No matter the language, culture or tradition, Christmas is celebrated throughout the world. As followers of Christ, we rejoice in hope and long for the peace as prophesied in the Old Testament. At WRDA, a part of God’s provision for immigrants and refugees in the western suburbs of Chicago is our employees. Our staff is comprised of people from all over the world and includes PhD’s and engineers, teachers and social workers, pastors and legal professionals, licensed mental health counselors, accountants and dedicated specialist—each with the calling to stand-up against injustice and a heart to serve the vulnerable. This year, we would like to share the gift of our staff with you through the retelling of Christmas traditions from staff members whose country of origin is not the U.S.
Wishing you the gift of faith and the blessing of hope this holiday season!
WRDA Immigrant Legal Services Associate
Culinary, musical, and cultural traditions make the month of December very special in Venezuela. As a predominantly Catholic country, starting on the December 16, Christmas festivities celebrate the birth of Jesus with mass very early in the morning (Misas de Aguinaldo). During this time period, alarm clocks are not needed because the bells sound and firecrackers fill the early morning air to let everyone know it’s time. One unique custom is that early risers roller-skate to the local church to attend service.
The final worship service takes place on Christmas Eve or Nochebuena de Navidad and is held at midnight (Misa de Gallo or Mass of the Rooster). Families return home afterwards for a large meal, which includes traditional Hallacas. Surround by cornmeal dough, Hallacas are similar to tamales— wrapped in plantain leaves and filled with a variety of meats, raisins, capers and olives. Gifts are exchanged on Christmas Eve after mass, but unlike the tradition of Santa Claus, Venezuela children receive presents from baby Jesus and the wise men.
Issam Smeir /Palestine and Jordanm. Senior Mental Health Counselor
Christmas is more relationship-oriented in this part of the world. On Christmas day, from early morning to late in the evening, people visit neighbors, friends and family. You are expected to visit those who have visited your home or it is considered rude; however, exchanging gifts is not expected. Instead, visitors are greeted with Arabian Coffee and served homemade date-cookies and sometimes wine.
Susan Bachmeier / Peru
Immigrant Lregal Services Senior Specialist
Christmas in Peru is one of the most celebrated holidays. Elaborate nativity scenes are set-up in homes with a variety of figurines representing whose who came to see baby Jesus. At midnight on Christmas Eve, fireworks and the uncovering of baby Jesus in the manger signifies Christmas has arrived. Peruvians dance to popular music and share a traditional meal of turkey, tamales, panettone (Italian sweet bread), and Peruvian hot chocolate. After dinner, gifts are exchanged and families visit with their relatives.
Durmomo Gary / Sudan
Support Services Coordinator
Visiting friends and family is synonymous with Christmas in the Sudan. Sudanese women bake for days preparing a variety of cookies and sweet treats, while the men shop and wrap gifts for the entire family. By the time Christmas arrives, everyone is prepared to feed many guests in their home.
Traditionally, on Christmas Eve families attend a midnight church service and then spend Christmas Day going from house-to-house celebrating; everyone is welcome. A meal is eaten at each location because in the Sudanese culture it would be considered rude for a guest to turndown food offered by their host.
Esther Myahla/ Burma
Medical Case Specialist
In Burma, every family invites their neighbors and relatives to a special worship service in their home. People bring food to share as a gift and the pastor gives a message and offers a blessing.. Depending on the pastor’s schedule, each the family selects the date for worship in their home, with the exception of December 25 when Christmas mass is celebrated at the church together.
Jessica Fernandez / Mexico
Immigrant Legal Services Associate
Festivities for Christmas in Mexico begin with Posadas— from December 16 through the 24. The posadas recreate Mary and Joseph’s difficult journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem in search of shelter. Each night, the posada is held in a neighborhood home. At dusk, guests gather outside the home with children dressed as shepherds and angels. An angel leads the procession, followed by Mary and Joseph, and adults carrying candles. The pilgrims sing a song asking for shelter, and the host (inside the house) sings a reply. Finally, the host opens the doors to the pilgrims offering hot ponche, buñuelos, and tamales. The posada celebration ends with a piñata in the shape of the Christmas star.
Counseling Center Director
Serbians follow both the Gregorian and Julian calendar, which means Christmas is celebrated twice—once on December 25 and then on January 7. For the Serbian Orthodox Christmas on December 25, families gather for dinner. Special round bread with decorations on top is served and torn into as many pieces as there are guests. Tradition says that good luck will follow the person who finds the silver coin baked inside the bread. Historically, on Christmas Eve morning, Serbian fathers take their eldest son to the forest to chop down an oak tree branch, which becomes the Yule Log. Today, Serbians have two branches— one branch from a nearby tree on December 25 and a second branch from the church on January 7. When the branch is burned, sparks from the fireplace represent blessings from God. The Serbian Christmas in January is celebrated by going to church, engaging in prayer, and visiting friends.
As refugees and immigrants come to our area, World Relief DuPage/Aurora plays a key role in providing a tangible welcome. But we know that we can’t, and shouldn’t do this service alone. The strength of “Welcoming the Stranger” to our community is that we serve in partnership with so many…volunteers, churches and community organizations. In essence, we are the conduit that initially connects people, especially the church, with refugees and immigrants.
Daily, volunteers reach-out to new neighbors in real ways—taking an active role in seeing people transformed economically, socially, and spiritually. According to Jamie Daling, Volunteer Mobilization Specialist, each volunteer at WRDA is a piece of a very large and complex puzzle. Currently, there are many different ways a volunteer can serve—according to their time and talents—in addition to numerous opportunities for teams. While our volunteers agree that everyone has something to offer and a role to play, they also feel that what they get back is so much more—citing new friendships and cross-cultural experiences.
