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.”
For her seventh birthday in January, Nyah Joyce of the Naperville Church of Christ decided to ask 50 of her friends to bring donations for World Relief instead of presents for herself. Days later, Nyah showed up at World Relief with her mom, Aleta Joyce. They had trunk full of household goods that would soon be given to newly-arrived refugees throughout DuPage County.
Little did Nyah know the number of refugees she would impact with her selfless gift.
World Relief’s Home Furnishings Ministry
Every year, World Relief DuPage/Aurora resettles approximately 500 new refugees who have fled to America with what little possessions they can carry. As a resettlement agency, World Relief provides each of these refugees with a safe and simple new home, but it would be impossible to provide such a tangible welcome without the partnership of churches and volunteers.
World Relief relies on the generous donations of gently-used furniture and Good Neighbor Kits (household goods) to give refugee families a resting place they can finally call their own. Offering both furniture pick-up services and an easy drop-off location, World Relief seeks to make the entire process as smooth as possible. Donations are stored in World Relief’s warehouse until staff receive word of an incoming family. The Donations Manger and New Arrivals Coordinator, along with volunteers and other members of the community, then set up each new home, stocking the cabinets with food, dishes and pots and pans. When a refugee family, fresh from O’Hare International Airport steps into their new home, the relief is visible.
physical needs met > employment > self-sufficiency > contributing members of society
Become a part of this chain of empowerment by giving! Though providing furniture and household goods may seem like a small effort, these essentials are truly the foundation upon which success can be built.
As with all of World Relief’s programs, the goal of the home furnishings ministry is to help new arrivals to become self-sufficient, contributing members of society. The most rewarding outcome is when a once-vulnerable person begins to pay generosity forward.
I was helped. Now I’m helping others.
Dil Darjee, a Bhutanese refugee who came to the United States in 2009 after 17 years in a refugee camp in Nepal, is one woman who has given back. When Darjee first arrived, she moved into a furnished apartment and was quickly able to get on her feet.
Through her friendship with Glen Ellyn Covenant Church member, Darren Miller, Darjee participated in a bandage-rolling event for hospitals in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. There Darjee saw pictures of the Congolese people living in conditions reminiscent of the refugee camp in Nepal. Deeply moved by the pictures, Darjee collaborated with her friends Rabika and Nanda Maya to collect clothes for the people in the Congo.
“We have been blessed here, and are glad that we got to share that blessing with other people in need,” Darjee said. “We continue to pray for the people in the Congo, and hope to help them some more in the future.”
Miller picked up their donations for transport to the Congo and was profoundly inspired by their generosity.
“My Bhutanese friends may not have significant financial resources, but they do have big hearts and an abiding faith in Jesus,” Miller said.
Take Nyah and Dil Darjee’s lead and help vulnerable people in your own neighborhoods!
Donations leave World Relief’s warehouse as fast as they come in. Last month alone, 67 refugees made DuPage and Kane Counties their home. World Relief’s warehouse is depleted, yet 30 brave new refugees are on their way here. Would you help organize your neighbors, gather your small group or mobilize friends to collect coats, furniture and Good Neighbor Kits (GNKs)?
Follow the links below to learn more!
- Coats & winter accessories: winter and spring coats of all sizes, boots, hats, gloves and scarves. Take advantage of winter coat sales!
- Furniture: beds, mattresses, dressers, kitchen tables & chairs, lamps, couches, love seats
- Good Neighbor Kit (GNKs): kitchen utensil, bedroom items, bathroom necessities, cleaning supplies, food stables
Glenn Oviatt, Intern
In a first floor classroom at Wheaton Bible Church in West Chicago, thirty Iraqis and Americans sit in three small groups, discussing the story of Abraham and Issac.
A young father who fled Iraq because of threats against his family lounges in a chair, scanning a bilingual Bible as the passages are read in Arabic. In another small group, a woman wearing a black hijab–the traditional Muslim head scarf–explains the differences between the Qur’anic and Biblical accounts of Abraham to her teenage children.
Chris McElwee, Pastor of Local Impact at Wheaton Bible Church, leads one of the small groups, describing how Abraham’s sacrifice of Issac relates to the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross.
One Sunday each month, this Bible study brings Americans and Iraqi refugees together to discuss and share their differing faiths. The idea for the Bible study began last fall when several members of Wheaton Bible Church befriended Iraqi refugees through World Relief DuPage. Although Muslim, some of the refugees were open to attending church services with their Christian friends.
McElwee said the study is a valuable opportunity for the Iraqis and volunteers to connect with each other over food and fellowship.
