class—EVER.

This is Fatima, a 30-year-old Afghan woman and a mother of four. On the first day of World Relief Seattle’s inaugural Women’s Sewing Class, Fatima clutched her pencil and laboriously copied her name on a pre-test. She had gotten her children ready for school, walked nearly a mile to the bus stop and arrived at her first official class—EVER.

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.

Mutual Transformation

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


Through the end of the year, we'll be 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.


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.

1 Corinthians 13 (Love in Action)

2017 has been a difficult year. Mindful of this, we choose today to celebrate the undeniable ways in which we have witnessed kindness, patience and resistance to hate. That is Love in Action.

As you watch the film, we hope you'll be encouraged and inspired by the ways in which you and others have put love in action this year.

We also hope that you'll consider ways you can put Love in Action as 2017 comes to a close and we begin a new year.


This holiday season, bring your love to life. Take what you have and use it to transform lives. Give to those who have little, serve those in need—love in action.

Love Rejoices with the Truth

Love Rejoices with the Truth

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.

2 Ways to Put Love In Action This #GivingTuesday

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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.

5 Words That Can Change a Nation

Photo by Marianne Bach, Thomas Busch

In 2008 my wife and I were in her childhood home of Kenya when violence after the country’s election broke out—resulting in the death of over 1,100 people and the displacement of thousands more. As we witnessed the devastation in the lives of our friends and the Kenyan people, we felt called to act. And in 2013, ahead of the next elections, we returned to Kenya to participate in peace and reconciliation workshops and a peace march with local pastors. In the Kibera slum of Nairobi, and in Molo, in the White Mountains—two places where some of the worst inter-tribal violence took place—we saw communities embrace forgiveness for acts committed against one another. We saw tears shed and commitments made to be followers of Jesus first, Kenyans second and tribal community leaders a distant third. The subsequent elections were largely peaceful and celebrated as an important step forward. And so it was with great sadness that we learned this year’s elections in July had once again been disputed—largely along tribal lines. Following the Kenyan Supreme Court ruling that the elections needed to be re-run, the country was plunged into an economic crisis as investors and others fled the resulting uncertainty.

Coincidentally, this weekend found us back in Nairobi just days after the re-run election, only to find the country more deeply divided and polarized than ever and facing an uneasy peace. The root causes of the turmoil are being hotly disputed amongst factions and there is little desire for compromise amongst the political elite. Meanwhile, the working poor—those living barely above the poverty line—are seeing their already fragile lives caught in the political cross fire,  escalating rhetoric and disappearing livelihoods. Tales of violence and killing abound, though much of this will never surface in the mainstream media because what happens in and around the slums of Nairobi and the most rural parts of the country is only partially recorded.

A Challenging Question

So what, you might ask, has this to do with America?

On Sunday my wife and I listened to a Nairobi pastor preaching into the crisis, explaining the ways in which we as individuals can either calm or inflame a crisis. He laid out five characteristics that he believes make this current Kenyan crisis perhaps more profound and harder to resolve than previous ones. After all, Kenyans stared into the abyss in 2008. They are naturally peace-loving and optimistic people. Surely it could not descend into serious open conflict again?

As is often the case here in Africa the Pastor used a colorful metaphor to catch his congregation’s attention – and ours. He identified five characteristics that polarize and inflame crises, characteristics that each one of us can too easily embrace. And he called us to examine our own hearts, challenging us with this question:

“Are we promoting unity, as we are called to do by Christ and the apostle Paul, or are we so entrenched in our own beliefs and self righteousness that we are actually promoting division and fueling crisis?”

The 5 Characteristics

  1. An attacking mouth — Insensitivity to the reasons others might hold a different view, and worse, an incapacity to understand how our positions and words might make them feel. By our words we don’t just express disagreement, we attack, discredit, inflame, and in so doing—polarize.

  2. Blind eyes — Ignorance. An almost wilful blindness to the complexity of issues that often underlie people’s different views; a willingness to accept the narrative that corresponds to our own preference without examining facts that would be uncomfortable.

