January 15, 2013

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.

Asset Development

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 lopal@wr.org (630) 462-7566 x1058 or Rebekah King, Asset Development Associate at rking@wr.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 jdaling@wr.org 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 jdaling@wr.org or (630) 462-7566 X 1046.

November 27, 2012

When Chris and his wife dreamed about becoming missionaries, they had a pretty traditional idea what that would look like.

“We thought we would minister around here for a few years, then we’d go overseas and be missionaries,” said Pastor Chris McElwee from Wheaton Bible Church. When a Muslim Iraqi mother and her five children arrived in the middle of Ramadan, their ideas of missions dramatically changed.

The family fasted during daylight hours.  They were up before dawn cooking all kinds of foods—aromas of soups and meat wafted through the house in the early morning hours. One night, after a few days of being woken up by early morning banging in the kitchen and working hard to help the family adjust and adapt, Chris and his wife were exhausted.

“We lay there awake in our bed, and we said, ‘We are missionaries.  This is what God has for us.’ We could never do in Iraq what we are doing now and right here.  This family has become our family.  Our kids know them.  We pray for them.  We celebrate birthdays, Christmas and other holidays,” Pastor McElwee said.

Pastor McElwee shares the heart of the church at large.  A heart to see people in the community growing and thriving—with a particular heart for the foreign-born.

MYCHURCH...

Wheaton Bible sends more than 90 missionaries—spending a quarter of the church budget supporting international outreach in 39 countries. A plan to send more than 20 missionaries to France to work with Muslim immigrants over the next five years, working closely with Greater Europe Mission, has really open the eyes of the congregation to the Muslim world.

Iraqi refugees have provided a great opportunity for families considering service in France to begin working with the foreign-born right in their own backyards.  In fact, working closely with a newly arriving refugee family has become a part of the required missionary preparation all Wheaton Bible’s prospective missionaries go through.

The partnership has engaged the church’s families, helping prepare them for missions and dramatically impacting World Relief’s work.

“After more than three decades of refugee resettlement in the area,” says World Relief’s Gretchen Schmidt in Wheaton, “our need to expand into new communities was significant.  The support of Wheaton Bible enabled us to help families resettle in a new area.”

Westwood Apartments

Just a couple miles up the road from Wheaton Bible sits Westwood Apartments, a complex made up of 90 percent immigrants and a growing Iraqi refugee population. In June, a young couple arrived with their 8-month old daughter. Within their first day, they had already been rushed to the hospital with stomach problems.

Around 15 Iraqi families have apartments in the community—and several served as translators for the American forces. Most fled for their lives, leaving behind jobs, families and an entire way of life. Each family that arrives through World Relief’s network is partnered with a family or individual from area churches, including Wheaton Bible.  They help them adjust, walk with them as they look for jobs, and ensure they become self-sufficient quickly. 

“The number one need for most of these families is relationship,” says Pastor McElwee. “And working with refugees has changed the lives of all the families that participate.  It’s enriched their lives.  They have learned about God.  It’s challenged them and it’s made them pray more.”

Pastor McElwee says working with Muslim families has transformed not only his life, but also the lives of many others in his local church. “God’s heart for immigrants and refugees is immense,” he says.  “God is moving and He is so faithful.”

Your donation to World Relief DuPage/Aurora empowers local churches to continue serving the most vulnerable people in our communities. To donate securely online, click here

November 27, 2012

Glenn Oviatt, Intern

As a missionary for almost 30 years in Central America, Emily Gray needs only to take a short drive each morning to her new field of work as Executive Director at World Relief DuPage and Aurora. And she wants to show the local church what she discovers continually: that ministry to the world’s most vulnerable takes place each day in the Chicago suburbs.

“If you want to serve people from all walks of life and all cultures, you don’t have to get on a plane,” Gray said. “They are our neighbors.”

Gray, who began as Executive Director on September 13th, is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) who spent the last five years as Director at Merit Hospice Services in Lombard, Ill. World Relief North Regional Director Brad Morris said Gray’s dual background in healthcare and missions will allow her to provide guidance from multiple angles of experience.

