On the day that we sit down to talk it has been almost four years since Martin has seen his wife and daughter.
When he left them, he was under the impression that they would be reunited within six months to one year. He quickly discovered that was not true.
As June 17th is Father’s Day, I wanted to celebrate a father with refugee background, so naturally, I also ask Martin about his own father. Martin was born in the Democratic Republic of Congo to two loving parents. He explains to me that after soldiers murdered Tutsis in Rwanda, they came to the DRC and did the same; this is how Martin became an orphan at a young age. His parents were murdered in the conflict when Martin was a child, but luckily neighbors and family friends came alongside him and cared for him.
When Martin’s neighbors fled to the refugee camps in Rwanda they took him with them and continued to care for him. It was here that he met the little girl who would one day be his wife. Martin and Sifa grew up as neighbors in the camp from 1997 until 2014. Martin smiles when recounting growing up near Sifa and how their friendship matured. Eventually they married and had a daughter, Inglide Manzi Igiwiye. Laughter fills the room and his eyes sparkle as he describes the naming process of their daughter. Martin explained to me that Inglide’s family name, “Igiwye” was given by neighbors and friends in the camp. After she was born everyone came together, met Inglide, and chose a family name for her. They then celebrated as a community; he describes it as a kind of birthday party. I feel Martin’s happiness when he recounts this party and the love and community surrounding his daughter.
But six months into Inglide’s life, Martin had to leave. He had the opportunity to resettle as a refugee in Appleton, Wisconsin. Martin and Sifa had both registered with the UNHCR while in the camp, but prior to getting married, and that meant they were on separate cases. When they got married they were notified that attempting to join their cases together would be very difficult and take a very long time, slowing their resettlement process. They opted to continue as separate cases. This also meant that if one of their cases was processed first they would be separated, as one would head to America ahead of the other. That person happened to be Martin. The day he left his wife and six-month old daughter will be a day he never forgets.
As a child, Martin missed the presence of his father and now he only wishes he could be there for his daughter so that she doesn't have that same experience. He also worries about their life in the camp, a lack of long term education, and a lack of quality basic needs such as food, healthcare and housing. He prays for their arrival here so that he can help them begin a new chapter. Though they speak on the phone around three times per week, he said Inglide cries every time they hang up, asking when she will be able to see him again. As I finish writing this, it is May. This month marks four years since Martin last held his daughter. In contrast to the quiet sadness that hung like a raincloud as he described their separation, pure happiness takes over when I ask Martin what his daughter likes to do for fun. Martin laughs as he tells me that her favorite thing to do is ride her bike; last year when he asked her what she wanted for her birthday she asked for a bike. He was happy to oblige! Inglide attends school in the refugee camp but Martin said it’s difficult to measure the talent of students in these classrooms due to lack of resources for teachers and pupils. Inglide is currently learning French, which means that when she arrives in America and begins classes here she will be trilingual! Pride for his daughter underlines every word.
His pain is evident, but he is convinced that as people hear his story, they will come to see the real lives affected by family separation. Martin knows many other refugees in the Fox Valley, and in America as a whole, who have been separated from their loved ones overseas and are waiting to reunite with them either through the AOR process or immigration paperwork. He knows that he isn’t the only one in this position, and he believes that telling his story will help bring life to a very real problem. Martin is not only a refugee, but he is a father, husband, and human. He has experienced real heartache, overcome great difficulty, and worked hard to get where he is. Martin has had to live through many experiences that most of us will never even be able to imagine, but he is strong and determined.
This Father’s Day, I want to celebrate Martin. But I also want to celebrate all of the other fathers with refugee background; men who have worked hard and left everything they know behind to build a better life for their children. They are strong, loving, and dedicated.
Today and every day, let us celebrate and honor them, let us pray for them, and let us advocate for them. Much like Martin, I believe that stories are powerful. I believe that his story is powerful and that it can impact us. It can teach us that the newspaper articles, and social media posts, the statistics and reports, are more than those things; because they represent real people.
My client and friend Daniel and I had been waiting for this moment for over two years. We worked hard for this moment, we envisioned this moment, we talked about this moment, we prayed about this moment, and most of all we hoped for this moment. Some days this moment seemed closer than others, and some days this moment seemed very far away. Then the moment happened.
I met Daniel in February of 2016 and little did each of us know the extent of the process we were embarking on. As a newly accredited representative, I was cautiously attempting my first I-130 relative petition and Daniel simply wanted his pregnant wife here. Over the course of the next two years, we met or spoke with each other nearly 50 times, completed roughly 100 pages of paperwork and supporting documentation, went through the ups and downs of the case being approved, the government requesting information, interviews, more information being requested, and the granting of a visa.
I will never forget being at the airport the night with Daniel. Surrounded by family and friends, with tears running down his face, Daniel was reunited with his wife and was able to hold his one year old daughter for the first time. Seeing the pure joy that Daniel had in finally embracing his wife again and meeting his daughter, made every effort worth this moment.
“But I have raised you up for this very purpose, that I might show you my power and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth” (Exodus 9:16 NIV)
*The name Daniel has been used for confidentiality*
Story written by ILS staff Phil Stoffel
The Buechel Story – How a Stone Quarry in rural Wisconsin is building a solid foundation for newcomers
A little over four years ago, in the fall of 2013, a Buechel Stone hired their first refugee employee. Buechel Stone Corp. is a quarry in Chilton, WI that strives to provide quality and dependable experiences in the natural stone industry. Little did any of us know that this experience would develop into a highly valued partnership between a refugee resettlement agency and a stone quarry in Wisconsin. I don’t think anyone involved anticipated the impact this initial hire would grow to have on refugees, Buechel staff, and World Relief as a whole, but we are here today reflecting on those very things. In the years since that first year Buechel began employing refugees they have held tax seminars with WRFV staff to educate their employees, collected Christmas donations annually to help welcome newcomers, and constantly strove to insure their refugee employees felt comfortable, heard and respected.
