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/
Refugee Policy History
Have you ever wondered about the history of Refugee policy in the United States throughout the presidents? Look at the evolvement of the executive orders different presidents have made through the History of the U.S.
President Kennedy: he directed the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare to establish a formal program to assist Cuban refugees. This order was estimated to have help and/or affect 1,000,000 refugees.
Presidents Ford & Carter: brings Vietnamese’s refugees to the United States in the Spring of 1975. The order estimated to affect 360,00 Vietnamese refugees.
President Carter: establishes the Refugee Act of 1980, this act created the Federal Refugee Resettlement Program. It aimed to provide resettlement of refugees and to assist them to achieve economic self-sufficiency as quickly as possible after the arrival in the U.S. The refugee that Carter was targeting were Cuban and Haitian refugees who arrived in Mariel boatlift that admitted 150,000 refugees.
President Reagan: blocked deportation of the Nicaraguan refugees who were already in America. He also establishes that minor children of parents that were legalized by the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act were protect from deportation. Together, Reagan is estimated to have helped around 300,000 individual and families.
President Bush & Clinton: protected about 200,000 Salvadoran refugees, and roughly 20,000-40,000 Haitian refugees from being deported from the U.S.
President Obama: deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program - this meant that young adults brought to the U.S. illegally as children could apply for temporary deportation relief; this program helped approximately 1,500,00 young adults from being deported. Obama ended the Cuban policy of "wet foot, dry foot." During the fiscal year of 2016, Obama admitted roughly 90,000 refugees, and within the first 11 weeks of fiscal year of 2017 Obama had admitted 24,000 refugees to be resettled into the U.S. Before Obama's term ended, he signed an order to allow 110,000 more refugees to be resettled into the U.S. before fiscal year 2017 ended. Lastly, Obama out of any other president or Congress allowed the most Muslim population resettle here in America.
President Trump: new executive order: Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States changed how we looked at the resettlement program by
Bans travel from – Sudan, Syria, Iran, Libya, Somalia, and Yemen for 90 days. Suspends the Refugee Admission Program for all countries for 120 days, and imposes a cap of 50,000 refugees for fiscal 2017.
No longer includes Iraq - U.S. and Iraqi governments have reached agreement about enhanced screening from Iraqi airports.
Specifies whom it does not affect: foreign nationals with valid visas, including those who had valid visas prior to the signing, and refugees whose travel to the U.S. has already been scheduled with the Department of State.
No longer singles out Syria for “indefinite” suspension of the refugee program; instead, the temporary suspension of the program applies to all countries.
Eliminates any preference for religious minorities.
Authorizes consular officials to waive the travel restriction on a case-by-case basis if the official determines the restriction would pose an undue hardship and that the entry would not pose a national security threat and would be in the national interest.
Authorizes the Secretaries of State and Homeland Security to jointly waive the temporary refugee restriction on a similar determination that accepting the refugee would not pose a national security threat and would be in the national interest.
Belinda’s Story Continued
Once we arrived in America, we thought everything would be perfect; we could not be more wrong. We did not realize the adversity journey we would go through to be settled in America.
When we first arrived at the airport, we were greeted by World Relief staff. They helped get our luggage; from there we were off to our new apartment – or so we thought. The first few nights we had to stay in a hotel because they could not find us an apartment. The staff explained that it is sometimes hard to find a landlord who will accept refugees – they do not have social security numbers, or have any background information on them. Within a couple days we were moving into a new apartment that we could call home.
The staff, and volunteers from World Relief showed us around the new apartment; taught us how to use the stove, lights, and how to lock the doors. From there they helped us cook our first meal in our new home. Over the course of the meal we discussed what would have to happen in the following days, and months. I would have to get enrolled into school, and my parents had to start job club. Job Club, as the explain, was a service to help them build job skills, like their resume, and interviewing. They would also have to be enrolled into a language class that was taught at Fox Valley Technical College. We were all excited to start our new rolls.
Once I began school, I realized that this would be much harder than I expected. The school system here was completely different than my home country, or even at the refugee camp. Due to this, I had to take special classes to help me catch up to my other classmates. I also had to take an extra language class, so that I could properly communicate with my teachers, and classmates. I also found at first that it was difficult to make friends at my new school because of my language barrier; but the more English I learned the easier it became to make friends at my school.