  3. Cold shoulders — Indifference to the plight of others, so long as “I am all right”. The opposite of love, this Pastor suggested, is not hate—it is indifference. His argument? At least if you hate someone your emotions are engaged. It is worse to be relegated to the status of non-person, someone whose concerns and views are simply irrelevant to you and your view of the world.

  4. Dead ears — Inflexibilty. An unwillingness to re-examine one’s own views, a preference for certainty, even when it is misplaced, over inquiry and uncertainty.

  5. Empty Hands — Irresponsibility. Denial that one might have contributed in any way to the crisis, instead searching to always put the blame elsewhere, and to always find scapegoats.

Does the Shoe Fit?

In the most sophisticated nation in the world we might assume that none of this applies. But I must ask, can we truly open the newspaper each day, watch the news, or scroll through twitter, facebook or other social media and not recognize that perhaps “the shoe does fit us too?”

Disagreements in human relationships are inevitable, yet just as marriage disagreements do not have to lead to breakdown, neither do they have to in civil society.

But genuine reconciliation requires a heart that is open and a willingness to forgive and reconcile. Indeed, the ability to reconcile is one key sign of a maturing Christian faith.

And so I challenge us as we look to the deepening divisions in our own society. Do we have something to learn from this courageous Kenyan Pastor, challenging his followers to recognize their own part in the crisis and examine their own hearts, attitudes and behaviors?

“Little children let us not love in word or talk, but in deed and in truth.”
John 3:18   


(ABOVE PHOTO: Marianne Bach, Thomas Busch)


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Tim Breene served on the World Relief Board from 2010 to 2015 before assuming the role of CEO in 2016. Tim’s business career has spanned nearly 40 years with organizations like McKinsey, and Accenture where he was the Corporate Development Officer and Founder and Chief Executive of Accenture Interactive. Tim is the co-author of Jumping the S-Curve, published by Harvard Publishing. Tim and his wife Michele, a longtime supporter of World Relief, have a wealth of experience working with Christian leaders in the United States and around the world.

#GivingTuesday 2017

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This year for #GivingTuesday, you can make a tangible difference in the lives of refugees and immigrants.

How?

  1. Below, find the local World Relief office closest to you.
     
  2. Click the link to learn what you can do on or before November 28 to welcome refugees and immigrants from around the world.

VIDEO: Roots of the Tree — Addressing Belief Systems

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.

 

 

 

VIDEO: Meet Liz Dong

"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.

Fact vs. Fiction — 10 Things You Need to Know about the Presidential Determination on Refugee Admissions

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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:

FICTION #1:
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.

FICTION #2:
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. [1]

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.

FICTION #3:
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. [2] 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. [3] 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.

FICTION #4:
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.

FICTION #5:
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.

FICTION #6:
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.

FICTION #7:
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).  

FICTION #8:
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. [4]

FICTION #9:
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)

FICTION #10:
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."

[1] Trump’s claim that ‘more than 300’ refugees are subjects of counterterrorism investigations,” Washington Post, March 2017

[2] “These researchers just debunked an all-too-common belief about refugees,” Washington Post, June 2017

[3] “Fact Sheet: Fiscal Year 2016 Refugee Admissions,” U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration January 2017.

[4] “Rejected Report Shows Revenue Brought In by Refugees,” New York Times, September 2017

Peacebuilding and the Evolution of World Relief’s Village Peace Committees

“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).

What is Your One Act of Love?

It's been a remarkable and difficult month for so many people around the world. If you're feeling overwhelmed right now, you are not alone.

A message from World Relief's President, Scott Arbeiter:

As you consider your one act of love in this current season, we invite you to learn more about the areas in which we're currently responding:

Hurricane Harvey Recovery
Hurricane Irma Response
South Asia Flooding
DACA / Dreamer Advocacy Response
Refugee Crisis
Africa Food Crisis

DACA and DREAM Act 101

Photo by EPA-EFE/ALBA VIGARAY

Photo by EPA-EFE/ALBA VIGARAY

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?