With so many refugees living in DuPage Kane counties, one of the benefits of serving with WRDA is that you don’t have to go far to help a person in need. In fact, one way to describe the work of WRDA is to equate it to being a missionary in your own backyard. This is true for Lawrence Thompson, who spent most of his career overseas—first as a missionary in the Philippines and then as an engineer traveling to Chile, Costa Rica and Puerto Rico.
When Lawrence retired, his plan was to return to Costa Rica and teach English; however, his wife’s health would not permit the move. As a result, Lawrence began serving with WRDA and currently lives-out the Biblical mandate by volunteering with Immigrant Legal Services. “I enjoy interacting with immigrants—hearing their stories and getting to know them personally,” said Lawrence. Currently, in addition to volunteering with WRDA, Lawrence teaches English through a program at his church.
In May 2013, Pat Kelly led a Good Neighbor Team that was matched with a newly arrived family in Wheaton. Together, his group shopped and gathered items for a Good Neighbor Kit and arranged for the family’s pick-up from the airport. Along with a translator, the team settled the family into their new apartment, which included a tour of the modern appliances because the family had been living in a refugee camp. Now that the family has begun the acclimation process, Pat visits with the father weekly to work with him with his English, teach him how to pay bills on-line, and to give him driving lessons.
According to Pat, you don’t have to have well-developed skills to do this work; just being an American is enough. “It’s really easy for us to be consumed with our own lives and so it is nice to be able to help someone in a tangible way,” said Pat.
Experiencing another culture will often mean traveling to another country, but for volunteer Dottie Mann, one of her favorite memories as a volunteer is a cross-culture dinner experience in her own community.
After being connected to a Bhutanese family as Friendship Partners, Dottie and her husband were invited to dinner. When she and her husband arrived at the apartment, both immediate and extended family members were present; however, when it came time to eat, only she and her husband were invited to sit down.
“The food just kept coming, platter-after-platter, but we were the only ones eating even though there were 10 other people in the room,” said Dottie.
Later, Dottie learned that in the Bhutanese culture, honored guests are served dinner first and the family eats later. While this experience was awkward at first, today Dottie and her husband enjoy re-telling the story and sharing their knowledge with others.
Dottie Mann has been affiliated with WRDA for 30 years—first as an aid with the ESL program and now as a Friendship Partner. She considers it a privilege to help refugee families adjust to their new home—and treasures all of the connections that she has made. Although Dottie often assists with arranging doctor visits and English tutoring, she says that being a friend is more important. By just listening to a refugee’s story, she can learn about their culture, country of origin, and their struggle for survival.
New categories of volunteer opportunities are always emerging— based on needs of our neighbors and the talents of the volunteers. Jamie Daling truly enjoys her role with WRDA because she is continually amazed at the different types of people God raises-up to stand with us. She considers it a privilege to work alongside such caring and dedicated volunteers.
If you would like to learn how you can get involved with WRDA as a volunteer visit www.worldreliefdupage.org/volunteer-mobilization/ or contact Jamie Daling, Volunteer Mobilization Specialist at firstname.lastname@example.org (630) 462-7566 x1046 in DuPage or James Pomeroy, Volunteer Coordinator, at email@example.com or (630) 906-9546 x 35 in Aurora.
At World Relief DuPage/Aurora, we embrace the old African proverb —“It takes a village to raise a child”, because when the community welcomes refugee students and extends hospitality, advocates for the vulnerable are created.
Daily, the WRDA youth services department welcomes refugee children and their families through a variety of programs designed to help the student adjust to the American school system. Upon arrival, the staff assists with student enrollment and parent orientation, and then invites the student into an adjustment group, afterschool club and a variety of extracurricular activities—all specifically designed to meet the unique needs of refugees. However, the above is just a piece of the welcoming process.
Refugee children are truly the world’s most vulnerable, but tend to thrive once their family is resettled to a safe place. Depending on the student’s age, level of trauma, and prior access to education, each comes with a unique set of challenges. As result, the youth services team takes a communal approach when caring for their students by partnering with area schools, churches and volunteers.
Local Educators and their Impact on Refugee Students
Rachel Gannon, ESL Coordinator/Teacher at Wheaton North High School
“In the big picture, it doesn’t get more basic then helping vulnerable people, in need of a safety, discover a new life,” said Gannon.
Initially an English teacher, Rachel Gannon went back to school to earn an ESL credential. Now as the ESL Coordinator at Wheaton North High School [WNHS], Gannon conducts the initial intake and ESL testing, and personally gives the students a tour—pointing out their locker and class locations.
“She is an advocate for all refugee youth attending Wheaton North. WNHS is the primary pull for kids in our high school/mentoring program and Rachel helps recruit students. And she contacts me when issues come up with refugee families at school,” said James Harden, Youth Services Manager/DuPage.
According to Gannon, every school year is both different and exciting for the six ESL teachers because they get to teach students from all over the world. Currently, there are approximately 65 refugee students enrolled in ESL at Wheaton North with new students arriving each week.
Craig Babich, ESL Teacher and Coach at Jefferson and Jewel Middle Schools in Aurora
A coach, both on and off the field, teacher Craig Babich is dedicated to serving the unique needs of the refugee students in the ESL program. In addition to teaching, Babich also coordinates the ESL students’ class schedule, which allows him to “buddy-up” students from the same culture and make them more comfortable in the classroom.