We connected with April Dowland, Vice President of Human Resources and Operations, who was one of World Relief’s very first contacts in the beginning stages of this partnership. April has been with Buechel for around five years now, our office was first introduced to her when she was an HR manager. April has gained a lot of insight since 2013, she reminds us that even receiving cultural orientation and explanation can’t prepare someone from being dropped into a whole new country to build a life. She believes that part of her role is to really help their refugee employees navigate the gap she has seen between explanation and true understanding. Employment is so much more than working your shift and going home, Dowland points out that work is actually weaved into many aspects of life (such as insurance, taxes, retirement savings, etc.) and that without understanding these things it’s really quite challenging to get involved in many of the larger aspects of life here. She feels that the experience of helping refugees navigate these things has really brought her so much closer to many of the individuals she works with.
For employers, hiring refugees can come with a lot of challenges and hesitancies. There are language barriers, sometimes a lack of experience in their particular job field, and cultural differences, to name a few. But there are many positives and growth opportunities as well; hardworking eligible employees, increased staff diversity, and opportunities to bridge cultural gaps, to name a few. April remembers the company being initially nervous about incorporating new language into their culture and wanting their training and communication to remain consistent but feels the Buechel Team has grown together in this process. Dowland expressed, “It is important for Buechel Stone to employ refugees because we have seen the effects it has had on our culture. Our company is growing and we are always looking for people with good work ethic. With our company culture becoming more diverse, it has brought in new ideas and challenged our status quo. Through this we have become a stronger, better Buechel Stone.”
It's easy to see how passionate April is both in Buechel Stone as a company and in embracing diversity and inviting others to be a part of the team. In addition to the company’s growth and learning experiences, April herself has had memorable experiences and we were thrilled when she shared some of those with us! April described interactions between a Burmese speaking employee newer to the company and a long term employee who spoke Spanish. One day a newer refugee employee (speaks Burmese) came up to my office upset that a long term employee (speaks Spanish) didn’t have a locker in the men’s locker room. I was confused because everyone that wants a locker can have one. I explained this to the newer refugee employee and proceeded to assign a locker to the long term employee. Later that day the newer employee came up and explained that the long term employee just didn’t want a locker. The best part of that story was how they had a conversation and got to know each other through their common limited amount of English. They remained close for a long time after this. It always warmed my heart to seeing them talking. The other great part of this story is that they worked together and the long term employee trained the new refugee in various parts production. It just goes to show that language isn’t a barrier to employment. This is the kind of story that makes us laugh and leaves us smiling. Though, April also has had the opportunity to discuss workplace safety with their employees and has learned a lot about the difference in safety that some of her employees have faced back home. These experiences have made a difference both on Buechel Stone as a company, on April herself, and on many of the other employees.
There are many contributing factors to Buechel’s success, for one, April described some similarities between the culture of the surrounding area, and the one that many refugees come from. Buechel Stone’s manufacturing plant is in rural Wisconsin in a section called, the Holyland. In the Holyland, villages each have a church, a bar and a supper club. She describes the people living in these areas as individuals with a strong work ethic and high family values, with a focus on religion. Many refugees share those values so they have seen an easy blend in many senses. But April also believes the company has a culture of welcoming and a positive approach to this as well. “I am so proud of our team because we work together and never let barriers become an issue. Our culture is so unique and yet we don’t see it. We accept people for who they are and move on. So a refugee isn’t a refugee but is “Jason.” Everyone is unique and put together we make the Buechel Team.”.
We have several wonderful employer partnerships, companies interested in hiring refugees new to the area and helping them achieve self-sufficiency. What we have found in working with these companies, like Buechel, is that they have the opportunity to be (and often are) so much more than an employer. Companies work hard to develop relationships, provide educational opportunities for newly arrived refugees, learn about different cultures, and become mentors to many of the individuals who were once strangers.
Is your company looking to hire? April lists the following as advice for other companies considering hiring refugees:
- I think it is important for your team to be ready for communication challenges.Have some strategies prepared on how you would proceed when you encounter those.
- You need to be flexible in your training program.Similar to any other employee, you need to have options on how people can learn various topics.
- Be ready to listen
- Try to put yourself in their shoes, how would you feel?
We would love to talk to you about employing refugees! Please contact us at: 920-231-3600 for more information.
Thank you for putting miles on your truck to haul furniture and other basic items around the Fox Valley, transporting items to apartment set-ups, sometimes only to find that a couch won’t fit through a doorway and you have to haul it back to storage. Thank you for straining your muscles to carry heavy furniture and boxes up and down flights of stairs at the end of a long work day, when maybe relaxing on your couch sounds way more appealing. Thank you for unpacking boxes, washing dusty dishes and putting them away, hanging shower curtains, putting together bed frames and making beds all with the utmost care all so that a newly arrived family can feel welcome and at home the moment they walk in the door.
Thank you for taking the time out of your busy schedule to literally “welcome the stranger”. You drove to the airport at the end of another long work day to pick up a stranger from the airport, occasionally the flight was delayed and you waited for hours. But when they finally arrived you had your best smile on and your most welcoming attitude as you assisted them in gathering their luggage (or sometimes helped them report lost luggage at the counter). You spent an awkward car ride, silenced by language barriers, transporting a new family to their home. You showed them around their modest apartment, unable to answer their most pressing questions. Sometimes, after it all, you didn’t get home until after 12am and maybe you had to be up at 4:30 AM for your own family and work.
Thank you for showing up to sit at the front desk and be the first friendly face our clients see as they walk through the doors; for working through the discomfort of not always being able to communicate with a walk-in but continuing to smile and always asking “What can I do for you? How can I help you?” anyway. Thank you for building rapport with the individuals who walk through the door and eventually treating them like old friends when you see them walk through those office doors.
Thank you for being there in the small, every day moments of life, like sharing a cup of tea and for celebrating accomplishments, such as treating clients to dinner when they get their first job or throwing a baby shower for a refugee woman when you discover she is expecting. Thank you for dropping everything to help a client find another service provider’s office when you notice us trying (to not avail) to give directions. Thank you for taking a seemingly meaningless trip to the park so children can run off steam and parents can feel peace. And then for inviting newly arrived refugees to your Thanksgiving and Christmas preparations and dinners, teaching them about Christmas trees, snowmen, and Santa, and laughing when it doesn't’t make sense. Not only do you teach newcomers about your traditions and invite them to worship with you but you take the time to find and attend their worship services with them, even in spite of uncertainty, not knowing what to expect. You teach them about the newness of America and also find ways to invest in the familiar of their cultures and past as well, like donating sewing machines, which encourages newcomers to pursue their dreams and comforts them with something familiar, or taking the time to go through old photographs; allowing them to share their wedding photos with you.