About 800,000.

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:

  1. For starters, consider following World Relief on social media (Facebook, Twitter and Instagram) to learn more and share posts you agree with.

  2. To take action, write your members of Congress urging them to support the DREAM Act.

  3. If you’re a church leader or pastor, consider signing onto this letter which we will send to your Representative and Senator.

  4. Write and submit an op-ed or a letter to the editor of the local paper about why you support Dreamers.

  5. 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.

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To support the work of World Relief, you can donate today.

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When a Refugee Child’s Education Stops

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.

 

When Refugees Go Back to School (Q&A)

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.?

Language. 
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.

Culture.
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.”

Integration.
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.

An Especially Hard Sunday Morning

Flowers and other mementos are left at a makeshift memorial for the victims after a car plowed into a crowd of people peacefully protesting a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Va. on Saturday, Aug. 12, 2017. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

Flowers and other mementos are left at a makeshift memorial for the victims after a car plowed into a crowd of people peacefully protesting a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Va. on Saturday, Aug. 12, 2017. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

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.

Immigration is Changing the Face of Christianity for the Better

Photo courtesy Esther Havens

Photo courtesy Esther Havens

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.

Migration Today

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.”

The immigrant population actually presents the greatest hope for Christian renewal in North America.
— Dr. Timothy Tenent, President, Asbury Theological Seminary

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. 

“I will not forget you, God has placed you in my heart.”

Some time ago I spent a week in a Middle Eastern country visiting with Syrian refugees. Day after day on that trip, I sat on concrete floors in crumbling urban apartments with Syrian women and their children. Each time I looked into the women's faces, their empty eyes told the silent stories of losses and grief.

In Syria, these women had been comfortable, middle class women, just living their day-to-day lives. Then suddenly, one day, they were running for their lives. They had watched their friends and family members die. They had seen their communities exploding, literally. So they did the only thing they could. They grabbed their kids and crossed country borders in the middle of the night, sometimes with bullets chasing them, in search of some kind of future. In search of some kind of hope.

Fortunately, many of those women ended up safely in the neighborhood where I was visiting, where a church I knew very well was providing food and basic necessities for these refugee families. On the last day of my visit, the pastor asked if I would speak to 200 of these women. He explained how they came to the church once a week to get bags of food and to let their children play in a safe place. While the children played, the mothers attended meetings where they’d learn how to deal with grief, how to help with their children’s trauma, and how to adapt to a new culture.

With the help of a Palestinian Christian friend who translated my words into Arabic, this is what I said to the women:

“I wish I didn’t have to stand up here in front of you. I would much rather sit beside you on a cushion on the floor and have a cup of tea with you. I would love to snuggle your baby in my arms. And I would love to hear your story. I know you each have a sad story, and if I heard it, I know I would weep. I know you are good and loving women. And I’m sorry you have lost so much. I am sorry you had to flee to a country, a city, and a house that’s not your own.

I can imagine in your own country, you were strong women who graciously served others.

I can imagine you making delicious food and sharing it with your family and friends.

I can imagine you caring for your mothers and daughters, fathers and sons, sisters and brothers and friends, just like I do.”

That’s what women do. We are compassionate. We give. We serve, protect, and work hard to make the world better for the people we love.
Wherever I go in the world, I discover we women are a lot a like. We may have different clothes, hair, religion, culture or skin color, but in our hearts we are the same. That’s why we can look into each other's eyes and feel connected. We can talk without using words. We can smile, we can hug, we can laugh. And sometimes we can feel each other’s pain. While I was with those women, I prayed that God would help me feel their pain. And oh how I wished I could remove it, or help them carry it.