“She has some key elements in her background that will bring cohesiveness to all the programs at World Relief,” Morris said.

Already, Gray has used her background in healthcare to provide guidance for a complex medical case that might have taken hours for Refugee Services to sort through.

Refugee Services Director Susan Sperry said she is thankful to work for someone with such an extensive background in social work and is excited by Gray’s energy and enthusiasm. “She’s not daunted by the number of challenges that we face in our line of work,” Sperry said. “She is excited and energized by those challenges.”

As Executive Director, Gray said she hopes to show the breadth and depth of World Relief to the communities surrounding the Wheaton and Aurora offices. “There are so many ways for people to plug in to the good of World Relief at so many levels,” Gray said.

She also hopes World Relief can empower the local church to better love its neighbors without fear of cultural, religious, or racial differences.

“We unfortunately have a learned fear of that which is different from us,” Gray said.

Gray said personal relationships that community members can develop with immigrants and refugees from all over the world create an understanding that will overcome any learned fear. Dramatic changes can occur when someone begins to identify a person from another nationality, culture or religion as “my friend,” Gray said. “When [a person] goes from being ‘a Cuban’ to ‘the guy who is sitting beside me in the pew in church,’ then you can begin to see the world from someone else’s point of view,” Gray said.

In relationship with others, Gray said we can overcome our fear of the unknown and begin to learn more about “what unites us rather than what separates us.”

“God doesn’t see us in groups,” Gray said. “We are all His creation.” Gray said this understanding will not only change the communities near Aurora and DuPage County, but will begin to spread peace throughout the country and the whole of society.

“The more we break down the barriers between an ‘us’ and a ‘them,’ the more love can develop,” Gray said. 

November 27, 2012

When Chris and his wife dreamed about becoming missionaries, they had a pretty traditional idea what that would look like.

“We thought we would minister around here for a few years, then we’d go overseas and be missionaries,” said Pastor Chris McElwee from Wheaton Bible Church. When a Muslim Iraqi mother and her five children arrived in the middle of Ramadan, their ideas of missions dramatically changed.

The family fasted during daylight hours.  They were up before dawn cooking all kinds of foods—aromas of soups and meat wafted through the house in the early morning hours. One night, after a few days of being woken up by early morning banging in the kitchen and working hard to help the family adjust and adapt, Chris and his wife were exhausted.

“We lay there awake in our bed, and we said, ‘We are missionaries.  This is what God has for us.’ We could never do in Iraq what we are doing now and right here.  This family has become our family.  Our kids know them.  We pray for them.  We celebrate birthdays, Christmas and other holidays,” Pastor McElwee said.

Pastor McElwee shares the heart of the church at large.  A heart to see people in the community growing and thriving—with a particular heart for the foreign-born.

MYCHURCH...

Wheaton Bible sends more than 90 missionaries—spending a quarter of the church budget supporting international outreach in 39 countries. A plan to send more than 20 missionaries to France to work with Muslim immigrants over the next five years, working closely with Greater Europe Mission, has really open the eyes of the congregation to the Muslim world.

Iraqi refugees have provided a great opportunity for families considering service in France to begin working with the foreign-born right in their own backyards.  In fact, working closely with a newly arriving refugee family has become a part of the required missionary preparation all Wheaton Bible’s prospective missionaries go through.

The partnership has engaged the church’s families, helping prepare them for missions and dramatically impacting World Relief’s work.

“After more than three decades of refugee resettlement in the area,” says World Relief’s Gretchen Schmidt in Wheaton, “our need to expand into new communities was significant.  The support of Wheaton Bible enabled us to help families resettle in a new area.”

Westwood Apartments

Just a couple miles up the road from Wheaton Bible sits Westwood Apartments, a complex made up of 90 percent immigrants and a growing Iraqi refugee population. In June, a young couple arrived with their 8-month old daughter. Within their first day, they had already been rushed to the hospital with stomach problems.