As I was in school, my parents attended Job Club, and their language classes. Since my mother had cleaned houses before, she easily found a job as maid in a popular hotel in Oshkosh. My mother loved her new job, and found it very simple.
The more my mother and I quickly adjusted to our new surroundings, the angrier he became because he could not find work and found learning English was very difficult for him. My father felt like he had failed my mother and I, since he was not the main provider for us anymore. This was a great blow to his self-esteem. Lucky for us, we soon found other refugees in the area through the help of World Relief. This feeling of community again help my dad realize that it was okay to take a little longer to find work. Also, one of the community workers helped him with his English and found him a job as teaching our native language to American students at the Technical College.
Though the journey it took us to get to America, and settled into our new home, we would have not been able to do it without the help World Relief provided us with. Through all the setbacks, and successes we went through they were there to help us. In two more years my family and I can apply to become U.S. citizens, and World Relief will be there to help us once again.
*For more information about Job Club, go to http://foxvalleyjobcenters.com/locations/oshkosh/
This is a fictional story based on the real process of coming to the United States.
When I arrived to the United States, everyone thought it was just so easy for my family to get here. What they did not know is that we lived in the refugee camp for 5 years, and suffered so much while we were there. I decided to tell them my story.
One night my mother came into my
Once my family was finally approved of our refugee status we had to go through the background check which took around 18 months. My parents and I were split up, and interviewed by different people – I am not sure who they were, but they were intensive about the questions they were asking me. They first asked me simple questions like my name, where my family have lived, birth date, etc. But then, these people started asking if I or my family had any ties to drug dealing, or terrorist. I was confused when they asked me these questions because those are the reasons is why we fled our country, those people who did those things wanted to kill my family! Once I started to cry, the people became nice again and asked me easier questions again. They gathered my finger print for something they called a biometric check. Later, I found out that a biometric check is a way that can look up my ethnic background, and see if I had gotten into trouble somewhere with my fingerprints.
My mother, and myself were approved soon after our interviews. But, my father was put on a wait list because as a teenager he had moved around a lot. His extra screening process took a couple of months to come back clean. After we all had met the U.S. admissions criteria, we were approved for resettlement! We then had to go through a medical screening, to make sure my family and I were healthy to travel. The doctors took blood samples of mine, took my temperature, checked my hair and asked if I had ever been sick before. The medical screening took even longer to come back that my family and I were all healthy to travel to America.
This became the happiest news for my family, we were finally going to be matched with a sponsor! We were lucky to be paired with World Relief, everyone in the camp said they were one of the best agency to be paired with. It took another couple of weeks but we found out that we would be going to the Fox Valley in the U.S. We then had an option to take a cultural orientation to learn about the U.S. and the Fox Valley. My mother and I wanted to go, but my father said it would be too dangerous and that we could become targets if people found out that we were leaving.
I was so happy; my family was finally going to America! We had gotten our tickets, packed our bags, said our goodbyes – to only find out that we had to go through a second security clearance! This took another two weeks! We were finally all set to go after our second security check. We were taken to the airport, went through security check and on the plane to America. We had a layover in Chicago, and when we were going through security check my father was taken to a room to be screened! My mother busted into tears saying that we all would be shipped back to the camp! I didn’t understand what was happening, and no one would tell me. I had to calm my mother down and told her everything was going to be okay, that he would come back just fine. After waiting 4 hours, my dad came back and said we should board the plane. Which we were lucky, our layover was for 5 hours!
Finally, after all we went through as we landed in the Fox Valley I could breathe out relaxed. I looked at my parents and said, “Momma, poppa, look we are home!” Walking through the gates we could see people holding a sign saying, “Welcome Home,” and “World Relief.” I just thought to myself, after everything, we finally were welcomed into a place we could call home.
To be continued….
Vulnerable or Valuable?
Business sees refugees as an asset
In 2015, while living in a refugee camp in Tanzania, Ancila Munganyinka received a letter that she and her family had been approved to resettle to the United States. Her weary heart held a mix of hope and fear. This would be yet another move to yet another new country in the desperate search for security and the opportunity to build a safe life. Ancila remembers her fears, explaining, “I had heard in the United States you have to work very hard. How will I survive?”