Thank you for seeing a need and filling it, and sticking it out through the challenges and uncertainties. You started an annual Fishing Day, helping newcomers receive free fishing licenses and equipment and inviting refugees new to the area to join together in community, fish and just have fun. You started an entire nonprofit designed to help newcomers learn to drive, with limited resources and assistance. Thank you for stepping into a unique need and spending your Sunday afternoons teaching a single mother how to drive; for patiently sticking it out even when progress is slow, limited, or unseen and when language barriers make teaching ‘rules of the road’ seem impossible. You spend your evenings teaching another single mother driving education in her home, while she also cares for her child. Then you help a family fill out their taxes and set up a meeting at the local university so a father can learn how to enroll in school and further his education. Thank you for your patience, for loading up boxes and furniture and moving it all to a second apartment for a refugee family, sometimes after you have already been a part of that first set up. Thank you for helping a family explore opportunities and resources for purchasing their own home and for encouraging them in this amazing feat.
Thank you for loving so well and being such a true friend that you were asked to be the best man in a former refugee’s wedding. Thank you for welcoming so well that you were invited into the delivery room to welcome again, but this time, the newest addition to the family.
Thank you for being such a true testament to God’s calling for the world and for displaying hospitality in ways that will leave a life-long impact. Thank you, for being love in action.
It was November of 2013. She stood at about 5’4, her soft brown eyes were kind and her laugh, contagious. Her gratitude always evident, always waiting to spill over. I fell in love with this mother and her four children instantly. They seemed close-knit and amazingly supportive of one another. It was this, I am certain, that came to their aid in survival when they fled their home due to conflict. I see how it has also held them together in the transition to life in America.
When I began working with World Relief as a caseworker, I had just returned from Eastern Africa where I manage a nonprofit that works with at risk children. As one of the first families I worked with as a caseworker, this family was a little piece of what I had left behind and at each home visit with this family I felt my senses come alive with brief familiarity and immense appreciation. From cultural worship music playing in their apartment to the smells and tastes of traditional meals being shared. From listening to an African language being spoken, to being embraced and called “daughter” by this kind woman. On my most stressful day, a visit to their home would leave me feeling refreshed, refilled, and full of the God’s love.
I never asked the family what they had experienced. I felt that if they wanted to share, they would do so if, and when they were ready. For some people, verbally expressing such an experience can be therapeutic. For others, it just seems to escape from their mouth before they realize what is happening. And there is another group, like this family, that does not feel inclined to share. They wish to keep these experiences to themselves (or in the past). I resonate the most with this last group, as I process most things inwardly myself, and desire instead of speaking about them to write about them.
There was one piece of their experience that I was always so fully aware of; when the family fled the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2007, they were separated from their father, and for this resilient woman, from the love of her life. Separation meant that she did not know his location, if he was injured, or worse...if he had lost his life. She found out shortly before her family’s arrival to the Fox Valley that he was alive. I can’t imagine how hearing this news must have felt. She knew for certain that this important missing piece of their lives was alive and this should have been the cause for relief and celebration. But the idea of not knowing when, or even if, she would see him again must have left her feeling stuck and heart-broken. She no longer had to fear for his present, but now for his future.
The story of this brave, godly woman is, unfortunately, a common one. Not only did this strong woman survive a war, but she spent six years in a refugee camp. Not only did she do all of this while keeping her children as safe as humanly possible, but she boarded a plane bound for a completely unknown future with her kids, because she wanted a future for them. This woman came to America alone, supporting and caring for four children. She did not speak English, nor was she familiar with American culture and laws. She had never experienced snow or eaten a pizza or driven a car. She left her other half, her family’s rock and leader, behind in Africa without any idea of when she would be united with him again. She had to become the sole provider, parent-figure, rule enforcer, problem solver, and caregiver for her family and has carried this responsibility alone for over four years now.
It has been several years now. As a caseworker, I helped her apply for her husband to arrive in the US through something called an Affidavit of Relationship (AOR). These can take years, piles upon piles of paperwork, and even more follow up. Our Immigration team has also assisted her in applying for reunification with her husband. His case is just one of over 30 “Follow to Join” (FTJ) cases that our office has tirelessly worked on. She and her family are fairly independent these days, where we see them mostly for immigrant and reunification related meetings. We see them when they stop in, and ask with pleading eyes, if we have any updates on her husband, on their father.
I get married in June of this year, and I can’t imagine being separated from my other half, with no control over when or if we will be reunited. I don’t have any children but I cannot fathom being forced to care for multiple children alone. My comparison is feeble; it doesn’t measure up. When I think of her, I think of so many things… light, laughter, strength, gratitude, bravery, kindness, selflessness, determination, God at work in the world. I admire her in ways she will never know.
The story of a person with refugee background is the story of a human. The story of an Executive Order, of changes to the refugee admissions program, is not just a story of paperwork and numbers, but a story of scared and hurting people. This is a story of families torn apart by war, uncertain of when or if they will ever be reunited. Of wives missing their husbands and children longing for their parents. I can only pray that you feel these stories in the depths of your soul. I can only pray that these lives light a fire in you; a fire to love others harder, accept others more openly, and to advocate for others more often. Believe it or not, your voice and actions have a direct impact on the lives of people all over, people like her husband.
I have come to experience and learn from women who truly trust and thank God in every second of every day, even in the midst of deep pain. I have met many women who have made an extremely difficult decision, to move their children across the world to a new country. Some of these women have lost husbands to death and others are hoping to one day be reunited with their husbands. In spite of the trauma and loss they have experienced, they continue to triumph. Women who were illiterate in their own primary languages learn to communicate effectively in English. Women who have never driven cars work hard to pass driving tests and obtain a license and vehicle. Women who relied on a husband to provide for their family now working long and hard hours in hotels, factories and restaurants. They are stronger than I understand, and more determined than seems possible. They have faith beyond measure and love larger than words can describe. Working for World Relief, I continue to meet and hear about women like the one honored here and I continue to be blessed by their stories. I continue to thank God for women.
