"I am from the Democratic Republic of Congo, but I grew up in a refugee camp in Uganda. I am the eldest of 5 children. As the oldest girl, I was not able to go to school in Uganda because like many girls in different parts of the world, I cared for my younger siblings while my mother provided for our family. My mother began the resettlement process when I was very young and it took so many years before we were approved to come to the United States. I was 14 when we finally came here.
When I arrived, I was so happy I cried with joy. I thought this must be heaven, was I living in another world? I thanked God. Other people are dying, but I am being given a chance to live. We were reunited with my grandmother and my uncle, who were already in Memphis. It was so good to be together.
Now that I was in America, I could finally go to school! I was so excited to learn. I didn't know any English. I heard other people talking but I couldn't understand them. I was able to go to the Newcomer School, and it helped me a lot. I was shy at first, but when I saw other kids who were nice, it made me so happy. One of the teachers, Ms. Hannah, was so kind to me. She could speak Swahili and had been to Uganda. She made me feel welcome. I also found other kids who grew up in Uganda and heard them speak my language, and it was good. I loved learning in school, and I pushed through to learn and do my best. And I loved the food at school! So many different foods. I really like pizza.
After two years at NCI I went to Frederick Douglass High School. My favorite subject is science. I also love to dance. It makes me so happy! I am on the Dance Team at school. Now I'm a Senior! After high school I would like to keep dancing, but I would also like to be a doctor. Being a doctor is everything. You help people and it is so important.
Through all of this, my mother has been my inspiration. She doesn't give up easily, she is always so strong. She didn't give up when we were in Africa, trying to figure out where we would sleep or what we would eat. And she is still so strong.
For other new students, I would say don't be shy, just be you. I know it's a new school to you, a new country, but it's going to be fun. Try to find somebody to help you."
As interviewed by Karen Spencer
June is #ImmigrantHeritageMonth and #RefugeeAwarenessMonth, and as we count down to World Refugee Day June 20th, we will be featuring stories of courage, resilience, and hope among our refugee and immigrant community. Some of our stories will be in collaboration with SCSK12 en Espanol. Follow us on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter at @wrmemphis.
To contribute to our work, visit worldreliefmemphis.org/covid19.
Learn more about Shelby County Schools' Newcomer International Center here.
For more summer reading on this topic, we recommend these books:
- The Newcomers: Finding Refuge, Friendship, and Hope in America.
- Welcoming the Stranger: Justice, Compassion & Truth in the Immigration Debate
Aise Nature Bahonda and Emily Yope are proud to be a part of the refugee community here in Memphis. I had the opportunity to sit down with them and discuss their story and their aspirations for the future; doing so in hopes to encourage other new commers to this city and to remind others of the importance of supporting this resilient group of people.
Both coming from the Democratic Republic of Congo, these teens described fond memories of their life in their hometowns as children such as playing soccer, hanging out with friends, and constructing slingshots. However, they do remember the trials as well. Aise recalled the struggle of travelling miles to get fresh water and the poor treatment he received in school. With conflicts rising in their country, their families were displaced and contacted by IOM (International Organization for Migration). Emily specifically noted that traveling to and from IOM’s location was extremely difficult as it was over three hours from their home. For her, the refugee process took over three years. Aise, who was four when the process started, recalls the loads of paperwork his family had to complete, and the numerous questions queried to them. For both, it was exhausting and intimidating. The trials only continued once their journey commenced.
When asked about the emotion of the moment, Emily stated, “I didn’t know anyone or how to live there (in America) so I kind of freaked out. When our friends left us (resettling in a different city), it was so painful.” Pushing through however, they were greeted in Memphis by World Relief who wasted no time in settling them in their new home. Although his dad was the only one who knew basic greetings in English, Aise stated he felt relieved when they arrived at their Memphis house. In fact, his favorite moment was “the huge table of food!” For Emily, she was relieved to see the diversity of the city of Memphis. She told me she worried they would be outsiders here, but upon arriving quickly met other people from her country which alleviated some of the initial culture shock. From there, World Relief began helping them with their application processes for their Social Security cards, getting them enrolled in school, and much more.