How will I survive?
As refugees flee violence, war and oppression every day, this question of survival is a question of life and death. But as refugees resettle into new homes, in new countries, the question shifts. Survival becomes less about if a refugee will survive and more about how to survive. Ancila worried about finding work. She thought, “I am old. I am sick. I am deaf. I am not strong. I don’t speak English.”
Displaced people are vulnerable. And it’s easy to believe the story that vulnerable equals helpless, instead of seeing that these are educated, skilled, successful, employable men and women who have simply faced unimaginable hardship and trauma. Refugees are eager for a chance to work, earn and contribute.
One locally owned business is doing its part to write a different narrative. Jakob Rukel founded AJR Filtration in St. Charles, Illinois in 1996. Jacob, a Croatian immigrant himself, knows exactly what it’s like to build a new life in a new place with very little. He worked backbreaking construction jobs in Croatia before he and his wife immigrated to the United States. Once here, they each took on three jobs just to make ends meet. After years of hard work, business training and careful experience, Jakob started his own company with the goal of passing along a successful enterprise for his sons to run.
Jakob’s sons, John (pictured at left visiting the sewing school) and Angelo, now serve as the COO and CAO, respectively, while Jakob still acts as CEO. As savvy businessmen, the Rukels needed help finding reliable, skilled labor who could grow along with the growing demands of their company. From their personal experience, they knew that some of the hardest working and most trainable people in the workforce were immigrants. So they combined their need for help with their desire to be helpful, deciding specifically to seek out immigrants and refugees looking for work. John explains, “My family was able to realize the American Dream, and so part of our mission here at AJR is to help other immigrant families do the same.” In 2011, this passion and commitment was the impetus to begin their longstanding partnership with World Relief DuPage/Aurora (WRDA).
To help meet the booming demand for its products and services, AJR needed to find people who could sew on their industrial machines. Through WRDA’s Employment Services, the company connected with refugees who were looking for work. Initially, there was a sewing test that applicants could take with an AJR supervisor. If employees passed the test, a job was offered. Those who did not pass, but had come close to passing, were offered in-house training to get up to speed.
AJR was so pleased with the refugee employees and their work ethic that they wanted to train more. So they provided a Burmese refugee an industrial machine so that she could teach and tutor others in the morning before she went to work at AJR in the afternoons. But even that wasn’t enough to meet the demand of the growing work.
So AJR set up a meeting with WRDA’s Employment Services team to brainstorm how to train more refugees. They agreed that an in-house sewing school would be the right next step. And because much of the work needed was manual, a high level of English was not required for potential employees to begin. This meant that refugees had the unique ability to start work and earn money even as they began learning English.
John proudly says, “World Relief is our most important partner. We would not be able to find the labor we need without the refugees who come to us through World Relief.”
And now, one of AJR’s recent and most promising recent sewing graduates: Ancila Munganyinka. Ancila arrived in the United States in 2015 after living as a refugee since 1972 in multiple countries, settlements, and camps. Her new life felt secure, but lonely. She wanted to be part of her community, make friends and work, but she wasn’t sure what she had to offer. Then the World Relief Employment Services team discovered Ancila had experience sewing. They sent her to AJR for training and assessment. She quickly tested out of sewing school and was offered a job. Ancila has been working hard at AJR for several months now, and loves having meaningful work to put her hands to. “I feel better every day. I was frustrated. I was depending on someone every day. Now I feel very sufficient, and it’s much better.”
This mutually beneficial partnership between World Relief and AJR Filtration continues to thrive. Since 2011, AJR has hired 306 refugees through WRDA, including around 25% of the second shift employees. AJR’s HR Manager, Diana Gonzalez Butler, says of these employees, “They are some of the hardest workers and stay with the company the longest! We love them.”
World Relief knows firsthand that refugees coming to the United States dream of finding a productive, dignified way to support themselves and their families. And extraordinary partners like AJR Filtration use their resources and influence to create space for reliable, talented, trainable refugees and immigrants to achieve that dream.
Story Source: World Relief DuPage/Aurora – August 2016