While the ESL curriculum is specifically designed to increase the student’s English language skills, Babich believes that is just one part of his job. He seeks to partner with other teachers so that the ESL curriculum corresponds with what the students are learning in their general subjects. Babich describes his ESL classroom as a “safe zone” where the students can practice their English and get answers to what he refers to as “real life questions.”
Outside of the classroom, Babich shares his love of sports by coaching the boys’ soccer team. He encourages his students to get involved in school outside of the classroom, which has translated into seven refugee students on the team. Furthermore, as a coach, Babich encourages all of his players to befriend the ESL students. “Just stopping-by to say hello goes a long way,” said Babich.
Cherrie Esposito, Principal at McCleery Elementary School in Aurora
Cherrie Esposito has been helping refugee students adjust to the American classroom for twelve years. While the refugee students come to the school with special needs, Esposito believes that their background enriches the lives of both the students and teachers by opening-up their world view. “It is hard to forget how blessed we are when we interact with these kids,” said Esposito.
Esposito recalls one refugee student from Africa who was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. “She would have flashbacks while at school and try to run away.” Another student lost his lunch ticket and began sobbing uncontrollably, because where he was from, no ticket equaled no lunch, which could be a matter of life and death in his country of origin. Often, Esposito uses these situations as teachable moments to help all of her students understand and accept differences.
“Our goal at McCleery is to create a respectful and safe environment for all of our students,” said Esposito. “ If we have a student with a peanut allergy, we don’t serve peanuts and if we have a Hindu student, we make sure there is something besides pork or beef on the lunch menu.”
Central Bible Church—Welcoming Refugee Students
Tom and Kathy Barron were introduced to World Relief by another couple in their church who served as volunteers with our Aurora office. In time, the Barron’s became trained volunteers, going on Airport Pick-ups and opening their home to a refugee family of five. However, in addition to serving as a WRDA volunteer, Tom is also the senior pastor at Central Bible Church in Aurora where he shares his love for the refugee community with his congregation.
“It’s important to be involved with the people in our community and World Relief is an instrument to help us get connected,” said Barron.
Currently, Central Bible Church hosts our youth services “Star Program,” but their main connecting point with refugee kids in Aurora is through their Awana program. Each Wednesday night, Kathy Barron, a bus driver for School District 129, makes two trips in the church bus to pick-up all of the refugee students. The students are excited to spend the evening playing games, singing and learning together; however, according to Pastor Barron, the students look forward to interacting with adults who genuinely care about their well-being.
“Our people love these kids and demonstrate it every week when they come to our church,” said Barron.
Now that the church is more familiar with World Relief, members are looking for additional ways to help refugee families in the area. Many have donated furniture and resources, and this November, the church is hosting a local missions conference focused on reaching-out to the most vulnerable in their community.
To learn more about the programs offered by our youth services department, visit www.worldreliefdupage.org/youth-services. And if you would like to become an advocate for refugee students in your community by volunteering your time, in DuPage contact Jamie Daling, Volunteer Mobilization Specialist, at (630) 462-7566 x1046 or firstname.lastname@example.org and in Aurora contact Alison Bell, Director of Programs at (630) 906-9546 email@example.com.
Written by Emily Margosian, WRDA Communications Intern
Much of the debate surrounding Comprehensive Immigration Reform (CIR) comes from a lack of public familiarity with the legislation. As the issue becomes more imminent, people desire current information about the bill, but often don’t know where to turn. At World Relief DuPage/Aurora [WRDA], we support the ongoing push for CIR, applaud the Senate’s decision to pass S.744, and look forward to a similar outcome in the House of Representatives by the end of the summer.
Due to the complexity of the issue, immigration reform digs up a host of emotions, questions, and uncertainties. And over the years, a lack of action has resulted in a political stalemate at the federal level. However, not only will CIR strengthen the economy, reunite families, and provide a tangible path to citizenship, but it will also help Christians uphold the Biblical mandate to “Welcome the Stranger.”
“This is an urgent moral issue,” says Matthew Soerens, U.S. Church Training Specialist at World Relief, “We are given Biblical principles that speak very clearly as to how we should treat immigrants in our country.” As a faith-based organization, we value compassion, morality, and family unity and believe that immigration reform and policy should take into account these values.
Scott Capp, a pastor at Village Bible Church in Aurora, has taken steps to discuss immigration reform with his congregation, and wants a more detailed understanding of the upcoming legislation. At a World Relief ‘Lunch N’ Learn’ session in June he said, “We want to do more than just talk about God’s love for others—we want to show God’s love as well. I hope today brings more clarity on how to practically address the issue.”
Capp is not alone. Many leaders and church members seek to understand CIR from a legal and moral standpoint, but don’t feel equipped to address the issue within their church or organization.
Cheryl Pacilio, Director of Local Serving at First Baptist Church, admits that her congregation seems insulated from the issue of immigration. As a WRDA volunteer for the past six years, Pacilio feels comfortable with the issues surrounding refugees but hopes to gain more insight into the reality of what the reform bill could mean for World Relief’s immigrant clients. “World Relief has provided us with quality information over the last six years. I want to be able to talk about welcoming our neighbors by educating first,” said Pacilio.
