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 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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.”
Allows refugees to budget and save for houses, vehicles and education
y: Glenn Oviatt, Intern
For many newly-arrived refugees, saving money for a car, a home or a college education on a tight budget is daunting.
However, a recently renewed savings program at World Relief DuPage/Aurora will match the savings of qualified refugees and make it easier for them to secure necessary assets.
The Individual Development Account Savings Program (IDA), which began in October, can match up to $2,000 for single refugees and $4,000 for families toward a home, a vehicle, post-secondary education or training, or the expansion of a small business.
With funds provided by the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), the program will last for three years, and replaces the previous five-year IDA grant which ended in September.
Laurel Opal, IDA Coordinator at World Relief DuPage/Aurora, said the program has three main components: asset development, self-sufficiency and planning for the future.
Opal said every participant is required to organize a household budget, attend basic banking classes and take part in asset-specific trainings such as home-buying informational sessions or vehicle maintenance classes.
“The program helps newcomers contribute to their community and helps stimulate the local economy,” Opal said.
Adam Beyer, Employment Services Director at World Relief DuPage/Aurora, said the classes, trainings and experiences of the program ultimately empower participants to become more self-sufficient.
“One of the goals of the IDA program is to teach people how to save – to show them how much money you can save if you put away a little bit every month and how you can improve your life through that,” Beyer said.
A great part of that empowerment process happens through World Relief’s partnership with Community Bank Wheaton/Glen Ellyn, where all IDA participants have their accounts.With free checking accounts and help from interpreters, Community Bank has been personal and gracious to the refugee community, Beyer said.
“It’s a good learning place,” Beyer said. “I think there are some refugees who come here with banking experience, but for most, it’s a foreign experience.”
Through the previous five-year program, 157 of the 255 participants successfully secured money for their asset goals.
Of those, 14 purchased their first home, 13 acquired higher education or training for themselves or their children, and nine started or expanded a small business. Unexpectedly,121 participants successfully purchased a vehicle.
Opal said many applied for homes when the program began in 2005, but after three years, the economy bottomed out and many lost their jobs. Incapable of saving money, the jobless participants were also unable to qualify for a mortgage loan.
While some dropped out of the program, others simply changed their asset goals.
“We had a lot of people change their goal to [purchasing a] vehicle,” Opal said. “Almost all of the people in the final year and a half of the program applied for a vehicle.”
Beyer said their achievements provided great benefits for themselves and their communities.
“A lot of the refugee communities are usually [limited] by having no transportation or having inadequate transportation,” Beyer said. “This puts them in a position of increased dependence on World Relief and others in the community.”
Through the help of the IDA program, many refugees who previously searched for an affordable but unreliable car were able to secure funds to buy a more stable vehicle.
“Suddenly they have this vision of something better,” Beyer said. “Being able to drive an $8,000 used vehicle that’s reliable gives them a certain level of independence they hadn’t had before.”
Under the new program, however, Opal said she hopes to find more people who can apply to save for a home.
“If we find people with a little bit more stable employment and who are really serious about finding a home, they’re more than capable of doing so,” Opal said.
Additionally, Beyer said that having a “steady stream” of successful IDA graduates over the next three years can positively influence the wider refugee community.
“They can be examples to show that it’s actually possible to do these things–even as newly-arrived refugees.”
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
By Glenn Oviatt, Intern
On a frigid February afternoon in 2008, Jeannette and her six children disembarked from their plane at O’Hare International Airport and stepped onto North American soil for the first time.
Separated from their home in Tanzania by the fullness of the Atlantic Ocean and the width of the entire African continent, Jeannette entered her new life with many doubts.
How would she and her family adjust to the language, culture and customs of the United States? Would anyone come to her assistance when she needed help? Would she make friends?
But waiting just outside the gate for Jeannette and her family was Annette, a Wheaton woman who previously lived in Tanzania and had volunteered with World Relief for years.
Accompanied by several members of Wheaton Bible Church, Annette welcomed Jeannette and her family to the country with the few Swahili phrases she knew. Then, shivering together as they walked to the car through the unbearable cold, they set off to take the family to their new home in Wheaton.