Featured woman's name omitted for confidentiality purposes.
Blog written by Kelsey Hulet, Community Outreach Manager
365 Days Later
Three hundred and sixty-five days is eight thousand seven hundred and sixty hours. It is five hundred and twenty-five thousand and six hundred minutes. It is the amount of time that has passed since President Trump signed that first Executive Order that knocked the air out of me. It’s hard to believe that all of the chaos and disappointment was one whole year ago. Sometimes I can be really good at compartmentalizing things. I often find myself placing the hard times behind a triple-dead bolted door, so that they never get out to hurt me again. Then I go on ignoring them for quite some time. But this week as I contemplated how to remind folks of such an impactful time I found myself delving into old articles, social media posts, news releases. And I found myself consumed.
I can read things I wrote one year ago and feel the very same pit in my stomach; the very same fear, hopelessness and desperation; the same desire to reach the world with the truth of this matter. This time last year I had my eyes glued to social media, I made myself read through hurtful, hateful, misunderstanding and lies comment after comment on news articles and social media posts. I did something that I always prided myself on avoiding; I hit “reply” to their comment, I fed into one of the many social media debates – the ones where people hide behind their screens and say hateful things. I did my best to respectfully provide truth, love and education. I was consumed by the spread of misinformation and a need to teach people the truth. I remember feeling overwhelmed with emotions.
On January 27, 2017 I wrote this: “In the past couple of weeks, life for those of us who have been touched by refugee resettlement (whether that be via work like myself, volunteering, internships, church involvement or personal refugee status) has been a whirlwind of uncertainty, anguish, fear and frustration. It has been filled with prayer, advocacy, sleepless nights, education and executive orders. Sometimes we are speechless and other times we feel like we have so much to say that we might burst. Yesterday President Trump signed an Executive Order which will have profound negative impacts on the work that I do, the families that we serve and the families that have yet to be served. (This EO includes: A 120 Moratorium on refugee resettlement, cutting America's number of refugees for the year down to 50,000 - from 110,000 and banning refugees from some of the most vulnerable countries among other things)
In all of this chaos, A few things remain certain:
1. Though we are dismayed with the presidential administration's Executive Order and the multitude of negative ways in which it will affect our work and the people we love, Still We Stand. Still we stand with the thousands of refugees who have been resettled and those who hope to be resettled. Our commitment to the vulnerable doesn't end just because our leaders chose an irresponsible and inhumane course of action.
2. Though I'm hurt and frustrated with the leadership of my country I am also impressed and humbled by the sheer amount of support and love that the world has continued to pour out since the day we received news of possible EOs affecting resettlement. Agencies, strangers and political leaders have rallied together to express their support for refugee resettlement. The strong, dedicated and selfless people that I work with have continued to give their all to the clients we serve. While their futures are uncertain they stay focused on serving and loving refugees. I am proud to call them friends.
3. God is on the move. Though we may not know his plans, we can trust that they are in motion. When things seem hopeless, we can trust in his love for us.”
In the weeks following the Executive Order our staff spent evenings and weekends holding community meetings with each of our refugee populations. With uneasy stomachs and sadness in our hearts, we described the Executive Order, what it meant for them and their family and friends overseas, and answered any questions. Our refugee friends had fled war and conflict for peace and safety in America, now many of them feared America may become unsafe for them.
After I held one such meeting on February 3, 2017 I wrote this: “I just held a meeting for a group of refugees that my work, World Relief Fox Valley has been serving for the past 5 years. During this meeting we discussed the different ways in which President Trump’s Executive Order signed on January 27th will impact them. These people, sitting in this room with me are hard-working, kind, honest and loving. They had each, on numerous occasions, welcomed me into their homes without hesitation, offered me tea, and laughed with me. I had to explain to them that for a minimum of the next four months (likely longer) they won’t see the family members they have been expecting to arrive to America. (One man had been expecting his family possibly by the end of this month). I had to tell them that even though they fled persecution, political unrest, terror and violence, and even though they know people fleeing the same, America’s leadership had recently cut the number of refugee’s accepted this year more than in half. I had to express that I don’t have all of the answers. I had to tell a group of people who are feeling the weight of being unwelcome that they are welcome, and that we love them. Then, afterwards, as I wearily grabbed a bag of tea to calm my stressed out stomach, I read this message, “It is not talking of love, but living in love that is everything.” And all at once I wished that I could tell my fellow Americans, my fellow Christians, just how true this is. I have felt the weight of this political decision since before it was signed into effect. I’ve seen the tears of the refugees hearing this news and anticipated their fear before it was signed into effect. I know how easy it is to ignore a problem that isn’t right in your face. I know how easy it is to say that the advocacy, the marches and the campaigns protesting the profound injustice of this Executive Order are “Anti-Trump” and “Political”. But I cannot, with a sound mind and a peaceful heart, sit idly aside and watch the implications of this EO without a fight. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, this isn’t a political issue. This isn’t an Anti-President issue. This is a human issue and we are humans. Cornel West said, “Never forget that justice is what love looks like in public.” So I beg you to publicly declare your love for ALL of God’s children and join this fight for justice. “Millions of displaced people, desperate for hope yet reviled and feared by many, will decide what they think of Jesus based on how His followers throughout the world respond to this crisis.” Respond with love. Respond with justice.”
This year I desire to make sure that the impact these many Executive Orders has had on refugees and other immigrants is not forgotten. Time has a funny way of clouding our memory; urgent matters come up in our personal lives, other worthy causes are threatened, and the once-front-page-news of refugees like Alan Kurdi are just foggy memories. The fact is that we in America have the luxury of allowing this to become said foggy memory. The reality is that impact of these Executive Orders looms over those of us in this work daily. But even more so, it looms over the families we have resettled who are missing friends and family back home, left in war torn countries or dreary refugee camps. It looms over those very individuals trying to survive in conflict zones and attempting to build lives off of a few rations and a tent provided in a camp.