“There’s a real relational depth here,” McElwee says. “They do like the idea of coming to church, learning, and discussing the Bible.”
Last year, Karen Jealouse and her husband became close friends with an Iraqi family as friendship partners with World Relief. Jealouse, who is the Director of Education Services at World Relief DuPage and Aurora collaborated with McElwee, Wheaton Bible Church staff, and other volunteers to begin the Bible study.
“We decided that once per month we would do something that would provide some fellowship, provide a chance to meet people who speak English and then look at the Bible to see what it says about creation,” Jealouse said.
In addition to the small group readings is a short clip from the Arabic version of “God’s Story” that parallels the verses studied and emphasizes redemptive threads in the Bible leading from Genesis to Jesus. Even if the members of the Bible study never put their faith in Christ, McElwee hopes the study will deepen the relationships between the Americans and Iraqis.
By deciding to volunteer through World Relief, McElwee says that church members can live out God’s mission right here in their own community.
“The church has an incredible opportunity to reach the world that is living on our doorstep,” McElwee says. “This is exactly the mission that God has called us to do.”
When the class ends, some people linger to eat and talk more about Abraham’s sacrifice while others finish previous conversations about work and politics. Soon, the mothers and children leave–many with their friends from the church. Both Iraqis and Americans shake hands and say goodbye.
“As-Salamu Alaykum,” they say to each other. “Peace be upon you.”
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.
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.
– – – – –
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.
Dam Thang hasn’t seen his wife and two daughters since 2005 when he fled to Malaysia amidst threats from the military-controlled government in Myanmar. Now a refugee in the United States, he waits patiently for the long-expected reunion in a large crowd inside the international terminal at O’Hare International Airport. Standing with his hands in his pockets, Dam Thang is quiet, occasionally pulling out his cell phone to answer a call from anxious friends waiting back in Wheaton.
His wife and two daughters, now 7 and 10, fled to eastern India in 2007 as Myanmar (formerly Burma) continued to repress individuals from minority cultures, ethnicities and religions. For the last 20 years, many Burmese have been subjected by the government to forced relocation, arbitrary arrest, detention, forced labor, and military conscription. As a result, more than 3.5 million have been displaced and hundreds of thousands have fled to nearby Thailand, India, Bangladesh and Malaysia.
Amanda Hofbauer, the New Arrivals Volunteer Coordinator at World Relief DuPage, waits with Dam Thang and his friend Lang Mang, who acts as his translator. Earlier in the afternoon, Hofbauer met them at the World Relief DuPage office and took them to the airport in a 12-passenger van.
Each year, World Relief DuPage/Aurora resettles around 550 refugees from throughout the world and often the only breaks in arrivals come in the beginning of October when the President of the United States signs a letter determining the nation’s refugee arrival ceiling for the upcoming year, and over Christmas.
World Relief is continually looking for more volunteers to aid with welcoming refugees to the United States through airport pickups and with helping them to adjust to their new home.
Hofbauer said many refugees and their families face difficulties learning English, finding employment, navigating the country’s laws and culture, budgeting, education for children, and dealing with changing family dynamics. Through tutoring, conducting airport pickups and becoming friendship partners, volunteers play a vital role in the lives of refugees in DuPage and Kane Counties.
“The need for volunteers is huge because there are many gaps we don’t have the capacity to fill as an organization,” Hofbauer said. “There are things that come up that volunteers can help immensely with– like driver’s ed, setting up cell phones and teaching how to pay bills.”
However, the impact of volunteers goes far beyond the completion of tasks. Many form lasting relationships that provide love, community, encouragement and healing.
For Dam Thang and his family, there will be many adjustments ahead.
When he finally sees his wife and daughters at the international terminal, the reunion is a quiet one. The travelers are weary, but the family is finally together and there is peace.
As Hofbauer and Lang Mang carry the family’s two bags—their only belongings—through a bridge to the parking lot, Dam Thang lovingly puts his hand on the back of his youngest daughter whom he hasn’t seen since she was an infant.
Later that afternoon, the family is ushered into a College Avenue apartment in Wheaton by warm food, energetic music and the jubilant voices of long-separated family, friends and neighbors welcoming them to America.
It is on this seemingly ordinary afternoon in Wheaton that Dam Thang and his family begin to make a new life together.
Megan Chrans, Intern
The rich smell of spice greets me at the door as Radmila Mijatovic welcomes me into her home. She is cooking dinner in the kitchen, comfortable in her space as she talks about her day at work and the family pictures on the walls. She recounts the time her family first arrived to the United States and was greeted by American volunteers who would eventually become dear friends.
