The Path to Peace: Jerome's Story

August 26, 2020

Article by Jerome Bizimana, World Relief Staff Member

Our feature this month is the firsthand account of life as a refugee from World Relief staff member, Jerome Bizimana. Read about his struggle to escape hate and violence in what felt at times like a hopeless quest for peace.

It was 1996 and the war had just broken out. The Democratic Republic of the Congo had always been my home, but it was a brutal, bloody war, and it was too dangerous to stay in the country, so my family and I fled. For the next nineteen years we lived in one Tanzanian refugee camp after another. When one camp closed, we packed up and moved to another. It wasn’t perfect, but it was a life away from the war.

One night in 2012, I was attacked by criminals at my home. Luckily, nearby police officers were able to save me from harm, but my assailants escaped. Before fleeing, they told me that they would kill me. They told me that they had to “terminate my life,” but never gave a reason why. My heart was broken, and from that day forward, I lived in constant fear. I couldn’t sleep, and many nights I would go to bed wondering if I would wake safely in the morning.

My eyes are wet with tears as I write this. I do not usually talk about my past. I prefer to forget the thirty-one years of my life that I lived hopelessly, but I hope that sharing my story will help others by bringing awareness to the need for refugee resettlement support.

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Sharing the Love: Brenda's Story

July 30, 2020

Article by Emily Miller, World Relief Staff Member

Our feature this month is a story of perpetual giving. Read how a young woman has overcome obstacles during the pandemic and is now mobilizing support for others in need.

Brenda’s heart sank when she logged on to her bank’s mobile app. She had been working at a laundromat, diligently saving extra pennies, when the unthinkable happened: the COVID-19 pandemic swept into Illinois. Her work hours were cut in half, several of her friends contracted the virus, and Brenda’s comfortable housing arrangement suddenly became unstable after three of her housemates decided to move away.

I have been Brenda’s case manager since October 2019, starting after she was granted asylum in the United States. After her arrival and prior to the pandemic, twenty-year-old Brenda had made great strides toward stability while settling into life in the Chicago area. She had established care with clinicians, started working, and had connected with a local church.

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On the Front Lines

May 27, 2020

Article by Robert Carroll

In this month's feature, read how twin sisters from Iran went from religious refugees who couldn't speak English to important front line workers in the fight against COVID-19. Click here for COVID-19 resources in over 20 languages, or click here to learn what items you can donate to help families in need during this time.

Sona Barichi can’t hug her young son when she gets home from work even though he cries for her and doesn’t understand. She has to take a shower first. She keeps her clothes and shoes in the garage until they’ve aired out for at least twenty-four hours, and then she washes them separately from her family’s laundry to prevent contamination. After she is convinced that she no longer carries any germs from her long shift at work, she can finally greet her family. She can finally hug her son.

Sona must take these precautions because she is a respiratory therapist at Delnor Hospital in Geneva who continues to work every day with COVID-19 patients. Her twin sister, Hana, works as a phlebotomist for Elmhurst Hospital, and she, too, is taking care of COVID-19 patients daily. Both sisters, they tell me, are doing their absolute best to help every single person that comes in through their hospital’s door, regardless of race, religion, or country of origin. As religious refugees from Iran, they know all too well what it feels like to be shoved aside, to be forgotten, to be refused. They also know what it feels like to be in danger.

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From Myanmar to DuPage: A Valentine’s Day Love Story

February 26, 2020

Article by Amy Ullo, Communications Manager for workNet DuPage

For this month's feature, we welcome guest writer, Amy Ullo, Communications Manager for workNet DuPageLocated in Lisle, IL, the workNet DuPage Career Center is home to several organizations working in partnership to provide employment services for employers and job seekers in DuPage County. workNet DuPage is a valued partner of World Relief.

February 14 has a special meaning for a refugee family in DuPage County.

Valentine’s Day signifies more than the wedding anniversary of Lian Mung and Sian Nu, a young couple from Myanmar (also known as Burma): it’s the date they arrived in the United States seeking safety from violence and persecution.

For the past half century, ethnic and religious conflicts have forced hundreds of thousands of Myanmarese to uproot their lives trying to escape devastating human rights abuses.

Lian, a Christian worship leader, fled his homeland in Tedim, Chin State, a mountainous northwestern tribal area of Myanmar. In 2008, he made the treacherous journey to Malaysia by way of Thailand smuggled in a van during the day and on foot at night in the jungle. At only 24 years of age, Lian left behind his wife, his mother, two younger sisters, and the only life he had ever known. 

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Starting from Zero: Mohammad's Story​


December 21, 2019

Article by Robert Carroll

In this month's feature, read how a high school senior from Syria rose to the top of his graduating class just three years after arriving in the United States as a refugee with no English and only a few years of standardized schooling. This young man and his four siblings were enrolled in school and joined an after-school homework club that further ignited his intense passion for learning and helping others. Read on to learn more about the impact you make possible when you partner with World Relief.