Learning English was the most difficult challenge to overcome as the students adjusted to school in America. “It was difficult when I was used to being at the top of my class back home, then coming here and not understanding anything my teachers said. I had no idea what to do,” remembers Emily. English as a Second Language (ESL) classes and after school tutoring at Refugee Empowerment Program helped her to regain confidence by about seven months in school. Simultaneously, Emily is keen to keep fluent in her home languages of Swahili and French, and volunteers to interpret for others at church and in her community.
Now, both are thriving in school and are excited for the future. Emily is a rising senior at Central High-School and Aise is a student at Crosstown High. Emily’s dream is to be a cardiologist while Aise’s is to be a surgeon. When asked why, both stated they have a passion to help others. Emily was inspired by the death of a cousin who couldn’t get the cardiac surgery needed. Aise described his motivation: “Where I grew up I saw a lot of people in pain and it was hard to get medical treatments. I just want to give back the favor. I hate seeing death. I want the world to be full of light and peaceful.” With World Relief’s continued support coupled with their ravenous work ethic, their dreams will become a reality, which will be another small step in building a better future for the next generation.
Story: Nathan Spencer
Photos: Emily Frazier
June is #ImmigrantHeritageMonth and #RefugeeAwarenessMonth, and as we count down to World Refugee Day June 20th, we will be featuring stories of courage, resilience, and hope among our refugee and immigrant community. Follow us on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter at @wrmemphis.
To contribute to our work, visit worldreliefmemphis.org/covid19.
Nathan and Emily volunteer for World Relief as copywriter and photographer. To learn about volunteering with us, visit Volunteer Opportunities
In tumultuous times it can be tempting to feel helpless. What can one person do against an onslaught of existential circumstances and fears? Sometimes, it simply requires asking God for direction and purpose. His plans may not be clear initially, but with a leap of faith, beautiful things can happen. This is true for our amazing volunteer Cindy, who through many small leaps of faith and unrelenting prayer, has become a catalyst of hope for refugees in Memphis.
Born and raised in the 901, Cindy was first introduced to local refugees in early 2017 when friend Vickey Smith (a World Relief volunteer) called asking if she could bring three Muslim Afghan women to a concert Cindy was performing at. Around the same time, as she was reading through her One-Year-Bible, Cindy realized how often God calls us to assist the orphans and foreigners. Inspired, she began searching for ways to reach out in Memphis. Soon after, she learned more about World Relief through Vickey and reached out to inquire about our volunteer orientation. Unsure of how next to become involved, she began asking God for guidance. “'Show me if, and how, you want me to help with World Relief.' I prayed this for a year and then they opened (ESL classes) down the street from my house,” she recalls.
She felt clarity in that moment and became involved with us through our Jobs Readiness English classes. She began fostering relationships with clients through providing transportation. After a client’s English tutor was diagnosed with cancer, Cindy stepped in to help. When our Connect Language Center opened, she continued supporting students through transportation, but also earned her ConnecTEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) certificate through our program. As she got to know the ladies she was driving and interacting with in ESL classes, Cindy went beyond her volunteer commitments to regularly check on families she was befriending. Connect Language Center Operations Manager Bailey Longserre shared that because of Cindy’s faithful friendliness, she “has turned into someone these women truly see as a friend they can count on. So much more than just a ride, but the person they call for connection. Cindy's peaceful presence I know has been a gift for so many women!”
Earlier this winter, Cindy championed our “Resilient” sewing career training course by generating client interest among the refugee ladies she had befriended. With the Covid-19 outbreak, the in-person sewing classes are temporarily on hold, but for Cindy, it was just another opportunity to trust God.
When the Safer-At-Home orders went into effect, Cindy committed the women in this sewing program to prayer. One night, she found a YouTube video explaining how to sew facemasks to help protect against the virus. She shared this video and by the next day, two of her refugee friends in the program were hard at work sewing masks for themselves, their families, and others. She shared that the women lit up at the opportunity to sew these masks and have greatly enjoyed doing so over the past several weeks. Cindy has also helped deliver these masks to those who have asked for them. Through her faithfulness, Cindy has stimulated a meaningful at-home activity that has blessed hundreds of people across this city.