Exhausted after a grueling 14-hour flight from former Yugoslavia, Radmila and her husband, daughter and son got off the plane at O’Hare International Airport and stepped into a new country, culture and life. Leaving a war-torn and divided country where the economic situation was devastated and jobs non-existent, Radmila and her family decided to begin a new life in the United States. Not knowing anyone, unfamiliar with the language, and carrying their life in a suitcase, the family felt the uncertainty and excitement of a new beginning.
American volunteer John Jackson and his family waited outside the international gate for the Mijatovics to arrive. Even then, John knew that the next few days would mark the beginning of a prolonged relationship with this family. “When you host a family like that,” he explained, “you get connected and then you’re with them for a long time.” However, he could not quite anticipate how closely the Lord would interweave their lives in the future.
The Jacksons volunteered as a host family with World Relief DuPage and agreed to welcome Radmila and her family into their home for three days while an apartment was set up. However, due to delays with the apartment, the Mijatovics stayed with the Jacksons for ten days instead. Using simple phrases and gestures where language was lacking, the Jacksons helped orient the Mijatovics to the United States. The impromptu educational sessions ranged from explaining how the gas on the stove worked to teaching the difference between a nickel and dime.
Radmila remembers how the Jacksons helped with everything. “I never felt like I was so far from home because John’s family was so nice to us.”
When the Mijatovics eventually moved into their apartment, they still continued the close relationship with the Jackson family. The kids – three on the Jackson side and two on the Mijatovics’- especially connected. Because the Jacksons lived just down the street they were consistently available to help with any questions or needs. The Mijatovics often invited the Jacksons over for cultural and religious holidays and the families continued to learn about the other’s lives. However, in the midst of this, the Mijatovics faced a big challenge: they needed jobs.
John found himself in a unique position at his company, MagnetStreet which designs and produces personalized wedding, life moment, business, and school printed products. MagnetStreet also happened to be a key partner of World Relief Employment Services. When a job position opened in production, John thought Radmila would be a great fit. Working together with World Relief and John, Radmila was soon hired.
MagnetStreet: A Unique Ministry
John’s desire to place World Relief’s refugees at MagnetStreet resulted from years of involvement with international work. He longed to find a way to focus his passion for internationals locally in the Wheaton area.
John’s global perspective was formed early on through his family’s experience hosting internationals in their home and traveling abroad. Later, John participated in mission trips, and then moved to China for an extended period of time after receiving a graduate degree in cross-cultural communication. Coming back, he taught at a Christian school before deciding to work as a recruiter for a mission agency in the United States. During this time he also began to take his global background and apply it nationally.
After eight years of recruitment work, John began to feel that his time in formal ministry was coming to a close. Though in many ways this change did not make sense, the Lord moved in his heart and he chose to take a step of faith, saying, “Lord, you have something else for me.”
He began talking to people about his desired shift in vocation, and at church struck up a conversation with Brian Baird, CEO of MagnetStreet. Brian mentioned an opening in Human Resources, and 11 years ago, John began his career at MagnetStreet. The company was experiencing expansion due to increased production work and John spent much of his time hiring to meet the new demands. Through a personal relationship with Matt Gibson, former Employment Services Manager at World Relief, John learned about opportunities to hire refugees.
John refers to MagnetStreet as a “Kingdom Company,” and there could not be a more fitting description. Providing jobs to refugees who are still adjusting to a new way of life has lasting impacts. Furthermore, doing so in a company run by a Christian executive team with compassionate hearts for people from other countries is truly unique.
A personal relationship morphed into a valued partnership. MagnetStreet needed employees to keep up with demands, and World Relief had an endless supply of eager workers supported by job counselors who walked hiring companies and new refugee employees through the entire process. Though taking on a greater risk by hiring people who were not familiar with English or American cultural practices, MagnetStreet understood the lasting benefit of employing people who had left behind war, persecution and a denial of basic human rights and looked to the future with hope.
Adam Beyer, Employment Services Manager at World Relief DuPage/Aurora, says that the majority of companies they partner with are not faith-based, and interactions are centered purely on a business relationship. Companies are naturally most concerned with work ethic and their employees’ understanding of the American workforce. Fortunately, World Relief Employment Services’ goal is to help adult refugees secure full-time work, provide training and develop resources so that refugees can achieve stability and move toward meaningful vocations.
Adam remarks that the partnership with MagnetStreet is especially unique because it’s based on both a business and missional understanding.
Today, Radmila is still employed at MagnetStreet and reflects on the blessing it has been. She says, “[The people at] my job, we are like family.” She recounts the different job positions she’s completed within the company as she gains better language skill and can take on more responsibility.