Mohammad Marie looks and acts like a typical high school senior—one that has spent his entire life living and learning in the United States. When I meet him, he’s wearing a hoodie, blue jeans, and tennis shoes. His backpack is loose on his shoulders. He owns an iPhone and he carries a pair of Apple airpods in his pocket. He greets his friends with high-fives, and he jokes lovingly with teachers using American slang and gestures. He has an Arabic accent, but his English is otherwise impeccable.

But Mohammad Marie is not a typical high school senior.

Mohammad and his family, which includes three brothers and a young sister, fled war-torn Syria earlier in the decade in order to seek safety in the neighboring country of Jordan.

“We left Syria because of huge civil war,” he explains. “The people were fighting the government. The government was of course stronger. They had a lot of heavy missiles and they started shooting people and shooting houses down and stuff.”

Mohammad is a charismatic young man who usually speaks with excitement. He’s usually very animated. But when he recounts the war in Syria for me, his tone is sober and his face lacks expression. The way he says “and stuff” seems to cut right to the truth of the matter. What more does one have to say after “heavy missiles” and “shooting people and houses down?” If I haven’t gotten the point by then, it’s likely that I never would.

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Trauma, Suffering, and the Fight for One's Own Soul: Nazish's Story

November 20, 2019

Article by Robert Carroll
Photographs by Roxanne Engstrom

In this month's feature, read how one exceptional woman rebuilt her life here in the United States, found the mental healthcare she needed, and overcame the odds stacked against her. Then, at the end of the article, please enjoy the poem, "A Lonely Girl," written by this remarkable person in both English and her native language of Urdu.

Thanks to partners like you, World Relief is able to provide needed counseling for refugees and other immigrants struggling to find help for the mental and emotional trauma that they have experienced.

Nazish is a poet both in words and action—gentle, calm, contemplative, deliberate. English is her second language, but she wields metaphor and turns phrases with charming purpose—an astonishing thing to witness considering she will occasionally pause mid-sentence to find the correct vocabulary. It’s like her heart knows the rhythm of what she wants to say long before her mind can find the words, and her soul is patient enough to make it work.

When Nazish enters the room and meets me for the first time, she smiles warmly, but I can see that behind her smile is uncertainty. I’ve been told she’s a bit nervous to sit down and conduct the interview, but I’ve also been told she’s eager to share her story. According to those that know Nazish, she has decided that she will no longer let fear prevent her from being a positive example for all the refugee women silently suffering from the untreated effects of mental illness. Before her own treatment, the fear she now conquers on a daily basis would most certainly have kept her at home rather than here now, sitting across from me, a stranger, to whom she will soon divulge details of a deeply personal persuasion about an often stigmatized condition for which many parts of the world, including her country of origin, still want her to feel shame.

So, in many ways, Nazish is also a warrior.

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From Prisoner to Patriot

October 15, 2019


In honor of Veterans' Day next month, we're proud to share this first-hand account of one refugee's escape from an Iranian prison and his quest to fight for the freedom of others as a member of the United States military.

The Iranian interrogator held up a ballpoint pen and warned me of its power.

“Can you see the small metal ball on the head of this pen?" he asked. "I can break your neck with this small metal ball. I only have to write two paragraphs and you'll be gone forever.”

After forty-six days of interrogation and torture, I knew that he wasn't lying. He could do whatever he wanted to me. There were no laws stopping him. He put his pen to paper and within a few hours, I found myself in Evin Prison, the scariest prison in the world.

But I was happy.

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Crisis in Venezuela

September 25, 2019

The crisis in Venezuela was born during the presidency of Hugo Chávez, but it did not end with his reign. More than six years after Chávez’s death, the situation in Venezuela is worse than ever, and the economic fallout is considered by many to be more severe than that of the United States during the Great Depression, or that of Russia following the collapse of the Soviet Union. Marked by hyperinflation, escalating starvation, disease, crime, political persecution, and rising mortality rates, there appears to be no immediate solution in sight, and this has resulted in massive emigration from the country.

Isabella Martinez was one of the many that fled Venezuela while the country continued to unravel.

“After Chávez died,” she explains, “the political situation got even worse. Things started to go bad for anyone who didn’t support the ruling party.”

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December 16, 2015

In 2013 WRDA and Village Bible Church, Aurora Campus began a partnership that has grown by leaps and bounds.  Starting with the church hosting Job Readiness ESL classes, the outreach has grown to now include gardening spaces for refugees, many refugees attending church and many more involved in church activities.  As the church has been ministering to local refugees, Travis Fleming, Teaching Pastor for the congregation, has invested more and more in learning and understanding refugees, and he recently made a trip to Jordan to learn more and to connect with churches in Jordan who are serving some of the nearly 1,000,000 refugees there.  Travis sat down with WRDA Church Mobilizer, Keith Draper to talk about this trip and how it has shaped his vision of "glocal" (global + local) ministry.