We saw the immediate effects of chaos in airports, families separated and stranded, resettlement office closing (World Relief alone was forced to close five offices). World Relief President, Scott Arbeiter, reminded us that though we have survived so much chaos we should continue to be troubled by the long term effects of this Executive Order. Refugees and immigrants need our help now more than ever.
In the last 12 months refugees and immigrants living in the U.S. have seen:
- Refugees: A drastic reduction in the number of arrivals of refugees to the U.S. Last year’s executive order set the number at 45,000 In reality less than 30,000 were actually allowed to resettle here.
- Dreamers: Roughly 800,000 young people losing their right to work lawfully in the U.S. due to the expiration of DACA.
- Separated Families: The deportation of some immigrants back to countries where their lives are in immediate danger due to religious or political persecution.
If you have the luxury of allowing the growing refugee crisis to slip to the back of your mind, then you most certainly have the responsibility of preventing this exact thing. It is your responsibility, my responsibility, our responsibility to insure our voices are heard so that the voices of those impacted can be heard. What happened one year ago is as real as it gets. What is still happening in the very countries that our government is trying to keep away is as real as it gets. If you have the luxury of fearing a rebel force might infiltrate your country and wreak the same havoc it is wreaking on the people of its own country, then you have a moral obligation to fight for the rights of those innocent citizens: children, mothers, families fleeing for their lives. It is both your ability and responsibility to welcome these individuals with open arms; to give them something to hope for.
You have every opportunity to make your voice heard on this matter. It is my belief that your voice matters and is required. Do not be so naïve to think that your voice has no weight and that things can change without you. This belief only supports the efforts of anti-refugee and anti-immigrant work. Indecision is a decision. Lack of action is, in fact, action. Keeping quiet says so much. Use your voice to advocate for refugees and immigrants this year. Don’t allow passing time, self-consciousness, or geographical location to prevent you from advocating for the vulnerable. I am calling on you to make a difference.
On a chilly night at the end of October (according to Maryam, precisely 5 years and 6 days from their arrival here in the Fox Valley), we gathered for dinner. Jaber and his family beat me to the Kramers’ home, so when I walked in they were already visiting like old friends – the women preparing dinner, as the men chatted and played with the children. The environment was filled with ease and the evening was full of laughter, reminiscing, and catching up. Although I have worked in refugee resettlement on and off for a little over four years, I found myself surprised at how natural their friendship was. As we sat down for dinner, I listened to the families discuss the names of Jaber’s brothers. For each brother, they discussed his Arabic name, its meaning, and often its connection to the Bible. We all shared a meal together, which prompted Karl to tell the story of the first time he ever had lamb. Maryam had cooked for them and it was instantly one of Karl’s favorite foods. Jaber has his CDL license and drives a semi, so they spent time talking about his recent trips. Amidst truck driving stories we found ourselves laughing and relating as Jaber described difficulty understanding accents in different parts of the country. I remember thinking, “the warmth, happiness and hospitality are ever evident in this place”. I could have listened to them visit for hours.
A little background on the group: Karl and Heather Kramer led their small group from Community Church five years ago when, as a team, they decided to form a Good Neighbor Team through World Relief Fox Valley. In this experience they would be mobilizing to walk alongside a newly arrived refugee family in the area. The Kramers remember preparing to become a GNT, receiving orientation from WRFV staff and waiting in excited anticipation for their family’s arrival. Karl and Heather recall a mix of excitement and nervousness amongst the team members. (Some members with past cross-cultural experience felt a little less nervous as they had an idea of what to expect). I watched in awe as the Kramers described to Jaber and Maryam how they were taken by the family’s beauty when the Afats stepped off the plane at the airport.
The Afat family fled Iraq and spent over 15 years living in Jordan. After many years of waiting, the family was finally approved for resettlement. As we sat in the living room that day, the family explained their three days of orientation before arriving. Orientation provided them with some explanations, gave them suggestions and helped to provide some expectations before arrival. The family says their orientation helped them to feel prepared and less nervous, though there are some things they were not expecting -- like a team of American church members excitedly awaiting their arrival at the airport, ready to welcome them with open arms. Jaber explained that this airport welcome took them by surprise. But he smiles, a happy surprise.
For both groups, the experience was impactful and positive, but we also talked about the challenges that come along with meeting new people, the unknown, cultural differences, language barriers and just plain learning each other. Experiences that once felt like barriers now become humorous stories to look back on: adjustment to a new time zone, experiences with learning culture, and that one time as Jaber was learning English… The story as I remember it goes something like this: One day the families were together talking about something and Heather was speaking quite quickly. Suddenly, Jaber said, “Heather, be quiet!” (fully intending to say, “speak slowly!”). The “be quiet” story was followed by a room full of belly laughs. I could listen to their stories forever.
Words are nothing until feelings are associated with them; I asked the group what “Good Neighbor Team” meant to them, and what kind of impact the experience had on them. Jaber and Maryam again spoke about the happy surprise that was their airport arrival, being welcomed by a group of strangers who became close friends and family. Jaber said it meant a lot that his family was welcomed and assisted. They always try to remember this experience by remaining forever grateful. The Afat family used this experience as a reminder of their blessings and encouragement to give back to others. The Kramers described the motivation behind the mobilization of their Good Neighbor Team. Karl described their mentality saying, “It’s not just Bible study, it’s Bible doing”. The team wanted to literally become the hands and feet of God in the community, and so they prepared to welcome and walk alongside a family of God’s children. The Afat family. Heather and Karl talked about the transformation of their team, and the great impact that this experience had on them as a whole. Heather described the way in which each team member’s unique gifts were utilized in the relationship (finance, school, workplace connections, etc). I found myself thinking about how God equips us each with unique gifts, and that together our unique gifts make a whole and life-changing group – they are living proof.