When Annette first learned about Jeannette’s family through World Relief, she couldn’t ignore the similarities in both their names and their families. At home, Annette grew up outnumbered by five brothers; Jeannette had one daughter and five sons. Even considering their linguistic, cultural and ethnic differences, Annette knew they would form a lasting friendship.
Now, almost three years later, Annette and Jeannette have formed a bond stronger than either woman could have predicted in the moment they met on that frigid afternoon at the airport. ”We are not friends. We are sisters,” explained Annette.Jeannette’s Story
For most of her life Jeannette has been a stranger in a foreign land. When she was 11 years old, Jeannette fled from Burundi with her family while the country was in the midst of civil war and ethnic strife.
They came to what is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo and traveled throughout the war-torn nation, trying to find a place where they could settle down without threats of violence. Continually moving to avoid the war, Jeannette and her family rarely found assistance for their daily questions and struggles.
“We were still in Africa, but every place we moved to had a different language,” Jeannette said. “We found all kinds of problems along the way and nobody helped us through these difficulties. But God did.”
After Jeannette married and started her own family, they moved to Tanzania where she and her husband built a small house out of sticks and branches and raised their children.
Unfortunately, after steadily losing weight for nine years, her husband passed away due to complications with diabetes not long after settling in Tanzania. Unable to become Tanzanian citizens and unable to return to Burundi or the Congo, the future was uncertain for Jeannette and her family. With no safe place to go, Jeannette asked God to provide a better home with better opportunities for her children. When her family was offered the chance to move to the United States as refugees, Jeannette agreed, even though she was initially wary about moving again.
“Being in a foreign land, you don’t know where the doctor is, you don’t know what to do, and you don’t know the secrets of the culture,” Jeannette said. Although she was tired from a lifetime of traveling, Jeannette came to realize that God would provide for her family no matter what happened in America.
And God provided through Annette and members of Wheaton Bible Church.
“I remember receiving the original information on Jeannette’s family and knowing immediately that Annette was the right match,” explained Gretchen Schmidt, World Relief’s Communication and Church Engagement Manager. “God has shown us over and over again through the years how perfectly He paired these two together.”
A few months after Jeannette and her family arrived, doctors discovered a 3cm hole in the heart of her youngest son Minani, then eight years old. When the doctors suggested performing either open-heart surgery or a less-invasive procedure with a catheter threaded through a vein, Jeannette sought Annette’s guidance. “It didn’t make sense to me,” Jeannette said. “I just didn’t know what to think.”
Together, the two women – along with other members of Wheaton Bible Church – walked through the process of doctor visits and medical tests, including multiple trips to Children’s Hospital in Chicago. Jeannette ultimately decided on the less-invasive procedure. The day Minani was discharged, Annette picked him up. “When I got to the hospital, Minani jumped up and gave me a big hug,” Annette said. “He was ready to go home.”
Throughout Jeannette’s adjustment to America, Annette has walked beside her through her many questions and challenges – ranging from plumbing and transportation to medical decisions and family crises.
“I’m not by myself,” explained Jeannette.
Several years ago when Annette moved from the United States to Tanzania, she was robbed and beaten by a gang of men who shot their way into her home. Although she had only been in the country for a short time and didn’t yet know her neighbors, Annette said they “stormed the house” to rescue her from her attackers. Grateful for the Tanzanian neighbors who saved her, Annette has since dedicated herself to assisting her new neighbors who come to the United States.
“I reach out to my new neighbors now because I want to be the one to storm the house if they’re in trouble,” Annette shared tearfully.
When Annette befriended Jeannette and her family, she was ready to help in any way possible. What she couldn’t foresee was how deep their friendship would grow. In January 2010, during her final semester of graduate school at Wheaton College, Annette was diagnosed with stage one ovarian cancer.
It was now Jeannette’s turn to provide the constant support, prayer and friendship that Annette needed in order to make it through this immense trial.
“She was able to come and see me in the hospital after I had surgery,” Annette said. “She prayed with me right there.”