What sparked your trip to see a refugee camp and visit with a church serving refugees?

God put our church in a position we didn’t expect a few years ago. He placed a refugee resettlement community less than a mile from our church, and we saw it as an opportunity to not only reach out to our community, but to reach the world. For us to visit with another church doing that in a foreign land, seemed like a no-brainer. We are helping the same people just in different places. And if we can figure out a way to help partner with one another to help the most vulnerable among us to know who Jesus is, then we should.


At the request of Christians in the middle east working with refugees at great person risk, this article is being edited to protect their identities.  Please check back later, and in the interim please be in prayer for those who are serving in dangerous places.

November 18, 2015

Over the days since the attacks in Beirut and Paris, WRDA has gotten a lot of questions, and our Executive Director has spoken with many members of the press.  So, we thought it might be helpful to the readers of our monthly newsletter to see how Emily is responding to some of the questions many people have in light of the terrorist attacks in Beirut and Paris and the announcement on Monday by Illinois Governor Rauner seeking to bar Syrian refugees from Illinois. 

Is WRDA still resettling refugees after Governor Rauner's announcement?

Yes.  It is not yet clear if any governor can seek to bar individuals legally admitted to the U.S. by the federal government from their state.  I have spoken with people at the U.S. Department of State who will be advising refugee resettlement organizations like World Relief, but the situation is not yet clear.  But even while the resettlement of Syrian refugees is debated, there are refugees from many other parts of the world who are arriving and who we are serving in community with many local churches and volunteers.  We are committed to welcoming and serving because that is part of our Christian mission, and we believe that our communities will continue to be welcoming places as they have been for over 35 years.

Do you believe the resettlement program is safe?

Yes, I do.  The process of screening refugees prior to entrance into the U.S. is the most rigorous of any process that exists for a foreign national to enter the country.  It is more detailed and thorough than tourist visas, student visas and work visas.  The process has been very effective and has been refined over the many years since the Refugee Act started in 1980, and especially as conditions in our world have changed.  It has been proven successful in protecting the American people.  Since 9/11 nearly 800,000 refugees have been admitted.  None have committed terrorist acts, though 3 people were detained and questioned, but they did not do any harm. The process works.  I am not afraid.

If things like the attacks in Paris can happen in Europe, why do you not think they can happen here? 

Like France we are vulnerable to what our own citizens do, and it does appear that the perpetrators of these attacks are mostly, if not all, European Union citizens.  But, beyond that, comparing the migrant situation in Europe to refugees in the U.S. is comparing two very different things.  Migrants enter Europe directly from conflict zones, and they are, by and large, people seeking asylum - like those who enter other neighboring countries from other world conflicts (Burundi, Chad, Nepal and Malaysia are some examples).  These migrants may have been in their home country just days before entering Europe.  And, while they may receive refugee status at some point, they are just starting on a process of having their claims verified.  In contrast, refugees admitted to the U.S. have been able to prove their claim of persecution through the United Nations, been referred to the United States and undergone a multi-agency (Homeland Security, FBI, United States Citizenship and Immigration Service) screening by specially trained staff.  Our program is simply not like what is happening in Europe.

Isn’t ANY possible risk too much risk? 

    No, not for us as a Christian ministry organization or for us as Christians.  Love is messy.  Love may involve risk when we risk our hearts in friendship with another person.  But love is our mission.  We are called by Jesus to welcome and to love.  We respond in love because we were first loved by Him.  We are also called to “do good”, not just to those who are like us, but to all people.  We cannot shut down compassion and continue to be like Jesus.  We need to be showing love and working as a nation, as NGOs and as the church in all areas of dealing with the suffering that war brings.  For those in conflict zones we work to improve situations and bring peace; for those displaced inside their country or in neighboring countries we provide aid and seek to make a safe place of refuge for them where they are; and for those who complete the rigorous process to enter the United States, we welcome them as our neighbors and our future fellow-citizens.  We are called to follow Jesus’ definition of “neighbor” in caring for others as told in the story we call the Good Samaritan.  Serving for this Samaritan was not particularly safe, it was messy, it involved some cost and some sacrifice, and it was aimed at someone not at all himself.  Our risk is managed by a good program, but we must also risk to show love.

    How does WRDA select refugees to be resettled in DuPage and Kane Counties?

      Actually, we don’t.  There are 9 national organizations that work with the US Department of State, of which World Relief is one.  The focus of the Department of State is to run a humanitarian resettlement program, which means that the U.S. focuses on the most vulnerable – children, single mothers, the elderly and those facing medical challenges.  About 50% of the refugees referred to the US are under age 18.  Refugees are referred to the U.S. by the United Nations, screened by multiple federal agencies and then given by the Department of State to one of the agencies who will assist with the on-the-ground resettlement work.  Every week representatives of the 9 organizations meet together with the Department of State and cases are distributed.  In the simplest terms, WRDA is notified of cases assigned to us and we prepare to receive the family.