To help make information on CIR more accessible to our church and community partners, WRDA has hosted informational sessions throughout the summer. In addition, WRDA co-sponsored a Bibles, Badges, and Business meeting in late June as a forum for law enforcement, business, and church leaders to discuss immigration reform. Events such as these are just a few ways WRDA has sought to address the potential concerns and misconceptions associated with CIR.
- Myth: Weakened Economy and Loss of Jobs
- Reality: A Stronger Economy
Economists agree that immigration reform is good for all Americans, not just immigrants. If done properly, CIR will reduce the federal deficit—not increase government spending. In a July 2013 report, the Congressional Budget Office estimated that the bipartisan immigration reform bill passed by the Senate in June would reduce the current federal deficit by 158 billion with net savings of 135 billion during the 2014-2023 cycle.
Catherine Norquist, Immigrant Legal Services Director at WRDA, agrees. “There would be huge economic benefits for our country if we do this,” she explains, noting that providing an accessible and defined path to citizenship would enable more immigrants to pay taxes—helping to combat federal debt, not increase it.
CIR will increase jobs, not only for immigrants, but for all Americans. Immigrants fill a significant role in a range of American industries; however their presence as a labor force is not something to be threatened by,but welcomed. “The best policy for the United States is one that sides with freedom and innovation, not restriction,” said the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in a June statement.
- Myth: Grants Amnesty
- Reality: Earned Path to Citizenship
Despite concerns, the bill’s proposed path to citizenship would not indiscriminately award citizenship to immigrants currently residing in the United States. The proposed CIR bill creates more flexible avenues for future workers to achieve citizen status, providing a pathway to earned legalization through a series of steps.
– Upon initial registration, people will have one year to apply for “Registered Provisional Immigrant [RPI] Status” and pay a $1,000 fee.
– After a six year period, people with RPI must apply for renewal and pay another fine.
– After 10 years total in RPI status, people can apply for Lawful Permanent Residency upon paying a $500 fee
– After three years with LPR status, individuals can apply for U.S. Citizenship, which costs $680
– Qualifying agricultural workers and individuals who are eligible under the DREAM Act may apply for LPR status only five years after receiving RPI status. Additionally, individuals who have committed a felony or three misdemeanors are not eligible to apply for RPI under proposed CIR legislation.
- Myth: Open Border
- Reality: A More Secure Border
Furthermore, current legislation would address the public’s concern over border security. S. 744 would increase border security by establishing mandatory employment verification and an electronic entry/exit system, as well as a 700 mile U.S./Mexico border fence with more border agents . Since 2000, illegal border crossings have decreased by 80%, according to a statement released by the White House this January. CIR’s proposed adjustments to border security and enforcement would cause further decreases in the number of illegal crossings by improving infrastructure at points of entry and enhancing investigative resources.
WRDA encourages all Americans to STAND with us on this issue— especially the Church.
“The Church should view immigration as a mission opportunity,” says Soerens. “It can do that with or without immigration reform, but it has too often allowed political narrative to shape how we view immigrants.”
Norquist agrees that it is crucial for the Church to engage with this issue, not pull away. “Our faith is based on a migration story. We are truly called to love people no matter their status. If we take Scripture seriously, it speaks specifically on how to treat the foreigner, with equality and acceptance.”
In addition, our Immigrant Legal Services staff or another trained staff member is available to conduct an informational meeting at your church or home. If you would like to arrange a speaker, contact ILS directly at (630) 462-7660 To learn more about Comprehensive Immigration Reform, click here to visit our ILS Advocay page.
Berhe Fisuh patiently waits at O’Hare International Airport. Dressed-up for a special occasion and holding flowers he bought for his wife, Berhe keeps a watchful eye on the terminal doors eagerly anticipating the family he has not seen in 10 years.
In 2003, while fleeing war and violence in their home country of Eritrea, chaos separated the Fisuh family. All six family members were able to make it to safety in Ethiopia and be registered as refugees; however, Berhe ended up in one camp while his wife and children were located in another. Now after waiting three years in the U.S., and three hours in the airport, Berhe was finally going to be reunited with his wife of 30 years and four children ranging in ages from 11-20 years-old.
In July 2010, Berhe was resettled by World Relief DuPage/Aurora in Wheaton, while the rest of his family remained in exile in a refugee camp in Ethiopia. He believed that resettlement was the best option for seeing his family again and left the camp with the hope of a new start. As a result, he sought out the assistance of the Immigration Legal Services team at WRDA and filed his first Refugee Reunification Application in February 2011. Berhe’s first application was denied due to the lack of proper documentation, which can be a problem for many refugees. Poor translation and a difference in calendars, combined with rural living and an unstable environment, can make a birth or marriage certificate difficult to obtain or hold on to.
Over the course of three years, the ILS department was able to clear-up the discrepancies in dates and certify family relationships through the filing of affidavits. After two more attempts and two more denials, Berhe finally received news that his family was approved and would be joining him in Wheaton with the arrival date of Wednesday, June 5, 2013.
“After the denial of two Immigration applications, multiple interviews, and DNA testing, Berhe’s family finally arrived! It was a privilege for our staff to advocate on his behalf and see his family brought back together,” said Catharine Norquist, WRDA Immigration Legal Services Director
Prior to the family’s arrival, Berhe worked with his WRDA case worker to rent a larger apartment and volunteers from Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Naperville supplied a Good Neighbor Kit (GNK) to help furnish their new home with essential items. According to WRDA volunteer Anne Wetz, she was excited to be able to help his particular family.
“All of the refugee families that I have the privilege of volunteering with are special, but to be a part of seeing the Fisuh family reunited after all this time was extra special,” said Wetz.
