How did you start working at World Relief?
I was the director of missions at a local church outside of Atlanta and we partnered with World Relief for a short-term mission trip. We went to Clarkston, Georgia, and I think it has the largest number of languages spoken in one square miles in the United States; it was a community that was refugee-based. That was my introduction to World Relief, and when I was looking for a new job I actually applied to World Relief four times. I started out as an employment specialist in Atlanta, and one day my boss walked into my office and said ‘I think you’re from Wisconsin, and we have a position open in Wisconsin.
How do the teachings of Jesus Christ impact what you do at World Relief?
Jesus loves the vulnerable. I think in the Old Testament the words ‘refugee’ and ‘sojourner’ are mentioned over 20 times. I think these people and this work is really dear to God’s heart, and I feel the presence of God has been so evident in so many situations that I’ve been in because of how important this work is to him. Jesus loves, Jesus is involved, Jesus’s presence is present.
What is the biggest cultural difference that you’ve experienced when working with refugees?
When I first started working at World Relief, I was working with three sisters. We’re trying to find a job for them, and two of the sisters got jobs at a chicken factory. The third sister wasn’t strong enough to do the work in the factory. A couple of weeks later, I got a call from the human resource department at the chicken factory and they said ‘You need to tell your clients that if they can’t come to work they can’t send their sister to work in their place.’ To me, it was common sense that you can’t send someone else to work for you, but for them it wasn’t. That was a learning experience for me, how we should evaluate some of the things we do in our own culture.
What should the residents of the Fox Cities know about their refugee neighbors or how they can support them?
They should know that their refugee neighbors will deeply enrich their lives by bringing in a different culture. Different cultures are something that we all could learn from and that would enrich our lives if we took the time to learn about them. I think it is sometimes assumed that when people have a different language or different skills, that they’re not as strong or have as much to contribute to our community. Refugees are people who’ve survived and persevered through really difficult situations, but their circumstances shouldn’t define them. They are very resilient people who have survived so much, and when they’re here they can start thriving beyond any circumstance they’ve had to face.