When Annette began chemotherapy, Jeannette regularly called to ask how she could better pray for her. “How are you doing?” Jeannette questioned. “Does it hurt? How are you sleeping?” And then she would say, “Okay, you go rest and I will pray.” “That was a beautiful, beautiful gift,” Annette said.
In the spring, Annette was strong enough to walk at her graduation. Jeannette watched her accept her diploma, reserving a great loving hug for after the ceremony.
The Continuing Friendship
Now that Annette’s cancer is in remission, she looks forward to deepening her relationship with Jeannette and sharing the ways they have seen God at work in their lives.
Together as sisters, they pray and read the Bible in Swahili and English and although both women need some translation to fully understand each other, they know that God hears them both and understands everything.
They continue to teach their languages to each other so that one day they can look back at their growing relationship and express their thoughts and feelings with nothing lost in translation.
“I’m looking forward to the day when we can speak in [the same] language and share deeply from our hearts,” Annette said. While Annette and Jeannette continue to experience each joy and every challenge of their lives, they will walk side-by-side—not merely as friends, but as sisters.
When you stand with people like Annette, you STAND / FOR THE VULNERABLE.
To learn more about World Relief and how you can get involved with refugees like Jeannette, click here.
Glenn Oviatt, Intern
Students at North Central College in Naperville are meeting the challenge to serve refugee youth as part of the school’s service learning program.
In 2008, the school developed a partnership with World Relief Aurora, allowing students to tutor refugee children at Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy (IMSA) and Jefferson Middle School in Naperville.
Coordinated by North Central’s Department of Ministry and Service, the service learning program connects real-world experience with class work. Students from a spectrum of majors devote several hours each week toward service and reflect on their experiences through required essays.
“It’s very experiential learning,” said Casey Graham, a 2010 graduate who tutored at Jefferson Middle School and now serves as the Youth Services Club Coordinator at World Relief Aurora. “Specifically for people who major in education, this is an invaluable experience because they are really able to work with different levels of English-speaking and academic-performing students.”
Dr. Louis Corsino, professor of sociology and Chairperson of the Division of Human Thought and Behavior at North Central, teaches a sociology capstone course that integrates service learning with the curriculum.
“Once students have the opportunity to go to these settings consistently, they come back to the classroom and we talk about their experiences,” Corsino said.
In addition to classroom discussions, Corsino asks students to write two reflective essays that blend their experience as a volunteer with knowledge gained from the coursework. Corsino said the world of refugees becomes much clearer for students when they are faced with the reality of teaching children who are still learning English while adjusting to American culture.
“They come away with a much deeper appreciation for the struggles that some of these children have and the issues and problems that refugees face,” Corsino said.
Graham said a consistent tutor can foster an important mentor-like relationship with a child as they adjust to the language, culture and schooling in the United States. Refugee children typically do not receive enough one-on-one attention in the classroom, but with the guidance of a tutor, the children can improve their reading, writing and speaking.
Lauren Gilchrest, a junior studying English and Secondary Education, tutored refugee children who came to IMSA last fall. There, she worked with students who had trouble completing their homework because they did not know how to read English. Gilchrest remembered a particular time when she read a book with a refugee teen from Thailand.
“He didn’t understand the words, so I took a pencil and piece of paper and started drawing pictures and using gestures to explain,” Gilchrest said. The teen soon caught on and together they worked through the story word-by-word.
By engaging the lives of children, Graham became aware of how difficult the refugee experience is and developed a “swelling affection” for people of other cultures. During her senior year, Graham acted as interim Service Learning Coordinator, a position that allowed her to connect more North Central classrooms with refugee students.
After graduation, her affection for the refugee students ultimately led Graham to work with World Relief.
Now as the Youth Services Club Coordinator, Graham hopes to partner with other local colleges to assist the intellectual growth of their students while serving the needs of refugee youth.
Service learning can be tailored to any major. “There’s ways in which even a business major can benefit from working with refugee students,” Graham said. Financial literacy is a large need and education on banking, saving, taxes, investment and starting a small business can help to fulfil the gap.