      How many Syrians does WRDA expect to resettle?

        Over recent years, WRDA has welcomed 5 families from Syria.  While we anticipate about 575 refugees between now and the end of September next year, only a very small portion of those are anticipated to be from Syria.  We never know exact numbers until we are assigned cases from the Department of State.  Despite what people may see online, the goal of the State Department is to welcome 10,000 Syrian refugees as a part of the 85,000 refugees slated to enter the U.S. by next September.  I have heard rumors and false social media posts saying that 10,000 Syrians will arrive by January.  This is just not true.  Because of the screening process for refugees, about the only Syrians who could possibly arrive this federal year are people who are already in the screening processes, and who have been already working through the process for months or years. 

        How can I or my church help?

          Learn more.  Fear is often the result of misinformation and the more we can spread facts and truth, the more we can help combat fear.  I and others at WRDA would be happy to talk with any churches or members of our community to give more information and to help build understanding that reduces fear.  We want to encourage looking to scripture and the character of God as our guide for our actions, not our political situation.

          Pray.  This is not a platitude, this is a plea for a genuine seeking of God’s favor on our world, strength for us in our task of loving others, peace in areas where chaos reigns, and for power in His church to be the salt and light this world desperately needs.  If you need some ideas for prayer, we have our prayer guide on our website that gives 7 days of focus to how pray for refugees.

          Act.  I know that refugees who are already in our community are afraid as they hear the negative backlash against “refugees.”  They need to know that they are welcome in our communities.  Please be a part of an active welcome – which means meeting refugees, helping meet their needs here and being a friend they can count on.  We have a lot of ways to get involved, including #GivingTuesday in just a couple of weeks.   Others are listed here: (get involved page)

          Is there anything else that you think people reading the WRDA newsletter should know?

            Serving and loving people in our broken and frightening world is hard.  I do not take lightly the events taking place nor the responsibility WRDA assumes as a small part of the U.S. Resettlement Program, but I and the team here seek to serve and love as we have been loved and to provide opportunity for a new start to some of the millions of refugees, who are themselves victims of terrorism, violence, war and horrible atrocities.  We continue to be grateful for those who serve with and alongside of us and the immigrants of our community.  I’ve been holding on to the verse in 2 Timothy as this week has unfolded, where the apostle Paul reminds the young Timothy that “God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of self-control.”  I hope that spirit will continue to lead us.


            October 28, 2015

            Rami Abou Jabr grew up in a middle class family in Homs, Syria.  He never expected the devastation of his homeland and his family that would come in 2011.  He had a normal Syrian childhood; his father worked as a cab driver and his mother stayed at home to care for the children, including Rami, his brother Raed, who was born with developmental disabilities, and 2 sisters.  After high school Rami went to university while working in a granite factory, finishing granite countertops.  After finishing his associates in veterinary science, be began assisting a veterinarian with caring for cows and eventually chickens, providing them with vaccinations. Rami stated that there were probably 5,000 chicken at each site where they worked.  He liked working with animals because he was able to care for them and know that they were all being treated well.

            Everything began to change when the Syrian revolution started in March of 2011.  Rami remembers that at first there were just protestors in the Homs region.  Then the government and police counteracted and things became increasingly violent.  From their home the family could hear the gunfire outside the city.  A short time later the violence and aggression moved through the city itself.  In Rami’s neighborhood people were leaving in large numbers, until only those who had lived there for a lifetime were left.  Rami’s family stayed at first because his father was ill and needed regular medical treatment.  But he often would not go the hospital because it was periodically taken over by soldiers and was not safe.

            Rami fled to neighboring Turkey to try to find a safe home and work so that he could take care of his family, including his wife Rajaa and their 2 children.  He eventually found work as an air conditioner repairman and sent for Rajaa and the children.  She made the difficult journey to Turkey alone with their 3 year old son and their one year old daughter.  She took whatever rides she could get, going from car to car.  She did not know the people who transported her and the trip was both dangerous and frightening.

            While Rami and Rajaa were in Turkey, Rami’s father died because he could not get the medical care he needed.  This was a huge blow to the family, and especially to Raed who was always close to his father, who took special care of him because of his challenges. Rapidly, conditions in Homs became even more dangerous, and Rami’s mother could not even take the time to mourn her husband according to their customs.  Instead she gathered the family and fled to join Rami in Turkey.

            With the whole family in Turkey and his father gone, Rami held the weighty responsibility of caring for his own family, plus his mother, brother and sisters.  His mother and 2 sisters worked in a garment factory for a time, but they often did not have enough money to pay rent or to purchase food.  They remember being treated poorly because they were Syrian refugees without rights or protections.  Local citizens saw them as a drain on the society and employers could choose to mistreat or cheat them without any consequences.