When asked for reflections about her volunteering experiences with us, Cindy shared the following: “What God is doing in my life with these refugees, it has been the hugest joy in my life. I’ve known the Lord since I was 26 and have had a lot of ups and downs since then. But this has been one of the most fulfilling things I’ve ever done.”
In a time of bleak circumstances and increasing uncertainties, knowing we have ultimate security in God and his divine plan is a comfort we should never take for granted. Thankfully, we have people like Cindy who have shown us beautiful things that come by prayerfully looking for the path the Lord has invited us to follow. Her willingness to search for refugee neighbors to welcome and serve have brought about transformation in both her life and theirs.
By Nathan Spencer
(Read another volunteer spotlight story HERE.)
Join World Relief Memphis HERE as we respond to the local impact of the COVID19 Crisis, equipping and coordinating volunteers and churches (like Cindy) seeking to love their neighbors by responding to urgent refugee and immigrant community needs. Want to learn more about volunteering? Learn about our current volunteer opportunities HERE.
(This is the second of a two-part installment. Read Part One of Rodney’s story HERE.)
Freshly immersed in Café English, Rodney quickly fostered friendships with our English as a Second Language (ESL) students. Shortly after this routine was established, he was approached by Mobilization Director Karen Spencer to potentially fill the need of Roadrunner: volunteer drivers who transport our refugee and immigrant program clients to and from ESL classes and a variety of necessary appointments. Without hesitation, Rodney said yes! Shortly after being trained, he began driving World Relief’s 15-passenger van on the ESL route three days per week. According to Rodney, this was simply the next step God planned for him to take after he asked for his heart to be opened. Through his time transporting program participants, new perspectives about immigrants and refugees have been reinforced, he has made life long memories, and fostered friendships that will forever impact his life.
Rodney readily shared some of his fondest and impactful memories so far.
“One of the first groups of ladies I was driving home (from ESL classes) came close to my 29th wedding anniversary. So I asked them to teach me how to say ‘I love you’ in Swahili, which is ‘nakupenda.’ It was a way to reach out to them with things from my life and incorprate it into theirs. And they just laughed more than anything and loved it. Later on, when they started leaving (the van), we would say ‘nakupenda’ to each other as a sign of our friendship.”
This is a small glimpse into the joy Rodney brings to our friends when he picks them up from classes. As I have witnessed personally, our clients light up when they see him because of his concerted effort to learn their names and help them work on their English by basic, but meaningful conversations about their lives.
These relationships fostered along his routes have now quickly extended into his regular life and beyond the reaches of our programs. Rodney met the Mto brothers when he took them home one week. After exchanging basic formalities, he asked questions in following drives about their lives: who was married, what were their hobbies, etc. As they grew more comfortable around each other, one of the brothers approached Rodney with a question.
“Close to the end of (their class cycle), one of them said, ‘I want to learn how to drive’. And so I said, ‘okay.’ I went over (to the Connect Language Center), I talked to Richard (WRM’s Education Director), who gave me some books and helped me get them ready to pass their permit test before they could start driving. They practiced and practiced and practiced. Afterwards, I invited them out to my house for some chili. Two came, and I got to know them better. They have now gotten jobs, so they are no longer attending ESL classes. However, they have become friends with me and my son – who is 18 years old.”
Just a couple months ago, Rodney took them out to Incredible Pizza to drive go-karts so they could safely practice driving! While this might seem trivial, this meant the world to the Mto brothers and is a big step towards integration for them as new residents in Memphis.
Before we closed our conversation I had a few final questions, the first being why he was so willing to serve beyond his initial volunteer commitment. His response was truly inspiring and humbling for me.