Graham said service learning is a great opportunity for students to expand their education beyond the four walls of a classroom. Due to the experiential aspect, Graham remembered her service learning coursework more than other classes she took during college.
“It was difficult–there’s definitely a stretching component to service learning,” Graham said. “But [working with refugee children] was more impacting than looking at a book or reading an article.”
“For me, it was something that encouraged me to pursue a greater relationship with World Relief.”
Woman feared permanent separation from children
Written by Andrea Simnick Xu and Glenn Oviatt
The United States offers many services and safeguards for victims of domestic violence. Undocumented immigrants who suffer at the hands of an abuser are the group least aware of their right to ask for protection and most afraid to speak up. While the majority of clients served by World Relief Immigrant Legal Services are legal residents of the United States, this story highlights a small but vulnerable category of clients who receive legal advocacy.
The names of some individuals have been changed to protect their identity.
Julia Garcia is a mother of two young daughters and the wife of an abusive husband. She is also an undocumented immigrant who married an American citizen and possessed little power to protect her children.
When Garcia came to World Relief DuPage in January 2010, she feared her legal status would deny her the right to ask for the safety of her children and herself. However, under the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), an undocumented immigrant who suffers abuse from an American spouse can apply for a Green Card.
Matt Soerens, U.S. Church Training Specialist for World Relief, said the law provides protection for people who are in vulnerable situations similar to Garcia but many are unaware of these provisions.
One of “our jobs [at World Relief Immigrant Legal Services] is simply to help the law work as it’s supposed to: to protect people who are victims of abuse and crime,” Soerens said.
With a staff accredited by the Board of Immigration Appeals, World Relief DuPage’s Immigrant Legal Services provides low-cost assistance to immigrants and refugees from around the world, seeking to keep clients well-informed of their rights, responsibilities and opportunities under the current laws.
Before Garcia approached World Relief, she pursued a visa through her husband. Instructed to return to Mexico to apply for a visa, Garcia followed bad advice from a Notario—a person who unlawfully gives immigrant legal instruction. Although some Notarios are well-meaning, many make a living off of the ignorance and fear of undocumented immigrants.
Based upon the Notario’s advice, Garcia believed she would only have to wait in Mexico for three years before returning to the U.S. if her visa request was rejected. After waiting almost a year to find out that she had been denied, Garcia learned that she would be separated from her children for at least another 10 years before she could legally reenter the United States, and that was only if her second application for a visa was accepted.
Garcia’s fear for the well-being of her children grew after an emotional phone call from her eldest daughter who said she was hungry and afraid of angering her drunken father by asking for food. Garcia decided she could no longer be separated from her daughters and attempted to cross the US-Mexico border. After being caught and sent back, she made a second – and more desperate – attempt, successfully returning to Wheaton to care for her children.
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Upon hearing her story, World Relief Immigrant Legal Services told Garcia she had a strong VAWA petition and set to work obtaining the necessary paperwork. When Garcia was sent to the Glen Ellyn police department for proof that she’d never been arrested, the police detained her and transferred her to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
Unbeknownst to her, Garcia had an outstanding warrant for her arrest issued in 2002. While pregnant with her first child, Garcia was attacked by some of her husband’s family members. After the police arrived, Garcia explained the situation and was let go. Because her husband moved her to a new location, Garcia never received the summons to appear in court and was charged with battery.
Garcia’s World Relief Immigration Counselor Elise Bryson hurriedly began building a case to delay her possible deportation. Unsure if Garcia would be on the next day’s deportation plane, Bryson stayed at the World Relief DuPage office past midnight, calling partner attorneys at DePaul University for advice and preparing Garcia’s case.
Garcia was soon transferred to the Broadview Immigrant Detention Center and appeared to be on the fast track toward deportation. No one was informed of her whereabouts.
Garcia’s eldest daughter believed she would never see her mother again, and grew to fear the police.
“It was a very panicked situation,” Bryson said. “Not only do you have someone being deported, but she also has two U.S. citizen daughters of very young ages who would have been in the custody of the abuser. Although he had never directly hurt the kids, his alcoholism had resulted indirectly in their endangerment before.”