Her family has a house now and her kids are in college. Through the help of volunteers like the Jacksons and companies like MagnetStreet, they have been able to establish a new life full of opportunity and hope.
Though MagnetStreet does not hire many refugees anymore because their expansion phase is complete, they continue to partner with World Relief through the generous donation of products and services.
Many of the refugees MagnetStreet hired years ago still work at the company and have progressed into higher-level positions. John stops in now and then to catch up with Radmila at work and their families continue to share special meals and holidays together. As John reflects on the volunteer experience that led to this lasting relationship, he says, “It opened our eyes to what refugees face when they come…just to think, what would that be like for me – to go to a country, pack a suitcase, not speak the language or have any resources – that’s it and you show up. How would I survive? What would I do? And to think how valuable that would be to have somebody meet you at an airport and be like, ‘Don’t worry about things, we’ll take care of you.” Johns remarks that you never forget the first people you meet.
Radmila says again and again, “I am so thankful. I cannot forget…never.”
Meaghan Gerhart, Communications Intern
While some can simply hop in a car and easily drive from one destination to another, this luxury is not afforded to all. Refugees especially face a special set of challenges without a car, as there are numerous meetings, appointments, and classes they must attend post-initial settlement in the United States. In response, World Relief DuPage Aurora (WRDA) started the car donation program. Life in the suburban DuPage and Kane counties requires reliable transportation over greater distances, which can present challenges to those without a car. With the ability to give refugee clients a car, this enables refugees to get to work, run family errands and effectually relieves the strain on WRDA’s shuttle program.
The car donation process begins with a donor, who generously brings their car to World Relief and signs over the title to WRDA. In order to incentivize car donations, car donors are entitled to a tax write-off based on the current re-sale value of the car. Then, World Relief has the car evaluated by a mechanic to determine what repairs are needed or recommended. When the repairs have been made, the car is ready to be given to a qualified refugee.
A refugee is eligible for consideration to receive a donated car if they are working full-time (or have an imminent job offer); have a valid driver’s license; can afford to pay for the expenses associated with owning the car (insurance, title transfer, plates); and agree to help others whom World Relief is serving that are in need of transportation. Often, and ideally, a donated car will result in a car pool that will provide transportation and work to a few or even several different refugees. Donated cars are often given to someone who is in the best position to help other people get to work.
In all cases, the WRDA staff must use their discernment in deciding what will bring the most value to the clients—whether that be donation to a refugee, impounding the car, or using the car for a shuttle. For example, at times individuals will donate a car that can’t be repaired at a reasonable price. In those cases, WRDA impounds the vehicle in order gain a profit of a couple hundred dollars. Other times, a donor will give WRDA a car that is so valuable that it makes better sense to sell the car and use the proceeds to pay for repairs on other cars. Occasionally, WRDA will get a car that can best be used as a shuttle vehicle and is kept by World Relief.
One of the beneficiaries of the car donation program is Tek Tiwari, a recent refugee to the United States. Tiwari, his wife, 3 children, two adult sisters and elderly mother all live together in a household. Tiwari has been currently working at his company for almost 2 years and has always had to rely on co-workers to get to work. Like many other refugees designated as the primary breadwinner, Tiwari had been forced to live under the pressure of living pay-check to pay-check supporting his family of five. Saving a portion of his paycheck to pay for a car was impractical and unreasonable.
Luckily, a previous client of WRDA Cyros Amiri, was in the financial position to donate a car to WRDA. Amiri had worked with Employment Services to secure a job when he had initially resettled to the United States, and with this income, he was able to save for a car. In an effort to pay it forward, Amiri decided to donate his vehicle to WRDA after purchasing his new car. Tiwari was the perfect recipient of Amiri’s donation. Tiwari’s sisters and niece recently resettled in the United States, and through the robust Employment Services department, his family members were able to secure employment at the same company that employs Tiwari. In effect, he will be changing shifts to be able to drive his family to work. Not only will this bring more income to Tiwari’s family, but this will also cut down on costs for WRDA, as this will help WR to end a shuttle that had been running.
Tiwari is now afforded the freedom and independence to support his family more easily, a freedom that is often taken for granted among many in suburban America. Tiwari will no longer have to rely on others to help him do day-to-day things like going to the grocery store or take his children to the doctor. Through the generous donation of another refugee, who had once been in Tiwari’s very position, Tiwari can live a more normal life. The experience of receiving such a life-changing gift truly moved Tiwari, and he hopes to later give back to his fellow community of refugees, just as Amiri had done for him.