Around 15 Iraqi families have apartments in the community—and several served as translators for the American forces. Most fled for their lives, leaving behind jobs, families and an entire way of life. Each family that arrives through World Relief’s network is partnered with a family or individual from area churches, including Wheaton Bible.  They help them adjust, walk with them as they look for jobs, and ensure they become self-sufficient quickly. 

“The number one need for most of these families is relationship,” says Pastor McElwee. “And working with refugees has changed the lives of all the families that participate.  It’s enriched their lives.  They have learned about God.  It’s challenged them and it’s made them pray more.”

Pastor McElwee says working with Muslim families has transformed not only his life, but also the lives of many others in his local church. “God’s heart for immigrants and refugees is immense,” he says.  “God is moving and He is so faithful.”

Your donation to World Relief DuPage/Aurora empowers local churches to continue serving the most vulnerable people in our communities. To donate securely online, click here

November 27, 2012

ince the beginning of their relationship, Rick and Desiree Guzman have had a heart for refugees – victims of war and persecution who come to America as strangers in need of friendship.

When Rick and Desiree got married, they invited their family and friends to give to their newly formed refugee ministry (the Tolbert Refugee Assistance Fund) instead of buying gifts.  Desiree opted for a less expensive ring so she could put the savings into the ministry.

Rick and Desiree’s passion is to live out Jesus’ call to “invite the stranger in” (Matthew 25:35) – and they take it literally.  For several years, they have partnered with World Relief to welcome refugee families to Aurora, Illinois, and help them adjust to life in America – even inviting refugees on vacation with them.

In 2007, the couple’s non-profit ministry purchased Bryan House – a large brick house in Aurora, which they divided into five apartments.  The house enables working refugee families to save a year’s rent towards a down payment on a home of their own.

Home ownership, say the Guzmans, strengthens the fabric of their local community.

“Many refugee families have to move around a lot,” explains Rick, a 32-year-old attorney.  “They’re constantly chasing the most affordable rentals.”  The outcome is instability, with children being forced to switch schools and behavioral problems often developing as a result.

“We want to make sure families are ready to take the step into home ownership, with the stability to make monthly payments,” says Rick.  “For families that are stable, but lack the ability to save for a down payment, Bryan House accelerates their savings.”

Bryan House partners with World Relief to offer individual development accounts to these families, matching up to $4,000 in savings.

The Importance of Dignity

The Guzmans’ ministry goes much deeper than helping refugees save to buy a home.  It’s about relationships, they say, and learning from those who have been through the fires of persecution and the horrors of war.

“We see them as equals,” Desiree explains, “people with value and potential… not as inferiors to be pitied.  We want to encourage them to better their own circumstances, to grow in confidence and develop the tremendous strengths they already have.”

Refugees are people with enormous potential, she points out. “At Bryan House, we’re not giving them a hand-out.  They can feel proud they’ve been able to save their own money.”

Imaad’s Story

Imaad and his family came to the United States as refugees from Iraq in 2008, fleeing the violence in Baghdad. Their first week in America was spent in the home of a host family while World Relief set up an apartment and arranged health check-ups for them.

After settling in and finding employment, Imaad heard about Bryan House.  His family moved into the house and saved $10,000 towards a down payment on a home of their own.

“It means a lot for my family,” says the grateful 40-year-old.  “It’s good to own your own home… this is my dream.”

Community Christian Church

The Guzmans’ first opportunity to serve refugees arose through their church, Community Christian Church in the Chicago area.  At that time, the church was just beginning its Community 4:12 ministry, addressing the root causes of poverty in nearby Aurora.

Since that time, Desiree and Rick have been part of ongoing conversations that have changed the course of the church.  Community Christian now has a vision to reach the 20% of the world living in extreme poverty, as well as the 67% of the world living far from God.  