“For me, this whole thing has been about being open to God working in my life. In the last two years I have just been praying a prayer that I would hunger and thirst after righteousness, that I would open myself up to God and to new opportunites. So, when he said something about driving, there was the human instinct (in me) that said ‘maybe this is going too far.’ But I said, ‘God, I asked you to make me open so, okay.’ I will continue this friendship as long as God wants me to. Patrick [one of the brothers] just texted me the other day – and my nickname is Big Rod, but he can’t remember Rod, so he just calls me ‘Big’ – and said, ‘Yo... Big, I’m ready to drive!’ And like always, I say ‘okay!’”
(During the COVID19 social distancing measures and our temporary office closure, Rodney continues to serve by picking up and delivering groceries for some of our more vulnerably impacted families. And he still checks regularly with the friends he has made through Cafe English and driving! Listen to brother Lusungu Mto thank “Big Rod” in our Volunteer Appreciation video HERE.)
At World Relief we often talk about the opportunity for mutual transformation. Rodney experienced a significant mindset shift and can attest to personal transformation in just under a year. Because of his willingness to take a leap of faith, he has been blessed by being a source of positivity and friendly welcome for many of our program participants. Although he is not travelling abroad, he describes his work here as being a missionary from home.
“The thing that has gotten me more than anything else, is that there are missionaries that are called by God and go to a certain country. I’m being a missionary here. I’ve met people from Columbia, Venezuela, Guinea, Democratic Republic of the Congo, and I’ve learned these people’s names, I’ve gotten to talk to them, find out about their familes, what they like to cook, etc. Its something that I’ve really enjoyed and it’s ever expanding.”
While of course, bringing God’s love to other parts of the world is critically important, what happens when God is bringing the world to you? Do you push them aside, unwilling to allow them in or see them? Or do you spread God’s love and Gospel, ministering to the nations on your own front doorstep?
Finally, I asked Rodney what he would say to anyone reading this who could be subscribing to his previous way of thinking, or who is on the fence about potentially volunteering for World Relief. He responded candidly.
“It is not so much that you have the ‘skills’ when you come to this job. It is that you open yourself up to God and say, ‘Take everything that I am, and use me for you glory in this position.’ So, it’s all about being open to God. I am reading a book in my men’s Bible study (at First Evan) called Don’t Waste Your Life by John Piper. He says in it, ‘What are the things that you’re involved in in your life? Look at your life and ask yourself if the things you’re doing are making much of Jesus.’ We have an opportunity (here). He has let us know Him and then by being involved with other people, our lives can echo this: ‘Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good deeds and glorify your father in heaven.’ That is what it is all about to me. Be open, and let God use you to be who he created you to be.”
Volunteering is a sacrifice. It is willingly giving up time you could have to yourself or with your family to go into the world and serve. It is about applying discipleship. Not everyone has the opportunity to serve internationally. But we all have a chance to make a difference where we live, and Rodney's story is a needed reminder of our call to love and serve. He is an example we should all strive to follow.
By Nathan Spencer
Join World Relief Memphis HERE as we respond to the local impact of the COVID19 Crisis, equipping and coordinating volunteers and churches (like Rodney and First Evan) seeking to love their neighbors by responding to urgent refugee and immigrant community needs.
Being willing to change our perspectives and opinions is never easy, even when a person wants to be open to discerning God’s will. Human nature pushes against His pulling, yet it is possible for the callousness of our hearts to regain their softly supple state, showering others in compassion and love. In anticipation of Volunteer Appreciation Week, I was able to capture the story of one of our incredible volunteers: Rodney. His story demonstrates how the penetrating love of God can pulverize our preexisting perceptions and plans for our own lives, pulling us along His perfectly designed path. Sometimes, all it takes is a little push in order to respond.
Rodney began volunteering for World Relief Memphis in Spring 2019, but prior to this, was unsure of his level of comfort with refugees and immigrants in this country. “Well, I kinda got to the point to where (I felt), we need to stop people from coming into the US because they are coming in illegally, and you’d see the big headlines saying that an illegal alien broke into someone’s house or you hear something about MS13 without context. You get to the point where you start to put people into the same category.”