            After applying to the United Nations and being referred for resettlement to the United States, the family arrived in Aurora in 2015.  Other members of their extended family have also fled Syria, some recently making it to Germany.  Rami and Rajaa say that they thank God for being able to come to the U.S. because they know that many people do not have this chance.  They want to make the best of this opportunity, and dream of a good education for their children.  They are thankful for the labor laws of the U.S. and that their employers here do not mistreat or abuse them and that they pay a fair, consistent wage.  In the U.S. they have found respect and a new home.

            Rami hopes in future to continue his education and return to working with animals.  He also wants to share the story of his family so that others will understand the trials of the Syrian people, but also so that they will know that there is hope.

            Rami and Rajaa will be joining WRDA on Thursday, November 12 at 7 p.m. at Café K’Tizo in Wheaton for a special event, “Spotlight on Syria.”  The event is open to the public and World Relief staff will be sharing about the Syrian refugee crisis and our global and local response.

            September 30, 2015

            They came from over 50 countries and gathered together at the McAninch Center on the campus of the College of DuPage (COD) with one common goal – to be a citizen of the United States.  In a solemn ceremony, some 250 new Americans took the oath of citizenship in an event co-sponsored by World Relief DuPage/Aurora (WRDA), the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), and COD.  United States Congressman Peter Roskam (R-IL) was also on hand to welcome the new citizens.

            “Becoming a citizen gives our clients peace of mind in knowing their rights can’t be stripped away,” Catherine Norquist, WRDA’s Immigrant Legal Services Director, said. “Particularly those refugees who haven’t had citizenship in other countries now feel like they can say, ‘I’m a part of this country.’”

            To become a citizen, an immigrant must be a lawful permanent resident for at least four years, nine months (or two years, nine months if married to U.S. Citizen for at least three years) and be able to speak, read and write English. Applicants must also pass a one-on-one interview with a USCIS official and demonstrate a knowledge of U.S. civics and history through a test.  For many people, the journey is considerably longer, taking years or even decades.

            In addition to the time required to achieve this goal, there is a significant financial investment for all new citizens.  The combination of government application fees and other costs can easily reach into the thousands of dollars, but WRDA can screen citizenship applicants for eligibility of a waiver of the application fee for naturalization.

            WRDA helps some 700 applicants become citizens each year. The staff of attorneys and accredited legal representatives works with church and community volunteers to offer citizenship clinics, often held in churches.  At these clinics, legal staff screen for eligibility, and trained volunteers provide help filling out the USCIS application before the case is reviewed and submitted. To help prepare for the interview and civics test, WRDA education staff offer citizenship classes, and some local churches have developed citizenship tutoring centers to help immigrants prepare.

            Many of WRDA’s citizenship services are funded through a federal grant administered by USCIS and, until recently a state program called the New Americans Initiative (NAI).  Due to the budget impasse in Springfield, funding for NAI was eliminated on July 1.  With the loss of state funding, WRDA has been forced to make some service changes. “These cuts have forced us to scale back off-site clinics in the community and tied our services to fees,” Norquist said. “We are seeking other sources of funding to maintain staff.”

            Despite the challenges, seeing the dream of citizenship come true for so many people fuels WRDA’s determination to maintain a strong program for people like Ben (named changed for confidentiality), who spent over 15 years stateless.  Having been stripped of his citizenship and civil rights by the government of his home country because of his ethnic group, Ben was forced into slave labor on a farm.  He escaped to a neighboring country and was later resettled as a refugee.  After 5 years he has now become a citizen of the U.S., and has taken his place in a long line of immigrants who have built America.

            Learn more about WRDA's Immigrant Legal Services HERE.
            August 27, 2015

            This August marks the 80th Anniversary of President Roosevelt’s signing the Social Security Act into law. Social Security has become a part of the fabric of American society - but to newly arrived refugees the program has a special significance.

            Many refugees are “stateless” people, meaning that they are not citizens of any country.  Without status or rights in any country, many refugees who come from Bhutan through Nepal, have been forbidden from working. The prohibition is part of the larger exclusion from normal society that refugees endure. For some us that may sound like a nice long vacation, “but when you’re not allowed to work for years and you have that taken away, it is wonderful to suddenly have someone say, ‘No, you’re allowed to do that here. We think that you have something to contribute,’” Alison Bell, World Relief Senior Resettlement Manager explains. “I think there’s a lot of significance in this little card. This little number in its own way says, ‘you belong here and you’re wanted and you’re one of us.’”