“If the Church is going to reach the next generation of people, [social justice] is how they’re going to do it,” says Desiree.  “Providing a way to impact those who are underserved gets people who aren’t excited about Jesus [suddenly] excited about Jesus.”

The largest segment of volunteers at Bryan House come from Community Christian Church.  Rick is now working with the church to replicate the Bryan House model for other vulnerable populations.

The Guzmans are excited to find themselves in a place where career, church, family, and volunteer life are all centered on alleviating poverty and pointing people towards God.

Take Action

Mission on Your Doorstep:  Share your experiences and learn practical skills to love your “new” neighbors – those from other nations and those on the margins – at this weekend conference hosted by World Relief.  Conference brochure, workshops, registration and directions are available here.

Get Involved Locally:  Get your church involved or volunteer at the World Relief DuPage or Aurora offices!

Thank you for helping America’s most vulnerable.

November 27, 2012

All around us, there are many reasons to give thanks.  At World Relief DuPage/ Aurora [WRDA] we are filled with gratitude—for freedom and safety, for God’s provision, and for the opportunity to witness lives transformed! Through the collective efforts of our staff, volunteers and donors, we have resettled over 500 refugees and served some 4,200 immigrant clients this year. Not only are we grateful for the opportunity to stand with the world’s most vulnerable, but also for the privilege of seeing hope renewed.

From Silence to Sound
Because hearing loss disproportionally affects many Bhutanese refugees, WRDA developed a medical case management program.  When Bhutanese refugees, Nan and Dhal Ghorsai, arrived in the U.S. early this year, they were functionally deaf.  However, a partnership between the WRDA medical case management program and a local audiologist resulted in hearing aids for the couple. Now, Nan and Dhal no longer struggle to read lips, can hear the sound of their children’s voices and are learning to speak English.

From Flight to a Home
Refugees, by definition, are not from communities or countries that celebrate their contributions to society.   After fleeing from their home in the Congo and living in four different refugee camps, Pierre and Virginie Lokombe arrived in Aurora in 2010 with their four sons. Immediately, the family felt welcomed and began to invest back into the community.  Today, Pierre is a student at Waubonsee Community College, and the family, through the Individual Development Account program, is in the process of purchasing their first home in Aurora. 

From Alien to Citizen
Last April, Maria Flores attended our Citizenship Workshop, but was unable to complete the application process due to residency guidelines.  However, despite some personal and financial struggles, Maria continued to pursue citizenship and not only took the oath of alliance in October, but following the oath ceremony, registered to vote for the first time.

Finally, we are thankful for you—the community and friends who graciously welcome strangers and invest in the transformation process.   In fact, your hospitality is evident in two community events focused on celebrating refugees and immigrants.

The Aurora Historical Society (AHS)
In November, AHS hosted an exhibit on the people groups that make up Aurora.  The goal was to highlight recent immigrant groups and their contributions, which includes WRDA clients.  

There’s Room at the Table
Uniting America will host the opening of a local photo documentary project, There’s Room at the Table, which is a collaborative effort between Wheaton College, Uniting America, and World Relief DuPage/Aurora. The project highlights the daily life of refugees, immigrants and the native-born population of Wheaton and Glen Ellyn.  The exhibit opens on December 9 at 1 p.m. at the Gary United Methodist Church in Wheaton, and runs through December 16.  Hours are Sunday from 10 a.m.-12:30 p.m. and Wednesday 5:30-7 p.m.

 

November 27, 2012

Matthew Soerens, World Relief Immigration Counselor

The Issue

World Relief’s mission is to empower the local church to serve the most vulnerable.

Here in suburban Chicagoland, we – and many of our church partners – have found that a good number of immigrants fall into that category of “most vulnerable.”  Refugees and other immigrants face many unique challenges: language confusion, cultural barriers, the haunting memories of the circumstances that led them away from their country of origin, and very often separation from family members left behind.

There is much that we as God’s people, working together through local churches, can offer to these newcomers by meeting physical needs and reflecting Christ’s love. 