Since their arrival, the family has been settling in, getting to know the community, and getting reacquainted with one-another.
“When I saw my family again, I didn’t know them. Now we are talking about past situations and about what happened in our home country,” said Berhe.
When the family was asked what surprised them the most about coming to the U.S they said, “The big welcome they received.” From the WRDA staff and volunteers, to the Eritrean community in Wheaton—they have felt very welcomed by everyone.
Berhe will continue to work at the meat packing plant in North Aurora to support his family and in the fall, his wife, Haimont, and his two daughters, Fithawir 17 and Hiwet 20, will be enrolled in the WRDA Job Readiness ESL Class with the personal goal of learning enough English to be able to obtain a Driver’s License and get a job. With regard to the two young boys, Samuel 11 and Okbit 13, they are looking forward to enrolling in school in the fall and getting to know other kids.
Because the family was transported from the airport to their apartment building and has no access to transportation of their own, they have not been able to explore other parts of community; however, the Fisuh kids’ biggest dream for this summer would be to take a trip into the city and take a tour of Chicago.
“God gives us his grace to spend it on others through acts of compassion.” – Rob Bugh, Senior Pastor at Wheaton Bible Church
Each of us can point to an ancestor in our family who had to rely on another in order to come to this country. For these immigrants, this meant fully trusting another, submitting to a process, and facing uncertainty—all in pursuit of freedom, safety, and the hope of new opportunity. Today, immigrants have the same challenges. In the face of personal tragedy, these individuals flee their home country—distressed and vulnerable— but still optimistic about the future.
In the Bible, there are over 90 references on how vulnerable people are to be treated, which is why from the inception of World Relief, the mission was clear— to work alongside and through the Church. God has clearly given Christians a mandate on how to treat the poor, the outcast, and the stranger. As the primary agent of bringing peace, justice, and love to a broken world the Church and World Relief can STAND for the devastated and the displaced together.
Over the years, World Relief DuPage/Aurora [WRDA] has built strong partnerships with local churches and pastors who faithfully give of their time and talents to welcome refugees and immigrants into their communities and congregations. One longtime partnership is with Wheaton Bile Church [WBC].
According to Rob Bugh, Senior Pastor at WBC, the church became involved with WRDA simply because the Gospel compels Christians to love people—all people. “We don’t have the luxury of doing anything but getting involved when there is a need in our culture or in our community, “said Bugh.
Furthermore, WBC could see how God was blessing them, which meant that they needed to be intentional about looking for ways to be a blessing to others—especially the stranger. World Relief was an ideal fit for them because WBC believes that ministry can be sustained long-term when they partner with an expert organization that has more experience with a particular ministry or people group.
Locally, members of WBC volunteer as Friendship Partners helping newly arrived refugee families in DuPage County adapt to the new culture. Globally, the church partnered with World Relief and Parklands Baptist Church in Nairobi to help create the Hope Kenya program.
Another key church partnership is Village Bible Church [VBC], Sugar Grove. The connection with this church started in 2006 when their youth group pastor had a vision for youth reaching-out and serving other youth in the community. As a result, a tutoring partnership developed between students in the youth group and refugee students resettled by World Relief in Aurora. Their efforts caught the attention of the adults in the congregation, and a member championed an adult volunteer team. They began collecting items for Good Neighbor Kits, and in just six years, the team has been able to collect enough items for almost 50 kits, which translates into 50 fully stocked apartments for refugee families.
“Watching someone come into their apartment that we were able to stock for them and seeing the smile on their face is incredible,” said Scott Capp, Equipping Pastor at Village Bible Church, Sugar Grove.
Referencing Deuteronomy 10:19, Capp’s desire is for everyone to recognize that we live in a nation of refugees and immigrants and we were all new –somewhere at some point in time.
According to Capp, the local church has both an opportunity and a responsibility, to reach-out to and let their refugee and immigrant neighbors know that they are welcome and we are glad that they are here.
On June 23, WRDA encourages all local churches set aside a few minutes during their weekly service to not only celebrate the strength and determination of refugees and immigrants, but to also to pray and consider if God might be calling them as a congregation to partner with World Relief and STAND for the world’s most vulnerable people.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Matthew 5:6 (NIV)
Imagine living in a hot, dry climate where drinking water is rationed. For the residents of the Ali Addeh refugee camp in Djibouti, unquenchable thirst is a daily reality. Due to overcrowding and a regional drought, the refugees struggle to get enough water to sustain life. But for one refugee, physical thirst did not overshadow his thirst for God.
After 22 years of exile, Arega Meshesha and his family came to the U.S. as refugees from Eritrea. Although raised culturally in the Armenian Orthodox Church in Ethiopia (now a part of Eritrea), a hospital stay in 1991 was the first time Arega heard about accepting Jesus into his life. Upon hearing the good news, Arega came to faith in Christ and dedicated himself to studying the Bible. However, being a follower of Christ in a country that identified itself as Muslim, was problematic.
Arega faced many challenges, but despite pressure from the government and imminent retaliation, he was able to study his Bible and go house-to-house sharing his faith. Eventually, Arega became a pastor, and through the support of other area churches, was able to plant churches both inside and outside of the refugee camp.
Ultimately, Arega’s actions drew the attention of the Djibouti police and he was targeted. They brought him to a deportation center and detained him as a way to suppress his preaching; however; Arega continued to share his faith. While he was being held, the UN Refugee Service intervened on his behalf. The family applied for refugee status and their petition was granted on the grounds of religious persecution.