He recalled first having cause to question this when WRM’s ministry partner David Frazier spoke at Rodney’s church, First Evangelical Church. “My son heard (him) speak. There was a little questioning of what he believed about refugees and should the wall be built? When James came and told me what (David Frazier) had said, I invited him to come to my Sunday school class to speak on that. And he really pulled back and showed me the facts about who refugees really are and what processes in terms of vetting and stuff like that that they do go through.”
From there, David recommended he take our two introductory orientation programs at World Relief. These classes, coupled with encouragement from David, peeled back Rodney’s views and revealed who forcibly displaced immigrants truly were.
“The first thing that really got to me was the young lady who led the first class. She gave out index cards and we wrote different things on them like clothes, or house, or something like that. Then you had to go through and eliminate what was less important than other things until you got down (to just a little). Then you realize, this is what these refugees have had to do. They’ve had to give up things in order to (strive for) a better life or escape danger where they were. It just made me think, what would I have to give up? It gave me a respect for people who have made the choices they have made and opened my eyes up to the fact that the people that are here are not trying to – as my son puts it – stay in their own groups. They are trying to learn English, trying to assimilate, and trying to get jobs. These aren’t people coming just to get something, they’re coming to learn: they are coming to contribute."
After the classes, Rodney immediately felt compelled to begin his journey as a volunteer. Starting on Wednesday nights at the Connect Language Center’s Café English conversation sessions (pictured above), he began to make connections and experience the beautiful personalities of our refugee and immigrant program participants in person. He described fondly how he began to laugh and joke with the people there and felt a palpable sense of shared humanity and love for each other. Tugged by the weight of God’s planning, he signed up for Thursday nights as well, immersing himself further into the lives of these new neighbors.
This is only the beginning of Rodney's volunteer story, but already serves as a stark reminder of the love and compassion God calls us to have towards all people. After being pushed by a man he respected, God’s path opened clearly for Rodney to step through. And he is still steppingcontinues to step deeper into even stronger new relationships! (To read Part 2, click HERE)
By Nathan Spencer
Join World Relief Memphis HERE as we respond to the local impact of the COVID19 Crisis, equipping and coordinating volunteers and churches (like Rodney and First Evan) seeking to love their neighbors by responding to urgent refugee and immigrant community needs.
Friends of World Relief,
It is with tremendous grief and sadness that I announce World Relief Memphis will be closing our Immigration Legal Services program October 31st. Due to shifting priorities of the current administration, World Relief has had to make this difficult, but necessary decision to remain viable for future community impact.
While we remain committed to welcoming, serving, and befriending our newest neighbors through a variety of programs, we unfortunately don’t have the capacity to fill our staffing needs in this program area in a manner that will ensure quality service provision. World Relief Memphis' legal specialist and a team of volunteers have been working in partnership with our legal program technical unit at World Relief headquarters in an effort to close this program and communicate with each impacted client.
This update is particularly challenging for all of us at World Relief, our community partners, and those we serve. World Relief Memphis has viewed our role in providing legal assistance as an expression of our faithful calling to love the sojourner in our midst while meeting a tangible need. As the need for legal services continues to grow amidst an increasingly complex immigration system, we lament the reality that there will be fewer trained legal specialists in our community to serve vulnerable families.
Please join me in praying for those individuals and families who are separated from loved ones, navigating a complex legal system, and are in need of a warm welcome from their neighbor; as well as the staff of World Relief being laid off as a result of this program closure.
Finally, will you please consider joining World Relief Memphis in our steadfast commitment to empowering the local church to serve the most vulnerable by becoming a Welcome Partner? Your investment in the resiliency of our newest neighbors and capacity to serve the local church and community is greatly appreciated.
Steadfast in our commitment to love our neighbor,
PJ Moore, Director
MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- World Relief Memphis recently hosted Unite Memphis, a fall social event and auction to benefit their work of empowering the church to welcome refugees and immigrants in their communities. Held at Avon Acres, the festive fundraiser included refreshments, music by Wyly and Bailey Bigger and a live and silent auction hosted by 2019 NAA International Auctioneer Champion Trey Morris.