While there is much that we do on a personal level, we also often encounter structural problems that inhibit our new friends from integrating and flourishing in their new countries, and we believe that we have a responsibility in these circumstances to advocate for changes to laws.

As an immigration counselor at World Relief, I hear stories nearly every day of families who have been separated by what I have come to believe is a broken immigration legal system.  Immigrants who have received their green cards usually wait more than five years to be allowed to bring minor children or spouses to the United States, a desperately long time to wait for a family.  The wait times for other family relationships can be even longer – up to eighteen years for adult children of US citizens and twenty-two years for siblings of US citizens.

Others have entered the country or overstayed a temporary visa unlawfully.  While we do not condone their unlawful action, it is easy to understand why so many feel forced to make that decision, given the economic desperation from which most of these immigrants came, and the unavailability of visas for them to have entered lawfully. 

Our legal system is tragically broken. Our economy, even in the current downturn, relies heavily on foreign-born workers, particularly for “low-skilled” jobs like agriculture, construction, and hospitality industries, but we have not created adequate legal mechanisms for individuals to enter to fill these jobs.

As a result, individuals enter unlawfully or overstay a visa not intended for a permanent stay, and then live their lives in the United States in the shadows, working hard but always afraid of apprehension and deportation.  The issue becomes further complicated by the fact that so many of those without status in the United States have U.S. citizen children or spouses, so their deportation means dividing a family and, sometimes, leaving the U.S. citizen family members dependent upon public aid and charity.  

So What Do We Do?

The question of what to do with these individuals who have broken the law is one that World Relief has wrestled with over the years.  While there is a great deal of rhetoric on all sides of the debate, we believe our call as Christ-followers is to consider this complex issue through the lens of the Bible.  Scripture guides us repeatedly: God loves and looks out for immigrants, along with other vulnerable groups like orphans and widows, and He commands us to welcome immigrants, treat them justly, and love them as ourselves (Lev 19:33-34, Deut 10:18, Deut 24:14-15, Ps 146:9, Ezek 22:7, Mal 3:5, Mt 22:35-40). 

But, of course, scripture also tells us to submit to the governing authorities, which God has established for us (Romans 13:1-4).  That tension is further complicated by the reality that many of these undocumented immigrants are our brothers and sisters – members of our communities and churches – and as we hear their stories, it becomes increasingly more difficult to dismiss them as “aliens.”  They are human beings made in God’s image, with families and faith, just like us.  Biblically, we are inter-dependent parts of one body (1 Corinthians 12:26).  

Our nation desperately needs a comprehensive reform of our immigration laws. 

To be Effective, Reform Must Concurrently Do 4 Basic Things:

  1. Secure the border and create enforceable employment authorization documents so that it becomes much more difficult to enter or work unlawfully in the United States. This eliminates the incentive to migrate.
  2. Create lawful mechanisms for legal entry that match the supply of work in the United States, both for high-skilled and low-skilled jobs.  No one would choose to make a dangerous illegal entry across a desert if they had the option of undergoing a background check, paying a reasonable visa fee, and entering through the front door. Although the news we hear says differently, a relatively small number fear background checks or attempt to smuggle in contraband. Most are well-meaning workers looking to support their families.
  3. Increase the number of visas available for family reunification so that the backlogs in the current system are significantly reduced and families can “live together in unity” (Ps 133:1)
  4. Create the possibility for those currently here unlawfully to pay a reasonable fine, register with the government, pay any back taxes owed, and get on a path to citizenship and integration (presuming they can clear a criminal background check).  By creating a mechanism for undocumented immigrants to pay a consequence but not resorting to the harsh response of deportation, we can uphold the biblical value of reconciliation. 

World Relief has been advocating for reform based on these principles for several years, and many of the evangelical churches, denominations, and leaders whom we work with have come to the same conclusion. 

Our parent organization, the National Association of Evangelicals, which represents most major evangelical denominations in the United States, passed a resolution in October 2009 calling for Comprehensive Immigration Reform that meets these principles.  