After years in the camp, with no option of returning home, Arega and his family were resettled by WRDA in November of 2012. Knowing that speaking English was key, he and his wife were excited to learn English and begin ESL classes. When asked why learning English was so important to him, Arega said that his life is the Church. “The better my English gets, the more opportunities I will have to share my faith in Christ with others”.
Arega loves the people he has met in the U.S. and is currently praying about how God will use him here. He believes that the Lord brought him and his family to safety in America so that they can continue to share the Gospel and teach others about the persecution of Christians around the world. For now, he is thankful for his job packaging books and the opportunity to hold a weekly Bible study in his home without the fear of retaliation. One day, he hopes to go back to his home country as a missionary because, even in the face of persecution, people are very open and Christianity is growing.
While grocery shopping in Wheaton one day, Marilyn Huffman, Early Childhood Manager for World Relief DuPage, encountered a child and his mother from her class. Because *Sergio is normally shy, Huffman was surprised to learn from his mother that not only does he sing songs from class at home, but he also teaches his family so that they can sing together!
Without someone to care for their young children, many refugee and immigrant adults would not have the opportunity to learn English. However, the Early Childhood Program (ECP) at World Relief DuPage / Aurora [WRDA] is more than childcare; it’s an opportunity for WRDA to serve the entire family.
According to Karen Jealouse, WRDA Education Director, approximately 145 parents are able to attend ESL classes because their child is learning and being cared for at the same location. With the goal of preparing children—educationally, socially and physically—refugee and immigrant children are gaining the necessary skills to be successful upon entering school.
“The immediate objective of ECP is to prepare the children for kindergarten, but the impact of the program is long-term and far-reaching, “said Jealouse.
Through a theme-based, multisensory curriculum, ECP provides the structure and routine that gets the child ready for the American school system. In fact, teachers in the local school system have commented on the difference our program makes. Some of the outcomes for the preschool age children include: early literacy, self-sufficiency, gross and fine motor skills, and the ability to recognize colors and shapes.
Furthermore, ECP is structured in such a way that parents are equipped to become their child’s first teacher. Parents gain the experience of working with their child’s teacher on issues that surface in the classroom, and every Friday in Aurora, ESL parents are invited to participate in a special program designed to promote family literacy. This program consists of a parenting class, a Parent and Child Together Time (PACTT), and a trip to the local library.
In partnership with the Aurora Public Library, World Relief Aurora children are cared for while their parents enhance their parenting skills and learn about childhood illness, nutrition, and school readiness. Next, the parents and children come together through the PACTT program to play games, make crafts or learn a song. The morning closes with a trip to the library to hear a story and check-out books. In addition, the group takes a total of six field trips a year to locations like the DuPage Children’s Museum, Phillips Park and Blackberry Farm so that the parents become familiar with local kid-friendly places. Selena Kurtz, World Relief Early Education Manager for Aurora, believes that children are like sponges; therefore the opportunity for them to learn alongside their parents is invaluable.
“Teachers encourage the parents to play the games that they learn at home as a way to practice English with the entire family,” said Kurtz.
Alongside the team of dedicated teachers, is a group of equally dedicated volunteers who give of their time to these families. Amy Danusiar has served as a volunteer in the ECP in DuPage for two years. She got involved after WRDA made a presentation to her Sunday school class while they were discussing what it means to love your neighbor. Because Danusiar lives in Wheaton, her children attend school with refugee children and she has witnessed firsthand their struggle to adjust. As a result, she decided to volunteer her time, and now wishes that she had gotten involved sooner.
“God brought these kids from the ends of the earth to our neighborhood and they are precious. We only need to go into our own backyard to make a difference, “said Danusiar.
Current guidelines mandate a 6/1 ratio for a preschool classroom, which has both DuPage and Aurora looking to increase volunteer involvement. By integrating more volunteers into the program, classroom numbers can be increases and a greater number of adults will be able to participate in ESL and learn English.
Huffman indicated that long-term, she would like to add a family literacy program in DuPage, but the real need right now is for volunteers. Unfortunately, there are 40 parents on a waiting list who cannot start the ESL program because they lack childcare.
Volunteers are needed for both the infant and preschool rooms, and for the family literacy program in Aurora. Classes meet four days a week from 9:15-11:35 a.m. and volunteers are asked to commit to at least one day per week. To fill the role of Early Childhood Aide, volunteers are asked to acknowledge the mission, vision and values of World Relief, be passionate about children, patient, and interested in learning about different cultural backgrounds. To learn more or to begin the volunteer application process, contact Volunteer Mobilization Specialist, Jamie Daling at (630) 462-7566 X 1046 or firstname.lastname@example.org. In addition, financial donations to the program are welcome. Every gift makes a difference in the life of a child.
Meet Joann Holmen, Former Intern and Current Employee
After witnessing the day-to-day realities of refugees living in Jordan, Joann Holmen returned to Chicago determined to make a difference. And three years later, through World Relief, Holmen has passionately served refugees as a volunteer, intern, and now as an employee.
As a student at Purdue University Calumet, Joann Holmen had a variety of multi-cultural experiences, including studying abroad in France and tutoring international students. However, it was a trip to Jordan that brought her life mission into focus. In 2010, due to her Arabic language skills, Living Word Church invited Holmen to accompany them to Jordan where they planned to serve Iraqi citizens living in a refugee community.
“I was angry when I found out how long these people had to wait to get refugee status! Until then, they have no say over their own life,” said Holmen.