“Your Faith Has Healed You”

I told the women gathered before me that while I prayed for them the night before, I was reminded of the story in the Gospel about the woman who had been sick for many years. No one could heal her body or comfort her mind. People had given up on her and were ignoring her. But she believed Jesus could heal her if she could just touch his robe. So she pushed silently through the crowd that followed Jesus. She was afraid he would turn her away if he saw her, so she stayed quietly in the shadows. Finally, she reached out and touched his robe.

Immediately he stopped, “Who touched me?” He asked.

“Power has flowed out of me and I want to know who touched me.”

She was afraid, certain he was angry and would punish her, but she felt compelled to answer, “It was me. I am the one who touched you!”

The crowd hushed, anxious to see what this great man would do.

Jesus simply looked into her eyes and said, “Daughter your faith is great. Your faith has healed you. Go in peace.”

I told the women that when I read that story I wondered why Jesus stopped and made that frightened women speak up, and I prayed for God to help me understand.

This is why I think Jesus stopped: I believe Jesus wanted that woman to know he saw her.

She wasn’t just an anonymous person in a huge crowd. She was an individual woman and he saw her.

Jesus knew she was suffering and it broke his heart. He called her daughter so she would understand how much he loved her. He said she had great faith in her God and he honored her for it. And he healed the wounds of her body and soul.

As a Christian, I believe Jesus shows us what God is like. He shows us that God sees each of us as individuals. He calls us sons and daughters because he loves us. He honors our faith because he knows it can make us strong. He cares when we suffer. He wants to bring healing, comfort, and peace into our lives. Some verses in Scripture even tell us that Jesus weeps, which means that God weeps, too. He weeps for all of His suffering children.

“I Will Not Forget You”

Then I looked at the women seated before me and said this,

“I wish I could end the war that’s ravaging your country. I wish I could gather all the money in the world to make your lives easier. I wish I could bring back all that you have lost. I can’t do any of that, but I can do this: I can go home and tell others what I’ve seen. I can tell people how you are suffering and how amazing Christians are lovingly walking with you. Both you and your Christian friends need the prayers and support of Americans. And I will tell my friends that.

"I will also tell my friends how beautiful, strong, and loving you are. I will tell them you are women of deep faith, women who adore your children and grandchildren, just the same way I adore mine. Women who sacrifice willingly for those that they love.

"I will tell them that when I look into your eyes, I see that we are all a part of the same human family, all created and loved by God. I will not forget you. I will pray for you. I will tell your stories. I will weep when I hear anew of your suffering, and I will rejoice over any goodness that comes your way.

"Truly I will not forget you. God has placed you in my heart.”

It was over three years ago that I met those women.  Since then I have told their stories many times. They and their stories continue to break my heart, but they also compel me to action.

One final story has impacted me greatly...

After their home was destroyed by rockets, Hana and her children fled Syria to relative safety in a neighboring country. There they found leaders like Saeed and Clara providing help and hope for refugee children. I hope that as you watch, their story inspires you as much as it inspired me.


More than 80% of the beneficiaries of our programs are women and children. World Relief works through local churches to protect, celebrate, and raise the value of women by taking a holistic approach—addressing immediate needs and harmful belief systems simultaneously. Learn how you can join us and create a better world for women.


Since 1975, when Lynne & Bill Hybels started Willow Creek Community Church, Lynne has been an active volunteer in the compassion ministries of the church. She has served with ministry partners in Chicago, Latin America, Africa, and more recently in the Middle East. Increasingly, Lynne is partnering with women in conflict zones who are committed to reconciliation, peacemaking, caring for refugees, and creating a better future for their children. Lynne is actively engaged with a grassroots organization, One Million Thumbprints, which raises awareness and funds for women suffering from the violence of war in Syria and Iraq, South Sudan, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. In recent years she has traveled repeatedly to the Middle East to meet with Syrian refugees, Iraqis displaced by ISIS, and Israeli and Palestinian women working for security, dignity, and peace for all the people living in the Holy Land. Lynne and Bill have two grown children, Shauna and Todd, one son-in-law, Aaron Niequist, and two grandsons, Henry and Mac, who run the family.