Naturally, with an issue as complex and controversial as immigration, there will be some degree of disagreement.  We find that much of the initial disagreement is moderated when people understand the issue better, sorting through the rhetoric that those on both side of the debate tend to use. 

World Relief Resource

As a tool for education, Jenny Hwang, World Relief’s Policy & Advocacy Director, and I have co-written a book, Welcoming the Stranger: Justice, Compassion, & Truth in the Immigration Debate (InterVarsity Press, 2009).

We hope it’s a helpful tool for many believers struggling with this complicated issue. All of the authors’ proceeds go back to the work of World Relief.  

Upcoming Events

  1. Missions on Your Doorstep Annual Conference provides workshops and discussion on immigration
  2. February 22, 2010 – World Relief and Community Christian Church in Naperville are partnering together for an immigration educational event. Stayed tuned for more details!

Advocacy: Get Involved!

World Relief is actively advocating with our legislators, asking them to support compassionate and sensible solutions to our nation’s immigration problems.  A simple call to a Member of Congress from a constituent in their district can really make a big difference, especially when there are many calls coming in! 

  • Click here to learn how to add your voice to this cause and to learn who your U.S. Representative is!
  • Email advocacy@wr.org to be added to our monthly advocacy update
  • Text the word “Justice” to 69866 to get occasional text message updates about immigration reform advocacy.  

What Next?

Most likely, immigration reform proposals will be introduced in the Congress within the next month or two, and probably voted up or down before the end of April.  When those debates take place, please lend your voice to “speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves” (Pr 31:8) and to join World Relief in asking our legislators to support Comprehensive Immigration Reform.

Most of all, we would ask you to pray.

  • For legislators, who need wisdom and courage as they re-work our laws
  • For churches and their congregations as they struggle with this complex issue
  • For the immigrants in our community, that God would meet their needs and that they would know His love and protection 
November 27, 2012

Written by Andrea Simnick Xu / Edited by Gretchen Schmidt

Character Counts at Glen Ellyn Bible Church as they host the third annual Step By Step program this summer.  Sixty-five Burmese refugee children learn the importance of being people of character within their community.

For the past three years Glen Ellyn Bible Church has partnered with the Burmese community and World Relief DuPage to assist Burmese students in taking steps to adjust to life in America.  The program provides a meaningful, enjoyable, and loving environment while addressing academic, spiritual, and social needs.

The team of volunteers rotates the kids through vocabulary and writing lessons, snack time, and playtime involving jump rope, soccer, and knitting.  All of the activities are centered on a character trait of the week.  Throughout the mornings, relationships are built and kids’ confidence is grown.

“Its fun to see that this is home, and they are thriving here,” says Resource Coordinator, Lynn Kubat.  This is a place where bridges are built as the program reaches across the different ethnicities within the Burmese people group.

“The kids who have been coming back [each year] are respectful and grateful and they know we are here to help them and walk alongside them,” says Curriculum Coordinator, Sue Macaluso.  

The original vision of the program was to provide literacy development, but it has evolved to include much more.  Development Coordinator, Cindy Hendriksen says, “The morning ends and we feel the children are being loved. It’s not about getting through the material.”

Attendance has grown from forty-five students the first year, to fifty-five the second, and now sixty-five children benefit from the program.  This is the first year, however, that scriptural reading is part of the curriculum.  Macaluso says, “It’s just awesome to open the word of God with them.  That’s been the highlight of the year.”

The passages the kids read – and act out in skits – highlight honorable attributes of Biblical characters like Noah, the Good Samaritan, and Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego.

All the kids take home a New Testament at the end of the program.  “I just feel God is at work in this program and in these kids. We are definitely in the business of planting seeds,” reflects Macaluso.  

Volunteers representing six churches run the program; half of them are teachers by profession.  One volunteer got involved after assisting a Burmese child at school. “I just wanted to help out and serve and get to know the Burmese community more,” she says. “Because I worked with him, I wanted to get to know his friends and siblings.”