The following morning, Sarah Diaz, a partner attorney from DePaul University College of Law, came to World Relief DuPage to help Bryson discover where Garcia was and how to petition for her release. Coincidentally, Diaz knew the supervising attorney at the Broadview Immigrant Detention Center from their days at the National Immigration Justice Center in Chicago. Through the personal connection Diaz was able to quickly get ahold of the attorney and informed him that Garcia was a VAWA client with two young children. An hour later, World Relief DuPage received a call from Garcia announcing her release.
When Garcia’s American neighbor and friend Cathy Anderson heard about the news, she responded with tears of joy. Throughout the night, Garcia’s family and neighbors prayed for her release.
“That was a miracle,” Anderson said. “It was really praying for hope against hope; it was like asking for the impossible.”
Later that day, Garcia came home to a joyful community of friends and neighbors.
“It was really emotional,” Anderson recalled. “When I saw Julia, we were hugging and crying. And she was so grateful for everything everyone had done. I think it was overwhelming for her to have people fighting for her, to have people getting involved and doing anything and everything to fight for her to be with her family… for her dignity to be valued and cared for.”
Since her return, Garcia completed the VAWA petition through World Relief and was approved within the year. Now Garcia has work authorization, a Social Security card and a driver’s license. However, Garcia is still waiting for the government to grant her a green card.
Garcia’s eldest daughter, who was traumatized by the separation from her mother and continual threat of losing her permanently, is now regaining her trust in the police and the ability to engage in everyday activities, like attending school.
While Garcia and her husband work through the process of reconciliation, she now has freedom she didn’t have before – she can support her children independent from an abusive relationship and can seek the best life for her daughters without the fear of being separated again.
To learn more about the work of World Relief’s Immigrant Legal Services and how you can be involved, please click here.
On a gray drizzly Sunday afternoon in November, drums and guitars mix with spirited, jangling tambourines radiating from a room in the back of Glenfield Baptist Church in Glen Ellyn. A jumble of shoes has gradually flooded into the accompanying hallway and more than 70 Bhutanese men, women, and children stand in bare feet and socks, worshipping in Nepali. Small boys and girls twirl and dance beneath their elders as a refrain of “Hallelujah” builds and swells. The air becomes warm, filled by the vibrancy of their worship.
When the music ends, everyone sits upon cushions and pillows scattered across the floor and American pastor Cody Lorance stands and prays in Nepali. The walls are yellow and strung with garlands of leaves and flowers. Behind Lorance at the front of the room is an altar with crosses, candles and incense sticks.
This is TriEak Parmeshwar Mandali, the first Nepali-speaking church in Chicagoland. Most in this community are recently resettled refugees from the Kingdom of Bhutan, a small landlocked country in South Asia bordered by China, India and the Himalayan Mountains. Together, the families of the church navigate the challenges of their new life in America as they grow in their hope in Christ.
As Lorance preaches, Ganesh Powdyel stands to the side, translating English to Nepali after each sentence. Two years ago, Powdyel arrived in Chicago with his parents, wife and daughter after spending 18 years in a refugee camp in Nepal, where he was a teacher making 892 Nepalese rupees–or about $12.58 in current US dollars–per month.
During his first year in the United States, Powdyel worked as an operator for Global Card Services. He now works as a casework assistant at World Relief DuPage and relays important information to the Bhutanese Nepali community.
In the early 1990’s, most of Bhutan’s ethnic Nepali minority, the Lhotshampa, fled the country after the government deemed them a threat to the political order. During that time, Bhutan’s King Wangchuck enforced the majority culture and Buddhist religion while seeking to rid the country of ethnic Nepalese and their Hindu rituals. Many were forcibly evicted by the government, while others fled from the persecution or were coerced into signing “voluntary” emigration forms.
Unable to return to Bhutan or settle permanently in Nepal, more than 100,000 refugees remained in the camps for almost two decades, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Since 2007, the United States has resettled 34,129 Bhutanese refugees as part of a resettlement program that includes Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Norway, Denmark and the Netherlands.