Towards the end of our evening together, I asked everyone to tell me about their most memorable and funny stories together. The very first memory, shared by all, was the time they spent together reading the Bible with Arabic and English translations, discussing religion together and inviting one another into those meaningful places. How powerful that must have been. But the memories kept coming; Jaber discovering he could go fishing here in Wisconsin, the time the group went to a tree farm to cut down Christmas trees together and Jaber walked around pulling the kids in a sled. Both mothers remembered Halloween, just a few days after the Afats arrived in America, the team took the newly arrived, jet-lagged family downtown for a Halloween event as a first group activity together. A final memory that stood out was the Afat family’s determination when driving. When sharing this experience with us Heather described the family as determined and hardworking, never willing to give up. Jaber and Maryam’s unwavering dedication sticks with Heather to this day.
At the end of the night I watched the families visit. The moms chatted about how much their kids had grown up in five years, reminiscing about how little they used to be. The dads looked over photos from Karl’s recent trip to Jordan and joked together. Laughter filled the room. Later, The Afats offered to help the Kramer family move into their new home in a couple of weeks. What had once been a group of American church volunteers helping a newly arrived Iraqi refugee family settle into a new country had flourished into a beautiful, organic and loving friendship. After the unknown and the challenges, what remains is a strong and natural relationship. When I speak to new churches and volunteers, I like to remind them that underneath all of the tasks and the nerves they might have initially, the most important piece of their interaction with refugees they meet will be the relationships they form. On this night God gave me a glimpse of that in real life.
Special thanks to Karl and Heather Kramer and family and Jaber and Marayam Afat and family for allowing me to step inside your world for an evening. I am blessed to have witnessed your genuine love and friendship. Thanks for the laughter!
We have the bittersweet opportunity to thank, honor and say goodbye to an incredible person and coworker this month. Our Health Navigator, Kathy Schultz has officially retired. Though we will miss working with such a dedicated and fun-loving individual, we are thankful for Kathy’s 4+ years of service to WRFV and the refugee clients we serve and we couldn't’t be happier for what lies ahead. Kathy will take this time to rest and rejuvenate, but also to spend more time with her family. As an office, we are praying for Kathy and her family as they continue on the path the Lord has laid before them. We wanted to take the time to recognize her here. Each staff has contributed below:
Although I have not known Kathy long since I just began working at World Relief last month, I could quickly see how large her impact has been on our co-workers, clients, and World Relief Fox Valley as a whole. She has made Word Relief a better place by being a part of this team! I admire how thorough and professional Kathy is, and her willingness to always help others around her is greatly appreciated (especially myself as I have learned my way around during this past month- thank you!!). Kathy is always patient, kind, and enjoyable to talk with! Our office is going to miss having her around every day. Kathy, I wish you all the best on your next journey and hope to see you at World Relief in the future! - Anastassia
Kathy is the type of human being that never stops impacting those around her (whether it be at work, at church, at home, in the community, etc.) She is devoted and passionate, always looking for solutions. I am always impressed by her knowledge and the development of her programs. While Kathy is thorough in her instructions and training, she has always gone beyond just explanation – she continuously seeks out ways to take action and get things done. Her commitment to God’s teachings and calling are admirable and because of this, I have seen Kathy leave a lasting impact on the clients we have served together. I feel honored to have called her a coworker, and a friend and blessed to have served alongside her. The office won’t be the same without Kathy’s hard work, hilarious and detailed story-telling abilities, and ham sliders! Kathy – I’m Praying that your retirement is the perfect balance of rest and adventure. –Kelsey
I appreciate the fact of Kathy’s breadth of talent and determination. I’ve seen her talk medical and pharmacy dialogue with doctors and health care providers and speak love and compassion in the most tender ways to a client. She’s a great hostess and knows how to throw a wonderful staff party and is not afraid to break out the toolbox and assemble a bed or table in preparation for a refugee’s arrival. She’s driven countless miles, spent hours on hold on the telephone, written thousands of emails and devoted her heart, mind and soul to helping our refugee clients become stable and whole. -You will be missed but never forgotten and will always be dearly loved by all of us! -Tami
I've had the privilege of working with Kathy for over four years and while Kathy is easily the number one or two makers of food in our office (with the world's best ham sliders!), she brought so much to our office every day that will leave a major void. Kathy was dedicated, persistent, and always worked incredibly hard to meet the needs of our clients. She had the absolute perfect persona in dealing with the difficulties and challenges that come along with the healthcare field, while also being super loving and full of grace towards our clients. I will miss seeing Kathy in the office every day (despite her lack of appreciation for my amazing jokes!) but I hope she knows how much she did to serve and love our clients and our team! Thanks for everything Kathy!" –Phil
Kathy has been a great asset to World Relief. Her remarkable ability to bring solutions to a myriad of complex situations has been invaluable. Kathy's capacity is unusually large, as is evidenced by the fact that her responsibilities will now be shared by a team rather than one individual. Her love for the vulnerable, especially refugees, is contagious and her presence in the office will be missed tremendously. Kathy- I know wherever and whomever you serve in the future will be truly blessed by your great skills and love for others. – David
Working with the refugee clients is an often times difficult job but Kathy nailed it day in and day out. She continually exemplified the heart of Jesus in the way that she cared for our clients in connecting them the medical services they needed. Kathy continually went the extra mile. I appreciated the consistent positive attitude and professionalism that she modeled and I attempted to glean as much from her as possible during the time we worked together. Kathy is also a natural and gifted storyteller and I enjoyed listening to the stories of family. Kathy, Thank you for being part of the World Relief family! J I’m super happy for you and Randy and I hope that you’ll be able to enjoy your precious family time. -Travis
Kathy has been an invaluable member of the WRFV team over the years. There was never a doubt that Kathy cared deeply for the clients she worked with which typically meant working over hours and marathon meetings to make sure things were done well. We will miss Kathy’s dedication, knowledge of the medical field, and funny stories at lunch. We’ll miss you, Kathy! And know that you’ll always be a part of the WRFV family! - James
Being Kathy’s intern and then colleague, I've always respected her balance while organizing chaos. It's her ability to truly step outside of a challenging situation and remind me to always reflect on something entertaining or fulfilling about whatever it is I may be facing day to day--whether it be at work or in my personal life. The balance of finding positives to outweigh the negatives is a game-changing mindset. Kathy - Thank you for always finding the sunshine on a cloudy day! –Ashley
“Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.”
