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Called to Empower: Gladys’ Story

As we leave Women’s History Month and enter Volunteer Appreciation Month, we wanted to share a story that embodies the spirit of both. Gladys Hunt, one of World Relief Memphis’ Good Neighbor Team volunteers, has a heart and calling for refugee empowerment and humanitarian work that is both inspiring and deeply personal.

Immigrant Journey

Originally from Central America, Gladys grew up enjoying perfect weather and weekly gatherings with her extended family. In the late 1970s, things started to change. Political unrest began to stir, eventually becoming a civil war within the country. There was “intensive fighting outside of the house…burning and shooting. They were looking for my dad.” Despite the danger, Gladys and her family were able to leave the country and go to Miami. They were only planning to stay temporarily but soon realized that they could not return home. “The rebel group that had taken over took my parents home, froze our accounts, took everything—burned the house down. Everything. So, for better or worse, we were stuck.”

With the knowledge that they could no longer return home, they began the process of applying for political asylum. Gladys recalls the drive from Miami to Missouri, where they had family, and being told in that first week that she had to return to school even though she didn’t speak English. Being only twelve then, she didn’t quite understand why everything was happening and was angry about it all. “I was really mad as a kid, as you’re going through teenage years, you know, hormonal, and I’m like, why am I here? Why do I have to learn English? Why is all this happening?… So, it was hard, hard years.”

All throughout her journey, Gladys had faith. “It’s everything. It’s shaped who I am. Truly, my belief in Jesus is everything.” She shared how she held onto her faith in God through the early years and darkest times. Philippians chapter four, in particular, was a great source of strength, reminding her of God’s provision.

“The rebel group that had taken over took my parents home, froze our accounts, took everything—burned the house down. Everything. So, for better or worse, we were stuck.”


Called to Empower

Clinging to her faith and pushing through the difficult times, Gladys realized that her calling was to empower people like her. So, in her professional and personal life, Gladys has been dedicated to serving refugees and other immigrants, whether traveling to a refugee camp in Uganda, advocating for health equity with her professional work, or joining a Good Neighbor Team with World Relief Memphis.

Gladys first found out about World Relief through her church, Christ Methodist. “Somebody at the church said, “Hey, we got this program, with World Relief,” I do a lot of other volunteer work, specifically with immigrants and refugees, whether here in Memphis or abroad. So, we just thought it was a good fit.” With her own experience as an asylee, she has been able to empathize and understand many of the family’s issues in their transition to life in the States. “I think, you know, just having that experience and knowing how hard social isolation is. All those things that come into place have enabled me and better equipped me to help.”

After volunteering with refugees and other immigrants for so many years, Gladys has many impactful memories she can share. One memory that stood out to her was when she ran into a young man she had worked with just a few years prior.

“I was coming back from Miami, and in the Miami Airport, and I see him and I’m like, “What are you doing here!?” And he said he was in Aruba with his family. He came just a few years ago. And he’s doing great. He’s in school, he’s married, has a child. That has been really awesome to see.”

Empowering Women

Reflecting on her immigrant story and volunteer work, Gladys shared how she feels empowered as an immigrant woman. “I feel empowered as a woman, as an individual, as a child of God, and as an immigrant. I don’t define myself as just one thing. I think it’s a whole package.” When considering one thing significantly empowering her, she said without hesitation: learning English. “I remember thinking if I could learn to speak English, I could learn anything. So that in itself is just empowering.”

Thinking about herself in the context of Women’s History Month, with all that it celebrates and stands for, she humbly regards herself as one of many. She takes the knowledge of what she has experienced and wants to continue to bring others through their path. She also wants to share what got her through and helped her most along the way.

“Thousands and millions of women have gone through a similar journey. I’ve come out on the other end, but some people are still going through that journey. I’d like to bring other women who are still going through the journey, hold their hands, and help that process along.

Keep the faith. Keep focusing on God and Jesus, and you’ll come out. I also can’t emphasize enough education, education, education. You don’t have to go and earn a PhD. I think it’s lifelong learning, you know, it’s a lifelong journey. So even if it’s different skills or training in things, you never stop learning.”

We are so glad to know Gladys and have her as one of our many dedicated volunteers. Her commitment to continue uplifting refugees and the broader immigrant community inspires our office to continue our mission to boldly engage the world’s greatest crises in partnership with the local church and community. Let us learn from Gladys’ example and move together toward lasting change.

We at World Relief Memphis are constantly working on ways to better serve our city’s newest neighbors. Gladys shared, “Sometimes we think the commitment is big. But even if we do small things, it’s a big thing for others. So just being there for others… There’s always something we can do. Just acknowledging others, it’s important to do that.”

Check out our volunteer opportunities to find out how you can become a part of the welcoming community today! Whether you join a one-time opportunity or walk alongside a new refugee family in their first six months in the U.S., you are contributing to lasting change.

Writer: Kara Spencer

Communications Coordinator at World Relief Memphis, graduate of Harding University, & proud Memphis native.

If you would like to learn more about World Relief Memphis in the coming months, follow us on social media and sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date on events and volunteer opportunities.

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