When Powdyel arrived at O’Hare Airport with his family in early 2009, he was greeted by Cody Lorance and Krishna Magar, who were informed of his arrival by World Relief. Magar, who came to live in Wheaton with his three children in late 2008, was Powdyel’s teacher and school principal in the Nepali refugee camp. He became friends with Lorance after his children attended the Karen Burmese congregation that also meets in Glenfield Baptist Church. Months later, six refugees—including Magar’s children—were baptized by Lorance and began meeting to study their newfound Christian faith. Both Magar and Powdyel assisted Lorance in translating his messages to the young church and became Christians later in 2009.
When Powdyel began to learn the stories of the Bible, he was impressed by Christianity’s desire and proclamation for equality, which was in opposition to Hinduism’s strict caste system in Nepal. By local law, Powdyel said members of the lower castes could not enter the house of a higher caste member. Now their relationships have changed.
“We worship together, we work with each other, help each other and eat meals together,” Powdyel said. “We’re living together now.”
Lorance said many of the caste barriers have been broken by the church’s desire to create ways for new Nepali Christians to seek Christ while continuing to be a part of their traditional culture.
“We are really striving to make following Christ not an issue of changing your culture but an issue of changing your heart, mind and behaviors,” Lorance said. “We are using cultural forms and traditions that are already there and trying to pour Christ into those.”
On Christmas 2009, Powdyel and Magar were ordained by Lorance as deacons of the growing church.
“They were trying to identify needs [in the community] and find ways to fill those needs,” Lorance said. More than just the church members came to see Powdyel and Magar’s ordination, but the wider Bhutanese Nepali community came for the ceremony. “I was really presenting them, not as church deacons, but as servant-leaders for the community.”
Another Bhutanese Nepali congregation, Anugraha Church, began meeting last Easter and quickly grew to more than 40 people, eventually moving to Glen Ellyn Evangelical Covenant Church last Christmas. This April, the church invited the local and national Bhutanese Nepali community to their building for their “Grand Musical Festival and Gospel Program” which included more than 20 performers from Chicagoland, Maryland, Tennessee and Ohio. With a full sanctuary and musical performances lasting several hours, the afternoon was a testament to the unity of the local and national Bhutanese Nepali community.
Although the Bhutanese Nepalis no longer deal with the toils of the refugee camps, challenges and struggles remain as they adjust to life in the United States. “There’s illiteracy, poor jobs, and there’s still a lot of spiritual battles that we’re facing,” Lorance said. “It’s not all ‘awesome.’ There are some awesome things that God is doing, but it’s all a tremendous struggle as well.”
Through their many challenges, TriEak Parmeshwar Mandali continues to provide strength for the community. Last year, a family’s apartment caught on fire and the church raised $500 to help with repairs and raised another large sum of money to help a family who couldn’t pay their rent one month.
For many in the community, learning English is essential to obtaining a job, communicating with coworkers, successfully creating a bank account or making doctor’s appointments. Every Thursday night, Trinity International Baptist Mission, the mother church of TriEak, holds ESL (English as a Second Language) classes run by volunteers from the church.
Powdyel said TriEak is also working to obtain more cars and arrange driving lessons so the community can have more independence to shop, use the People’s Resource Center or visit World Relief. During the long Chicago winters, cars are necessary for survival.
As pastor, Lorance has witnessed the growth of the church from the very beginning and says he is “excited to see their excitement” for reaching out to their local community and the Nepali community abroad.
“They say, ‘We’re not refugees. We’re in the US. We’re Americans now. We’re strong. If we can work together, God is with us and we can do it,’” Lorance said.
“The Spirit is working in very significant ways with this group of people.”
World Relief’s mission is to empower the local church to serve the most vulnerable. In community with the local church, World Relief envisions the most vulnerable people transformed economically, socially, and spiritually. Over the past ten years, resettled refugee families have formed 12 churches. TriEak Parmeshwar Mandali is a great example of the impact that immigrant churches can have when they take up Christ’s call for all Christians to love their neighbors and welcome the stranger in their midst.