            This card is so important that applying for it is one of the first tasks newly arriving refugees complete, with the help of WRDA staff or volunteers.  Their Social Security card is one of the first official U.S. documents many of them receive.  It is this document that refugees often use to prove their eligibility to work in the United States and within the first 2-3 months after arrival many World Relief clients find jobs with the help of WRDA’s employment services team.

            Those first jobs allow clients to not only support themselves but provide a source of dignity and pride that many refugees had lost.  Work is something that helps their own family and refugees immediately begin to contribute into the Social Security system that pays out benefits to retired pensioners, the unemployed, survivors of deceased workers, and the disabled. An article in the New York Times quotes a Social Security Administration official as saying that immigrants pay well over $15 billion annually into the Social Security system.  At some future time or at retirement, refugee workers may be able to draw on those benefits, but more immediately, being part of the system and the workforce is part of belonging to the larger community. 

            Many refugees lost a sense of belonging through spent years in refugee camps or urban settings after being forced to flee their home country.  Now in the United States and desiring to put down new roots, there is great power in a little 2”x3.5” paper card.  With it, Bell adds, “we’re in a position where we can say, ‘Every American has this number. You’re here, you belong, here’s your number. You’re part of us. You get to work too.’”

            July 27, 2015

            I was born in 2001 in Baghdad, Iraq. At this time my father was in the Iraqi army, and he told us that the U.S. was coming to help. Saddam Hussein lied about having weapons of mass destruction so that the United States would be scared. My family was happy because they needed Saddam dead. He was not good to the Iraqi people.

            We were scared because of the war. Baghdad was a dangerous place to live. The U.S. soldiers used to come into houses and take the men to jail.  There were dead bodies in the streets, no water, no gas, and no power at times.

            Things were not great in Baghdad because we didn’t have a lot of money.  We all lived in one room and we all got sick, but we were happy because my father was with us.

            My father found a better job working with his friend from school, and we found another house. We were so happy!  It had a bathroom, and we could take showers.  Then two years later, my father went back to the army because we needed more money.  There were a lot bombs close to my house at that time. One day, bombs went off that were really close, and I was under the window when they exploded. My dad pulled me back, and almost the glass went in my face. This is why we had to move to another house. It was nice and good and we didn’t have any problems.  But then we had a bigger problem.

            My father was Sunni, and when he went back to the army we couldn’t say to the people that my father was in the army because they would put bombs in my house or take me or my father.

            One day, my father was sitting outside and my uncle looked at him and said, “You need to get inside. If someone sees you, they’re going to shoot you!” We were all scared. If someone knocked on the door my father couldn’t open the door, just me or my mom could. He couldn’t go to the market. One day I needed a drink. I told my father, but my mom told him, “You can’t go. Please.” My grandmother had to go get me one.

            At the funeral of my uncle, they tried to take my father away, but my other uncle helped him.

            One day, 2 bombs were under the tank that my father was driving.  They blew up, but he did not die. A month later, I was in my house, and I opened the door.  I saw my father and half of his face was bleeding.  He was ok, but he couldn’t hear out of his left ear.

            A month after that, in 2008, my father died in the army.  This is the worst thing I have ever seen in my life.  We talked to him the night before, and he was planning to come home in the morning.  He was going to bring two white birds home for me.  He did this every month, and together we would let the birds go flying away.

            At that time I knew I would not have a dad again.  In the morning they called my mom and told her he died. When they told me, I was outside and needed to go to school. After that, we didn’t have dad, or money, or food, but my uncle helped us a lot.

            When I was a kid I didn’t know anyone like me who didn’t have a father. Why just me?  I cried and told everyone I needed my father.

            In the mornings when I walked to school, I didn’t know if someone was going to take me away from my family or if a car would shoot at me, but I walked with my friends so we were not scared. People told my uncle, “Don’t worry, we are not going to kill Mohammed.” I was there, and I saw what he said. My mom was scared and worried about me.  Her face it was yellow.

            When my father died, a school was hard for me.  After school, I got in fights with other people.  I know you will say, “WHY?” I fought because they said bad words to me, so this made me fight. 

            I’m never going to say my friends are bad or all the people there are bad. I like Iraq very much, and the people, my friends, they are really good. If just one or two people are bad, that doesn’t mean all the country is bad. I like my uncle, and I care about my family. I need them around me. I don’t want anyone to hurt. I need to take them to a safe place.

            One day my grandfather told my family about IOM (International Office for Migration). When he told us about that, we didn’t think it was real.

            When we came to the U.S., it was snowing when I got out of the airplane. It was great, but the first day I couldn’t go out.  I was scared about going to the school. I didn’t speak English. My sister wanted to go back to Iraq. She cried all the time.

            But now I like this time.  It is really good. I like my friends, and I speak English.  It is hard to buy a car, though. My mom got work, and we need go step by step. We got better when my mom got her license. Thank God for this good year. Maybe we will get better and better every year.

