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‘God’s answer to my empty nest’

Merilee Moser reflects on 28 years of volunteering with World Relief Spokane

It was a handful of well-timed coincidences that led Merrily Moser to volunteer with World Relief nearly 30 years ago. Her quarter-decade-long volunteer career began in the early 90s after she returned from teaching English in China. During that time, World Relief had opened its first Spokane office in Calvary Chapel, Merilee’s church, and began to resettle refugees in the Inland Northwest. That same year, the last of Merilee’s children went off to college.

“As a mom, you feel that low, kind of depressing, ‘everybody’s gone’ — the empty nest. And the Lord just started filling it with people. They called me mom, grandma, auntie. [Volunteering] was God’s answer to my empty nest,” Merilee said.

Merilee was deeply involved in the church community and worked at the church building several days a week. Over the course of many hours at the shared office space, she formed a friendship with former staff member John Touissant. It was he who first posed the idea that Merilee open her home to newly resettled families.* At first she was incredulous:

“I thought, ‘I can’t do that! I’m a single woman, and what about all these husbands running around my house in their pajamas?’”

Despite her hesitations, Merilee persisted. She said, “I felt like the Lord was just holding the door open excitedly, waiting for me, and I stepped through.”

Although World Relief doesn’t often need host homes nowadays, the gift of friendship is available to all of our volunteers. Connecting with a volunteer also helps our neighbors from afar connect with their new community.

“They say a refugee or an immigrant gets to visit American home once in the first 10 years they’re here. That’s heartbreaking. It’s absolutely heartbreaking,” Merilee said. “People have got to realize that that we are made—we are designed as human beings—to connect. That need for a family and for connection is so strong. And so the best thing that we can do for them and for the country is to be friendly.”

Merilee’s faithful leap into volunteering has led to a whirlwind 30 years of friendship, challenges and God’s provision. Some of her stories are joyful, like the one time she hosted a Vietnamese celebrity and a welcoming party of fans from the Vietnamese community in Spokane showed up at her home. Some of her stories are heavy, like the time she went to check on a family and found the mother on the verge of death after a bad fall had ruptured her spleen.

Though she often wondered how she would be able to support for those who came under her care, there was always enough, somehow.

“I saw the Lord blessing me. At the time, my finances were tight but God provided. I thought, ‘How can I feed and clothe a whole family?’ and God just wonderfully stepped in and said, ‘I’ll show you!’ I felt the abundance of God helping me.”

Merilee recalled several instances of God’s provision. Every time her older wooden home needed to be repainted, for example, families from the refugee community would just show up to help. Once, when a family of 10 needed a new home, she got a call from a property manager who was instructed by the owner to rent to a refugee family. Merilee said the family was moved into the house with a fully stocked kitchen before the deposit had even gone through.

In her long tenure as a volunteer, Merilee has developed many long-term friendships with families she met through World Relief. These relationships, Merilee says, are one of the great joys of her life and have taught her much about the world and about herself.

“Coming from an immigrant family myself, I’m very goal-driven and task-oriented. My dear friends from other countries taught me a lot about how relationships are more important. The respect that they show toward me taught me to respect people more and to show know more regard; as they showed their appreciation toward me, they taught me to show it to others.”

Katherine Bell | 4/15/21

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