New volunteers with minimal cross cultural experience coordinated the knitting activities. Hendriksen says, “These ladies were concerned about communication, but that went very well. In fact, the volunteers quickly connected with the girls, will continue to pray for them and are looking forward to helping with next year’s program.”

Inspired by Step By Step, other churches in the community have observed the program desiring to model after it. “We hope to have a four-year curriculum that we can rotate through and pass on to other churches interested in doing the same thing,” says Macaluso. An essential part of the program’s effectiveness is the collaboration of Burmese community leaders. “They were instrumental in steering us toward a format that would especially draw in and engage the teenaged boys,” comments Hendriksen.

World Relief seeks to empower local churches to serve the most vulnerable. Though Step By Step formed from a mutual desire to increase support for the Burmese community, Glen Ellyn Bible Church provides complete oversight of this valuable program. Their ability to take World Relief’s model of empowerment and combine it with a heart for their vulnerable neighbors has had a far-reaching impact.

November 9, 2012

“In 2007, when I got a job with the coalition forces, things were unbelievable,” said Qasim “Steve” Hazim. “I was in Baquba.  The insurgents would come with a severed head.  They would tell you, if you serve with the coalition forces—if you serve with the Iraqi police—this will happen to you.”

Steve was injured by an Improvised Explosive Device (IED). It exploded under the striker he was in and he suffered significant head trauma.  Steve rallied, and was back at work within a month. Work was difficult.  Steve was stationed in some of the hardest hit areas of Iraq – Baquba, Tikrit, and Erbil.  He was far from his family, but traveled to be with his wife and son on his leave every three months.

The roads were treacherous, and military and insurgent checkpoints were everywhere.  One trip he was threatened at a checkpoint.  Fearing for his life, he sped away as threats and shots rang out around him.

He continued to have to pass through that checkpoint to see his family and then to report back to work.

“I pulled my hat down low, I grew out my beard, I tried everything to disguise myself,” Steve said. “But I constantly lived in fear.”

He was afraid to let his commanders do anything, afraid of reprisal for him and his family.  Finally, he knew it was time to take his family and leave.  He applied for and was granted a special immigrant visa (SIV) for Iraqis who have served with the coalition forces. “By the time we received our visa and went to the airlines to buy our tickets, my wife was 8 months pregnant.  The airlines said there was no way she could fly.” Amel had their baby in November.  They were warned the baby’s visa could take a year.  They didn’t know what to do as the threats continued to plague them.

On January 19th, they left the country for the United States, too afraid to stay any longer—but they were forced to leave the baby behind with Steve’s parents.  The separation was agonizing for the family.

“Amel began crying all the time.  She could not control herself,” Steve said.  “It was so hard.”

World Relief DuPage, a Wheaton-based refugee resettlement agency, picked Steve and his family up from the airport and provided them with housing, orientation, connection to public services, employment, English classes, counseling, legal services and an introduction to Wheaton Bible Church. Members of the church were eager to walk alongside them as they adjusted to their new life.

Amel’s despair soon landed her in the emergency room three times.  She feared she’d never see her baby again, that he would be killed, that she had abandoned the baby to its death. Immediately, friends at Wheaton Bible Church—including Chris McElwee, the Local Impact Pastor, and Isaac Heath, Steve’s volunteer—jumped to action to provide the care and support the family needed.

Catherine Norquist, World Relief’s Immigrant Legal Services Director, worked to ensure all the paperwork was filed both here in the United States and in the embassy in Iraq so that Steve could go back to pick up his son. Steve would have to travel on his Iraqi passport, availing himself to the protection of Iraq, a risky move. Filing the correct forms to name herself Steve’s legal representation and Steve’s mother the power of attorney, Catherine cleared the way for Steve to return to the country he had fled from three months prior.

Meanwhile, Steve’s mother journeyed from northern Iraq to Baghdad where she was escorted into the green zone around the embassy. After a medical examination for the baby and an interview to obtain the baby’s visa, she returned to northern Iraq to await Steve who was due to arrive days later. When Steve received the phone call that the visa was ready for his son, Wheaton Bible Church bought his ticket to Iraq.

