After the wise men left, an angel appeared to Joseph in a dream telling him to flee to Egypt with Jesus and Mary, his mother. Why? Because Herod was searching for the newborn to kill him (Matthew 2:1-23). The story of Christ’s birth gives us a picture of the holy family fleeing, hiding, and seeking refuge. It provides a glimpse into what our refugee, immigrant, and asylum-seeking neighbors experience.
Over 80 million people across the globe are displaced from their homes. Many individuals have had to flee because of persecution, war, or violence and are seeking safety in a new country. In 2019, World Relief Chicagoland began providing case management and employment services to asylum-seekers at our Chicago office. We sat down with the Asylum Project creator, Angelica Barahona, to talk more about it.
Q&A with Angelica, Asylum Project Creator
World Relief: Who is an asylum-seeker?
Angelica: An asylum-seeker is someone who enters the United States seeking protection from persecution. There could also be other factors harming them or their family. Asylum-seekers get to the United States in different ways and upon arrival they request asylum. When applying for asylum, one must have a credible fear of persecution. They need to also submit evidence of persecution in another country.
World Relief: What is the Asylum Project at World Relief?
Angelica: We have realized that asylum-seekers must go through a very lengthy application process. Throughout this journey, they have little to no support. Therefore, the purpose of the program is to provide case management services and employment services to asylum-seekers while they are going through the process. Usually, an asylum-seeker can wait up to five years for their case to be approved.
The process really is an uphill battle. World Relief Chicagoland helps asylum-seekers navigate the systems by building partnerships with legal providers, medical providers, and childcare services. Ultimately, the Asylum Project helps asylum-seekers receive the proper support. It also helps them figure out what it is they need and where they can go for help.
World Relief: Can you give some examples of World Relief’s asylum work?
Angelica: Most families reach out to us through a referral. In many cases, referrals are either made by a friend, family member, or another provider.
When they first get in contact with World Relief, I will always do an assessment with them. It’s really just talking with them about their life. I talk to them about what is going on, the different challenges they are facing, and the dreams they have. Next, we put together a set of goals we can achieve in the short term. It looks different for every family.
For some asylum-seekers, they will need to get their children in school and their house set up. For others, they may have been here for a long time and need employment authorization or a new job. Since starting this project, we have been able to serve over 120 families.
World Relief: How does this reflect God’s calling?
Angelica: I really think this work is right on in showing God’s heart and God’s mission from the moment Christ started his public ministry. He wants the world to be saved and wants people from across the nations to hear his Word. He came for that purpose.
There are commands in God’s word we cannot ignore. These commands are related to serving the poor in our community, serving the vulnerable, making room at the table, and being attentive to the foreigner. All of this is embedded in God’s Word. And this is what World Relief is doing coming alongside asylum-seekers, as well as other refugees and immigrants.
It requires for us to have a solid view of the Kingdom and the hope ahead. Whenever we are faced with pain and injustice like many of the families are (and we are, too, by listening to their stories), faith is what really empowers us. A lot of the people I work with share a deep faith. It is exciting to look ahead and think about the contributions each family will continue to make in our community. It is humbling how God can use so little in us to multiply his immense grace.
Creating change isn’t easy, it’s possible when we move together. To learn more about how you can get involved, visit here.