Holmen says that the trip opened her eyes to the refugee system, and as a result, she dedicated herself to learning more about refugees and the struggles that they face.
“When I saw what they were going through, I knew that I needed to help make a change,” said Holmen.
When she returned from Jordan, Holmen researched refugee organizations and began volunteering with World Relief Chicago [WRC]. She was assigned an Iraqi refugee family and immediately began teaching English to their adult daughter who was pre-literate.
“When we first met, the daughter was not able to read or write in her own language, so I would teach her words by doing an action,” said Holmen.
After two years of volunteering with this family, she wanted to increase her knowledge and be equipped to help refugees at a higher level. The volunteer coordinator at WRC recommended that she contact World Relief DuPage / Aurora [WRDA] about an internship.
Holmen committed to a three-month internship with the WRDA Resettlement Team. After her initial training, her main focus was conducting Comprehensive Family Assessments. Holmen conducted these assessments in the client’s home during the first few days after their arrival. The assessments gave her the opportunity to talk with the clients one-on-one and assess their unique needs and priorities.
“During the first weeks of my internship with WRDA, I remember being amazed by the clients’ positive attitudes and their stories of survival,” said Holmen.
When her internship was over, Holmen was able to return to Jordan and work with Iraqi refugees again—visiting families in their home, participating in a community Bible study and organizing a fitness class for women. Upon her return, she interned at a medical clinic in Wheeling until Andrew Timbie, WRDA Resettlement Manager, contacted her about a temporary position with the medical case team.
Holmen’s background and commitment to serve vulnerable people made her an ideal candidate for the position. In her new role, she helps clients get medical care and educates them on healthy living. In fact, she recently started a weekly fitness class for clients in West Chicago.
“World Relief has given me a realistic view of refugees and the services they require. Now, I can be a part of shaping the process and initiating change, “said, Holmen.
Meet Our Current Interns: Samantha, Nicole, Emilio, Michelle and Liz
Immigration Legal Services and Youth Services Intern
Western Illinois University (Senior/General Studies)
Samantha arrived in the United States, with her family, as an asylee from Rwanda. Through a connection of her father’s, the family came to Chicago in 2001 and resettled in Aurora. Now she considers the U.S. home and recently became a citizen. “I understand the application process for citizenship, so I thought I could use my experience to help WRDA clients.” Samantha understands what it is like to start-over and assimilate into a new culture, which is why she also enjoys serving with the youth services team. She believes that her background as an aslyee helps her to mentor the students from firsthand experience.
Samantha’s Internship Highlight: Learning about different people groups and their culture.
Volunteer Mobilization Intern
Aurora University (MSW Student)
With a background in corporate training and teaching, pursuing a Master’s Degree in Social Work is a career change for Nicole. Knowing very little about World Relief DuPage / Aurora she applied for an internship with WRDA through the internship coordinator at AU. “ From the time of my interview, I knew WRDA was here I belonged.” As a teacher of autistic children, Nicole has always gravitated towards serving society’s most vulnerable, but her internship with WRDA has opened her eyes to a new population—refugees. While Nicole’s professional goal is to be a school social worker, her secondary goal now is to make a difference in the lives of refugee children. “As a school social worker, I can support refugee kids in the school and work to educate the community on the immigrant population.”
Nicole’s Internship Highlight: The opportunity to pick-up a refugee family from the airport. I now volunteer as their friendship partner.
Volunteer Mobilization / Youth Services Intern
Aurora University (MSW Student)
Emilio applied for an internship with World Relief DuPage / Aurora [WRDA] after a professor encouraged him to look for an opportunity that would allow him to explore integrating his faith and work. According to Emilio, as a social worker, it will be important for him to work for an organization that is in line with his personal values and beliefs. And an internship with WRDA has confirmed this objective. “I believe in living by example, and I desire to show the love of Christ to people through the way I live. No matter where I am, my goal is always to welcome the stranger.”
Emilio’s Internship Highlight: Working on the Aurora Historical Society exhibit, which recognized the Bhutanese refugee community in Aurora.
Initial Resettlement Intern
Loyola University (B.A. 2012)
Michelle was first introduced to World Relief DuPage/ Aurora [WRDA] when she volunteered for a Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals workshop. She enjoyed working with the clients and immediately looked into becoming an intern for her “gap year”— the year in between college graduation and graduate school. Now as an intern with initial resettlement services, Michelle is one of the first faces a client sees upon arrival. Along with her supervisor, she makes sure clients have completed all paperwork, helps them register for ESL class and takes them to the store for essential items. “I truly enjoy getting to know the clients! Language can be a barrier, so I have learned to use a lot of hand gestures.”
Michelle’s Internship Highlight: The relationships I have built with both the clients and the WRDA staff.
Immigration Legal Services Intern
DePaul University Law School (Third year)
After earning her undergraduate degree in International Studies from Kenyon College, Liz knew that graduate school was in her future. She decided to pursue law school because she felt that as a lawyer she could help people on a “larger scale.” Through the Immigration Legal Clinic at DePaul, Liz learned about an internship opportunity with World Relief DuPage /Aurora [WRDA] working exclusively with Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals [DACA] clients. After graduation, Liz plans to pursue a career in public interest law.
Liz’s Internship Highlight: Learning about the practical side of immigration law.
Click here to learn more about internship opportunities and to download an application
Meet Mary Hliang…Refugee and New Business Owner
During the initial resettlement phase, World Relief DuPage /Aurora [WRDA] focuses on meeting the refugee’s immediate needs of food, clothing and shelter. WRDA is also able to help refugees plan long-term…meet Mary Hliang.