            When I came here I needed to do what my father needs me to.  I told him I would be a pilot someday. I have to do this, and I need to go back to Iraq and tell him I’m a pilot. This was his dream, and all my family knows this. The last thing I need to say is thanks to all people for helping me.


            June 26, 2015

            Approximately six years ago, The Justice Conference was created to be a forum where people of faith could gather and discuss the world’s injustices. Now, the conference is the largest Biblical and social justice conference of its kind.  Presented by World Relief, the event seeks to bring together world-class speakers, pastors, authors and artists to answer the questions: what is justice and how do I become an advocate for peace?  As a global event, the conference has been held in both Hong Kong, China and Melbourne, Australia---but this year it came here to Chicago!

            On June 5 & 6, individuals from around the world ascended on Roosevelt University’s Auditorium Theater in downtown Chicago to learn about the current injustices of our world.  Over the course of two days, speakers invited attendees to think differently about inequality and presented a Biblical framework for how Christian faith and social justice go hand-in-hand.

            Because the conference was held locally this year, several World Relief DuPage/Aurora staff members had the opportunity to attend. When asked about their experience, each felt similarly reenergized and renewed in purpose.  Below are some of the highlights shared.

            “After attending the conference, I feel led to make more direct connections to the refugees we serve. I’ve started by inviting a family over to my house for dinner and plan to do that with others. Not as a way to “help” them, but just as a way to make relationships and connections. I don’t feel like I can honestly do the work of “justice” without more personal relationships and experiences.”

            - Liz Clinton, Education Manager, Aurora

            “For me, although the word justice is currently in vogue, it still represent a timeless and key value for Christians. It is an expression of what Jesus said that he came to the earth to accomplish (Luke 4:18).”

            -Zach Taylor, Employment Specialist

            “I enjoyed many of the speakers, but personally I needed to hear Bob Goff’s reminder that the journey of Christians when seeking justice is not heavy-laden or a crippling burden. We must approach injustices with a heart or attitude of whimsy and joy because of the Good News we have and the source of where justice comes from.”

            -Casey Barrette Children & Youth Program Manager, Aurora

            The Justice Conference will once again take place in Chicago in June 2016—and registration is already open!  If you would like to be a part of this live-changing experience, and receive the early registration discount, visit today!

            March 27, 2015

            Whether refugees have never had access to dental care or just limited access, they often arrive in the U.S. with dental issues. While they receive a comprehensive medical exam, there is currently no provision for dental screening.  As a result, Sue Reynolds and Malita Gardner, managers in the Education Department at World Relief in DuPage, partnered with College Church and invited the DuPage County Health Department offers free dental screenings for the students who attend ESL classes at the church those in need.

            According to Beth Enke, Assistant Director of the Dental Program for DuPage County, poor oral health can lead to chronic pain, heart disease, and diabetes.  And because oral health is directly related to overall health, Enke and her team regularly conduct free dental screenings for populations in need. 

            The dental program representatives were at the church for an entire week, and by the end of class on Friday, approximately 160 refugees received a dental screening---many for the first time. On Monday and Tuesday, the Dental Program team visited the ESL classes and educated the adults on how to care for their teeth and their children’s teeth.  Then on Thursday and Friday, they examined the adults and provided information on where they can get a free cleaning.  Those with a decay problem were referred to an area dentist who accepts Medicaid.  Furthermore, one refugee patient was immediately scheduled to see an oral surgeon due to signs of oral cancer.

            Currently, the tooth decay rate in DuPage County is 52%. “The leading reason kids miss school is tooth decay or a dental problem; therefore, the younger we can screen them the better,” said Enke.  As a result, pre-school children enrolled in the WRD Early Education Program were examined along with their parents.  Plus, if they were able to tolerate the exam well, they had their teeth cleaned by the Smile Squad in the mobile dental unit.

            With the goal of screening nearly 6,000 DuPage County residents per year, Enke looks forward to bringing the Dental Program back to World Relief and continuing to offer free dental assistance to the refugee population in DuPage County.

            February 26, 2015

            Last fall, *John arrived in the U.S. as a refugee with his family---but safety was only one of the challenges his family faced.  He needed to work, but his wife was struggling with a debilitating heart condition; his daughter was suffering from unstable diabetes; and his brother was confined to a wheelchair.  After learning about the family’s circumstances, WRDA staff and volunteers began planning to meet their many needs.

            Helping clients in complex situations requires coordination of efforts, collaboration across services and programs, involvement of the church, and community volunteer support.

            The first year of resettlement is crucial in every case---especially in complicated situations.  Therefore, staff across WRDA programs come together weekly to coordinate services and track client progress.  The meeting is comprised of representatives from each area of service: initial resettlement, medical, education, employment, and counseling. And while the weekly meeting is not the only time for staff collaboration, it is key.

            "The purpose of the case briefing meeting is to help staff coordinate and plan services, as well as communicate client progress," said Susan Sperry, Refugee Services Director.