1 Corinthians 15:58
Kathy Schultz has embodied this verse throughout her time at World Relief. She has loved (radically) our clients, volunteers and staff. Each medical appointment, hospital visit or spur of the moment emergency has been organized with such attention. Her instructions are impeccable – that is if you finish her 3 page emails that sometimes resemble a graduate student’s thesis. Rest be assured, if Kathy puts her mind to it she could accomplish anything. Insurance companies met their match when even the longest of hold times would not dissuade her. Kathy, we all love you! Thank you for your many years of service in His name! May you enjoy your “retirement” and please answer our panicked calls when attempting to navigate the health system in your absence. – Katie
I really appreciate working with Kathy. I am really thankful for all of her help in getting things done when assisting our clients. Her patience and empathy let her do a great job at the World Relief. She has always been right there, helping out wherever and whenever needed since I started working with her. Kathy was as a mother or a sister to everyone. Her generosity will remain unforgettable in my memory. She will be missed. I wish you all the best during your retirement time. – Joseph
It has been a blessing to work with Kathy over these past few years. She is the kind of person that brings out the best in others. I am thankful to her for everything she has done. We will miss Kathy’s wisdom and experience, but most of all, we will miss the encouragement she has been to us. Kathy, we wishing you the happiest of retirements and we are wishing you a life full of success and happiness! - Sabah
Happy Retirement Kathy! Thank you for your dedication first as a volunteer, and then as a staff member. You have left a legacy of determination, organization and love behind. We are truly blessed to have spent time serving God's people alongside you.
Love, your World Relief Fox Valley Family
What would you take? It’s a question most of us have never really entertained, nor have we had to seriously think about it. Lately, when I read stories about a refugee’s experience or watch educational videos on this topic, I’ve found myself thinking this question, “What would I take?”. If danger was at my doorstep and I had to flee in less than 10 minutes, what would I take?
Side note: I am a chronic over-packer. Really, send me somewhere for less than 48 hours and I will leave the house with at least two bags packed to the brim, in addition to my giant purse and 2-3 beverages (and that’s just in the summer! If it’s sweatshirt weather, you might as well add an extra bag for warm clothing and multiple pairs of boots). I over pack because I always want to be prepared for thirty scenarios that usually don’t ever occur. I am always thinking, “what if I need ______?”
But a refugee who needs to travel many miles (often on foot) doesn’t have the luxury of over packing; of being prepared for thirty scenarios; of taking multiple drinks with them. A refugee who needs to flee danger at a moment’s notice doesn’t have the luxury of sitting around and thinking, “what if I need ______?” Reflecting on this realization morphed into the decision that I would try to put myself in the shoes of the individuals that I work with; those who have truly had to flee. But how? After a twenty-minute discussion with my fiancé, Aaron, we landed in agreement. I would get two minutes to grab as many items as I could fit into a small hiking backpack. When the time was up, I would have to freeze wherever I was and I would be stuck with whatever items I had chosen at that time. I would only get one chance at this, so I had better pack well! (Anticipating a struggle, I tried to negotiate 3-5 minutes to choose my items and also the ability to repeat the experiment 3 times. My objective fiancé, who would also be timing me, pointed out that this wasn’t realistic. A refugee doesn’t have extra time and they don’t get to re-pack if they forget an item).
Of course, the experience of every single refugee is unique. Even each member of a family traveling together experiences life, persecution, fear, danger and the act of fleeing as a refugee, much differently. In addition, while this experience was challenging for me, I am fully aware that it doesn’t measure up to the true experience of someone having to flee their country. I felt it was important to acknowledge these things when writing about my experience.
So, moving on to my experiment: (Below is a list of items that I grabbed, in order. After I list each item, I italicize my thoughts while choosing each item).
Ready….set….go! The two-minute timer started. Heart and mind both racing, I ran into my room, straight into the closet where I keep my backpack - on a top shelf. Being that I am short and didn’t want to waste any of my two minutes going to get my stool, I jumped up and down until my fingertips reached one of the backpack straps and I was able to pull my small backpack down.
The first item I grabbed was a thin sweatshirt – I am always cold and who knows what kind of weather I will encounter, but a heavier duty sweatshirt will take up too much room.
The second item I grabbed was a pair of sandals – I will need shoes and these are fairly study/supportive. I don’t remember where I put my sneakers right now.
The third item I grabbed was a pair of thick hiking socks – If my feet get cold these can provide warmth. They may also help keep my feet safe as I don’t have sneakers.
The fourth item I grabbed was a thin blanket – I will need this for warmth while I sleep. I wish I could bring a thicker one but it won’t fit in my backpack.
After the fourth item I started to panic a little bit. I was trying to remember all of the important items I would need but all I could think about was how much time I had left (Aaron was timing me so I had no idea how much time had passed or what remained) so I began grabbing things that were in plain sight.
The fifth item I grabbed was a headband – This is the first thing that caught my eye, maybe I can keep my hair out of my face.
The sixth item I grabbed was my glasses – I am glad these caught my eye too because I would never be able to see without them!
The seventh item I grabbed was a mini flashlight – This is small and won’t take up much room, I’m sure it will come in handy in the dark. Although I don’t have extra batteries…
The eighth item I grabbed was my water bottle – I can refill this with water along the way. It’s kind of bulky but I may find another use for it too.
The ninth item I grabbed was a framed picture of my family – I don’t know if or when I’ll see them again so it will be nice to have this. I should take the photo out of the frame to save space but I don’t have time so I’ll just take the whole thing.
The tenth item I grabbed was my medicine – I get terrible acid reflux without this so I definitely need it. I wonder what I’ll do when it runs out?
After item ten I figure time must really be running out. What else do I need? I am running out of room in my backpack and I am positive that I’m forgetting things….
The eleventh item I grabbed was my expired passport – This is probably a good item to have because my picture is in it. Never mind that it’s expired, I don’t have time to deal with that.
The twelfth item I grabbed was a pen – I can’t believe I didn’t think of this earlier! What if I need to write down an address, phone number or some other piece of important information? Now I better find some paper….
I promise you I am not exaggerating. I really did run out of time before I was able to find a notebook or any paper at all. I realize this may not seem significant, but it stuck with me. I ran out of time while searching for something that I felt was really important, and that bothered me. I just couldn’t shake it. Imagine all of the things that those who have fled have left behind because they didn’t have time to look for them, imagine all of the people they’ve left behind for this same reason.