Mary was one of the three original participants in pilot program that led to WRDA receiving the Childcare Microenterprise grant from the US Office of Refugee Resettlement. The Childcare Enterprise program has two defining goals: give refugee women a business and help other refugee families by allowing both parents to work.
A natural choice for the program, Mary’s love for children began back in her village in Burma where she ran a pre-school, and then as a refugee in Malaysia, where she watched local children. A teacher by trade, Mary has always provided more than babysitting.
By participating in the pilot program, Mary was able to complete the required state training and receive help writing her business plan. In addition, the grant program provided Mary with start-up funds for supplies and contributed to the purchase of a van for her business. Mary hopes to receive her license in February and then open immediately.
The Hliang family was resettled by WRDA in June 2009 and through the IDA savings program, Mary and her husband were able to purchase their first home in August 2012. Now through the Childcare Enterprise program, Mary is able to return to her love of teaching and provide financially for her family.
According to Rebekah King, WRDA Asset Development Associate, Mary is passionate about her new business, especially the opportunity to work with refugee children. Once open, Mary hopes to take up to five children and offer a curriculum that will prepare the children for the American school system.
Mary’s advice to other refugee women who might be interested in the program is to “go for it because it is a good thing for everyone.” The Childcare Enterprise program is exclusively for refugee or asylee women, and all participants must have a high school diploma or GED to be considered for the state license.
WRDA received the Childcare Enterprise grant in October of 2012 and hopes to have 35 women participating in the program by September 2013.
The WRDA Asset Development Department assists refugee clients through three programs designed to help refugees in planning for their financial future: Individual Development Account (IDA) Program, Childcare Microenterprise program and Ways to Work.
Each program helps the client achieve a financial goal by promoting self-sufficiency and financial literacy.
- Individual Development Account (IDA) Program matches participant savings for the purchase of assets and provides financial literacy. Participants can save for a home, vehicle, education or a microenterprise.
- Ways to Work, in partnership with the Salvation Army Metropolitan Division, provides an affordable car loan designed to help working families access reliable transportation
- Childcare Microenterprise assists female entrepreneurs with starting a childcare business in their home by providing child development training and start-up funds.
When a client is referred to the program, they meet with an asset development counselor to discuss their financial goal and open a savings account. Then, as the client works towards their objective, they attend training sessions to learn budgeting principals and ways to establish credit.
“Asset Development is a pathway to long-term planning” said Laurel Opal WRDA Senior Asset Development Specialist. According to Opal, there is nothing more fulfilling than seeing clients reach their goal and move towards financial independence.
If you would like to learn more about these programs or know someone who might benefit, contact Laurel Opal, Senior Asset Development Specialist at email@example.com (630) 462-7566 x1058 or Rebekah King, Asset Development Associate at firstname.lastname@example.org (630) 462-7566 x1016.
New Citizenship Classes
Each year, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigrant Services Department awards Citizenship and Integration Grants to nonprofit organizations that serve permanent residents through citizenship instruction and naturalization services. World Relief DuPage/Aurora [WRDA] was selected as a grant recipient for 2012, which will allow WRDA to offering citizenship classes for two fiscal years.
“This grant is highly sought-after and competitive, so we are extremely honored to have received this funding,” said Karen Jealous WRDA Education Director.
The 2010 U.S. Census reports that 18% of the population in DuPage County is foreign born and in Kane County 26% of the population were born outside of the U.S., which shows that there is a clear need for citizen education services. Furthermore, this grant will allow WRDA to meet the needs of low-income refugee and immigrant clients who are applying for citizenship.
In partnership with area churches, citizenship classes will be held in both Wheaton and Aurora and will be free of charge for those preparing for their naturalization test and interview. According to Jealous, participants can either attend classes twice a week for 12 weeks or be matched with a tutor. Registration for classes in Wheaton will be held on January 15 and 22 at the First Baptist Church from 7-8 p.m. and in Aurora at First Presbyterian on February 11 and 14 from 7-8 p.m.
Volunteers are needed to help prepare these students for their naturalization interview, which tests both their English language ability and their knowledge of U.S. history and government. Volunteer training for Classroom Aides and Tutors is scheduled for January 19 and April 27 in Wheaton and February 9 and May 18 in Aurora. To volunteer, contact Jamie Daling, Volunteer Mobilization Specialist at email@example.com or (630) 462-7566 X 1046.
New Ways to Volunteer with WRDA
With the start of new programs, there are also new ways to volunteer!
- Citizenship Classroom Aide
- Citizenship Tutor
- Event Planning Assistant
- Transportation Assistant
- Speakers Bureau Member
According to Jamie Daling, Volunteer Mobilization Specialist, one of the benefits of volunteering with WRDA is that you can serve in more than one area. In fact, three of the above positions (Event Planning Assistant, Transportation Assistant and Speakers Bureau Member) are considered “pool” opportunities, meaning that once you complete the training you can commit based on your schedule.
Another new addition to our volunteer program is the WRDA Volunteer Orientation Disc. This CD/ROM contains a variety of resources that empower both the volunteer, and by extension, the clients. The information can be downloaded to your computer or consulted as needed.
For more information on these and other ways you can use your talents at WRDA, or to obtain your Volunteer Orientation Disc, Jamie Daling, Volunteer Mobilization Specialist at firstname.lastname@example.org or (630) 462-7566 X 1046.