            With the goals of stability and progress toward healthy integration, the staff share information and collaborate on problem-solving.  At the intervals of 3, 7 and 11 months post arrival, each household or individual case is reviewed and staff identify key areas for follow-up and service provision. Individuals or households struggling to adjust receive the benefit of a multi-tiered coordination of services.

            Every case is different; therefore, the intensity of services varies too.  According to Sperry, a team-based approach to case management is the most effective because refugees receive the layers of care needed to be successful in the U.S.

            "The goal is to have each refugee family well-grounded by the end of the first year," said Sperry.

            And while there is no exact definition for success, the vision of World Relief is to see people transformed economically, socially and spiritually, which can be understood in terms of some key benchmarks:

            • The ability to pay bills, which means the individual or member of the household has a job with a steady income
            • A network of support in the community, which includes friends, neighbors, churches, faith communities, and other service providers

            Working together across disciplines and integrating volunteers, the team is able to address multiple and complex challenges in ways that individual workers cannot; for example, John and his family.

            After securing a handicapped-accessible apartment for the family, their case manager brought together the medical coordinator and a representative from the education and employment teams. Together, the team prepared a proactive plan for stabilization and provided updates on the family’s progress during their weekly case briefing meeting. The plan was discussed with John and implemented through a combination of staff and volunteer activity designed to meet the goals of stability and progress toward healthy integration.

            Within three months, John secured a job, his wife had heart surgery, both John and his daughter learned how to manage her diabetes, and the entire family was connected to volunteers from a local church. 

            Click here to learn more about the departments that make up Refugee Services at WRDA.

            * For the protection of the client, we have changed his name to John for the purpose of retelling his story

            January 28, 2015

            The New Year is synonymous with a fresh start.  As December draws to a close, many people commit to a resolution---often to manage their health, money, or time better.    For a refugee leaving behind their home and culture, a new beginning can seem overwhelming.  However, despite challenges and fears, refugees arrive in the U.S. with concrete goals for the future.

            Prior to Christmas break, Karen Edwards, WRDA ESL Instructor in DuPage, gave her students a goal-setting assignment from their Step Forward 2 textbook.  Students were asked to read an article about a person who wanted to become a chef, which led to a class discussion of goals and the steps required to reach the goal.  Edwards decided to take the assignment further and asked the students to write a paragraph about their personal goal.  And because many of the students are creative and artistic, she also asked them to draw an illustration. 

            “The assignment came alive when the students shared their goals during class in small groups,” said Edwards.

            Sensing the students’ enthusiasm, Edwards asked if anyone wanted to come to the front of the class and be recorded on video---and several students were brave enough to do it.  According to Edwards, students who shared on camera not only talked about their goals, but their dreams too!

            Adil Idris Adam Ali has been in the U.S for only 11 months.  Originally from the Sudan, he enjoys exploring nature and working outside. As a result, his goal is to become a geologist; however, in order to reach this goal, Adil knows that he must continue with English classes. Currently, he works third shift packaging magazines for distribution, but hopes to be moved to the first shift soon so that he can start taking classes at College of DuPage.

            Maha Mohamed was resettled by WRDA approximately 18 month ago.  She was working towards becoming a nurse in her home country of Sudan prior to fleeing to Egypt for safety.  Today, she still dreams about becoming a nurse; therefore, she continues to attend WRDA ESL classes to improve her English.  Maha’s goal is to start nursing school in three years.  However, nursing is not her only goal.  Due to her love of baking, Maha’s second dream is to be a chef.

            Exiled from his home country of Burma, Kaw Tha Blay spent 13 years in a refugee camp prior to being resettled by World Relief in DuPage.  Fortunately, Kaw was able to attend school in the camp and learn some English, but he craves more education.  In fact, he wants to earn a teaching degree so that he can teach others English and how to use a computer.  After experiencing so much conflict in Burma, Kaw believes that in order for people to live in peace together they must be educated; therefore, he hopes to reach his goal of becoming a teacher by the year 2030.

            When Bibi Rai was just 16 years-old, he fled the Bhutan with his family for a refugee camp in Napal, where they lived for 18 years.  Because his father passed away when Bibi was young, he only attended school for a couple of years because he had to help support his family.  However, with little education and no understanding of English, he has landed a job, earned a driver’s license, and purchased a car.  Mechanically inclined, Bibi is now working towards his goal of becoming a car mechanic.  He would like to start preparing for his new career now, but knows that he must improve his English speaking and writing skills. Ideally, his dream is to start his training in the next six months.

            Learning to speak, read, and write the English is the foundation to achieving any goal for a newly arrived refugee.  If you would like to be a part of helping someone realize their dream by becoming an ESL tutor, contact Jamie Daling, Volunteer Services Manager, at 630-462-7566 x 1046 or