After the experiment, I also sat down and made a list of the items I wished I had brought along. With the pressure off I was able to think of too many items I wished I would have remembered. Some of them listed below:
-A notebook or paper
-Any money/my wallet/my ID
-Better shoes (hiking shoes or sneakers)
-A heavier sweatshirt or coat/raincoat
-A heavier blanket
-Medicine for headaches/other pain
I recognize the privilege that I have, to be able to experiment this process and not actually have to live it. I recognize the privilege that I have, to be able to list off things I wish I would have packed in my bag but not actually have to leave them behind. This may seem like a silly, insignificant experiment to many, but for me it had both purpose and impact.
1. One of the key steps in speaking out against injustice is to recognize that it exists even though I don’t live it
It is easy to ignore injustice, pain and danger when it isn’t knocking on your door. It is typical for us to say and to think, “That will never happen to my family”, “That won’t ever happen to me” and then to push the thoughts out of our mind, pretend they aren’t real. But just because something isn’t happening to me, doesn’t mean it isn’t happening to any of God’s beloved children.
2.One of the best ways to understand how to speak out against injustice is to really try to feel it and sit in it.
Though I recognize that my experiment was surface-level, it did allow me to reflect on what this experience could be like. Rather than looking the other way, ignoring, or running from this reality I attempted to accept it and place myself in it. It also allowed me to note my privilege, which leads me to my last point;
3.Recognizing that I have the privilege that allows me to not have to face these experiences in real life means recognizing that I have been blessed with much and therefore, need to give of myself to others.
Luke 12:48 says “From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required; and from the one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded”. While it is common for us to ignore injustice and pain that we don’t experience ourselves, basking in our privilege and thinking, “Thank God it’s not me”, Luke 12:48 expects the opposite of us. This verse tells us that if we are blessed, it is our responsibility to give more and do more. I have been blessed to live in a safe and stable environment, without daily fear for my life. I don’t deserve these things; they have just been given to me. Therefore, God expects me to give of myself, my belongings and my words in His name, for those who don’t have my privilege. I believe this is true for all of us.
So, What would you take with you? And how will you use that reflection to live out Luke 12:48? I encourage you to attempt this experiment, or create one of your own. Instead of running from this reality, face it head on, with your Creator beside you and vow to make a difference however He calls you to do so.
Please pray with me, Lord, thank you for this day. Thank you for all of the ways you have blessed me in my life and all of the ways you continue to bless me. I recognize that I have been given and entrusted so very much, not because I deserve these blessings but because you love me and are inviting me to live out your will for the world, and for that I am forever grateful. I also recognize that you are asking me to give back to the world what you have given me. I know that I cannot pretend injustice doesn’t exist because you are calling me to fight against it in your name. I know that your will in this area will look differently for each of your children, as you have blessed us all with unique gifts. Therefore, I ask for your discernment in discovering and developing the gifts that you have given me in order to love the world and speak out against the injustices such as the plight of refugees. Thank you for this time, for your words, love and blessings, and thank you for inviting me to be your hands and feet in the world. In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.
Check out this video for a unique and artistic portrayal of what some refugees took with them.
Video Credit UNHCR - “Cate Blanchett performs the rhythmic poem ‘What They Took With Them’ alongside fellow actors Keira Knightley, Juliet Stevenson, Peter Capaldi, Stanley Tucci, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Kit Harington, Douglas Booth, Jesse Eisenberg and Neil Gaiman.”
Recommended Readings, Videos & Resources:
- Seeking Refuge: On The Shores Of The Global Refugee Crisis By: Stephan Bauman, Matthew Soerens & Dr. Issam Smeir
- Welcoming The Stranger: Justice, Compassion & Truth in the Immigration Debate By: Matthew Soerens & Jenny Hwang Yang
- When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting The Poor…And Yourself By: Steve Corbett & Brian Fikkert
- 10 Million To 1: Refugee Resettlement – A How-To Guide By: Jeffrey Kirk
- Possible: A Blueprint For Changing How We Change The World By: Stephan Bauman
- City of Thorns By: Ben Rowlens
- What Is The What By: Dave Eggers
- Salam Neighbor - Is about two Americans (Zach Ingrasci, Chris Temple) live among refugees along Syria's border.
- God Grew Tired Of Us - Observes the ordeal of three Sudanese refugees as they try to come to terms with the horrors they experienced in their homeland, while adjusting to their new lives in the United States.
- They Call it Myanmar - The filmmaker documents life in the world's second-most-isolated country.
- Refugee - Five acclaimed photographers travel the world to provide detailed insight into the difficult conditions faced by refugees who dream of a better life.
- When Elephants Fight - The Democratic Republic of Congo has been called a geological scandal due to its mineral rich soil. Unfortunately, those minerals, necessary to sustain today's technology, are funding the deadliest war since WWII.
- World Relief Jacksonville: Phinneas - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B93PTMjcdzA
- World Relief Refugee Program - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gWZiZEZ9crA
- UNHCR – A World in Crisis (2015) - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pxUpIjVdpRo
- Hana & Saeed Syria - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B1Lw9t27vGw
- The UNHCR’s Youtube Channel: https://www.youtube.com/user/unhcr
- World Relief Fox Valley Website: www.worldrelieffoxvalley.org
- World Relief Website: www.worldrelief.org
- Cultural Orientation Resource Center: http://www.culturalorientation.net/
- (Specifically, “Refugee Backgrounders”): http://www.culturalorientation.net/learning/backgrounders
- Explanation of US Refugee Admissions Program (From Dept. of State): https://www.state.gov/j/prm/ra/admissions/
- We Welcome Refugees Website: www.wewelcomerefugees.com
- Amnesty International’s Educational Resources on the Refugee Crisis: https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/education/2015/10/8-educational-resources-to-better-understand-the-refugee-crisis/
- Against All Odds (Game): http://www.playagainstallodds.ca/
- Refugee Council USA Website: http://www.rcusa.org/
- United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Website : http://www.unhcr.org/