“I was afraid to go back,” he said, “I knew my life was still at risk, but I had to get my son.”

With a turnaround time of less than 48 hours, he flew into northern Iraq, met his family, gathered his son and boarded a flight back to the United States via Germany. 

When he attempted to get on his flight in Germany, the ticket agent asked him for his baby pass—an unexpected and unexplained expectation.  Steve did not have a ticket for his son, nor did he have a credit card or enough cash to purchase one. “I was so worried that if we didn’t get on the flight, my wife would panic,” he said.  “She has been through so much, I needed to get home.”

So he did the first thing that came to his mind—he called his friends from Wheaton Bible Church.  Isaac picked up his phone at 1 in the morning, knowing that Steve likely needed help.

“You know people are your real friends,” Steve said, “when you need something right away, you can call them—even in the middle of the night.”

Isaac jumped to action, managing to purchase a baby pass just in the nick of time.  As Steve walked down the jetway, the flight attendant closed the doors behind him.

Their arrival at the airport in Chicago was a tearful reunion. “I am so happy now.  I don’t cry anymore.  I was so depressed and could only think about the baby before. When I saw the baby, I just ran and hugged him.  We were all crying,” said Amel.

Transition to the United States continues to be a challenge—the economic situation has turned Steve’s job from full-time to part time.  He would love to go back to school, to continue to provide for his family, but he is still grateful for the safety his new country provides for his reunited family.

“It is hard, but thank God we are safe here. I feel I did something for Iraq—for my people and my country.  And for the United States—for my new country.”

November 9, 2012

This September, refugees and other immigrants living in Illinois had an unprecedented opportunity to apply for United States citizenship with an 80 percent discount.

Normally $675, the application fees were reduced to $145 through the New American Dream Fund (NADF), a state-funded program that helped subsidize the remaining costs for qualified applicants.

Although this discount was only available for one month, at least 1,040 people applied for naturalization throughout Illinois.

At World Relief DuPage, news of the discount spread fast, as 68 citizenship applications were filled out and sent before the September 30 deadline.

Erika Miles, Citizenship and Outreach Coordinator at World Relief DuPage, said the organization’s immigration counselors processed most of the applications within a two-week period, taking night hours and working on weekends to help as many clients as possible. “Even though it was a lot of work, it was worth it because we were able to help people who are low-income make their dream of becoming a citizen true,” Miles said.

Catherine Norquist, Immigrant Legal Services Director at World Relief DuPage, said the Dream Fund applicants were upstanding members of their communities and are “truly the ones the U.S. wants and needs as law abiding citizens of this country.”

Miles said many hard working, low income immigrants want to apply for citizenship, but cannot pay the normal fee because of the struggling economy. “It is very difficult to have the $675 in their pocket to apply,” Miles said. “It’s a lot of money for them.” Of the 68 applicants at World Relief DuPage, 17 were Meskhetian Turks who were refugees from Uzbekistan. Other applicants originated from 18 other countries including Liberia, Burundi, Sudan, Mexico, Venezuela, India and the Ukraine.

Norquist said many of the applicants were children, whose application fees will increase from $400 to $600 on November 23. One applicant was a young widow from Iran who was previously unable to afford the citizenship fee due to her tight budget while being the sole provider for her two children. “There would have been no way for her to apply on her income,” Norquist said. “It felt great to get her application in.”

After an application is sent to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, (USCIS), the applicant typically waits about four months for a response. Then, the applicant is required to take the U.S. citizenship test, which consists of questions about U.S. history, government and geography. Once a person becomes a U.S. citizen, they can vote, hold government jobs and petition for their closest family members to join them in the United States. For many who fled from difficult situations in their home countries, becoming a U.S. citizen provides security and peace of mind. “There’s a sense of real pride and belonging that can’t be quantified,” Norquist said