Since opening its doors in 2012, World Relief Memphis has served over 3,000 refugees and immigrants, and in 2019 they expect to touch the lives of approximately 800 people in the community. More than 150 attendees contributed their time and resources to making Unite Memphis a success. The proceeds will empower World Relief Memphis to continue serving vulnerable refugee and immigrant families in their community.
"World Relief Memphis is incredibly grateful for each and every attendee and donor for their generosity," commented P.J. Moore, Director of World Relief Memphis. "We're thrilled and humbled that so many people are committed to uniting our city and supporting our work welcoming Memphis' newest residents. We look forward to using the funds raised this evening to continue empowering the local church to welcome refugees and immigrants to our community."
World Relief Memphis offers a welcome, stable environment to Memphis' newest residents through a variety of housing, health, employment and English language training programs and services, helping integrate them into their new lives in America.
"Since the U.S.'s refugee ceiling was recently set to a historic low of 18,000 for fiscal year 2020," said Karen Spencer, Mobilization Director at World Relief Memphis, "our work helping refugees and immigrants in the community is more important than ever. It's such an encouragement to look around and see our neighbors' desire to support our office and take action by making an impact on our community and welcoming our city's newest residents."
To learn more about World Relief Memphis, visit worldreliefmemphis.org.
# # #
About World Relief:
World Relief is a global Christian humanitarian organization that seeks to overcome violence, poverty and injustice. Through love in action, we bring hope, healing and restoration to millions of the world's most vulnerable women, men and children through vital and sustainable programs in disaster response, health and child development, economic development and peacebuilding, as well as refugee and immigration services in the U.S. For 75 years, we've partnered with churches and communities, currently across more than 20 countries, to provide relief from suffering and help people rebuild their lives.
For more information visit worldrelief.org.
After months of waiting, late last week the annual presidential determination was announced. A new record low of only 18,000 refugees could be invited to be resettled across the entire USA this new fiscal year (beginning Oct 1). Read World Relief's full press release here.
If you are someone who has had the opportunity to build friendships with refugees here in Memphis...
...who has learned more than most Americans if all you've managed to do so far is attend one of our orientations
...who has learned that refugees are people forced to flee in search of survival and peace because of war and well-founded fear of persecution
...who knows that most refugees are stateless and waiting for an average of 17 years
...who knows that none of us chose what nation or time of history or privilege we were born into
...and who knows that our organization's beliefs are so strongly held because we see instruction for welcome and compassion and protection of the vulnerable stranger (foreigner) all throughout the Bible...
then this news should be received with deep sadness and alarm.
But this isn't the only decision that was announced Thursday. In addition, on Thursday the President also signed an Executive Order requiring that, within 90 days, the administration implement a process requiring the written consent of each state and locality in which a refugee may be resettled. By giving a veto to states and municipalities on where refugees are resettled, many refugees who have been lawfully admitted to the U.S. will be unable to be resettled in the same communities as family members already in the U.S. This policy undermines families and is counter-effective toward the goal of promoting economic self-sufficiency. This directly impacts our past and present clients, our friends and neighbors, right here in Memphis.
What are we asking you to do?
Pray. Pray BOLD prayers.
Then take a step of faith, and be willing to share that YOU have personally been changed because of being introduced to refugees and immigrants here in Memphis, in America.
That means letting your Pastor(s) know. Letting your family know. Letting your social media friends know. Letting your coworkers know. And letting our city-county-state-national leaders know.
Proverbs 31:8-9 is just one of many passages throughout the Bible that challenges us to speak up for people who are oppressed and voiceless. Who will you speak up for today?
Visit our Advocacy page to get government contact information and sample scripts.
Show your love-in-action and support locally by attending and inviting others to join us at Unite Memphis, our October 17th social event with live music, fund-a-need, and live & silent auction - all directly impacting our work with refugees and immigrants right here in the Mid-South.
Our mission is to empower the church and her community to serve the most vulnerable. We are the relief arm of the National Association of Evangelicals, a historic collaboration of churches who chose for us to serve those displaced by war and persecution globally and in the US - refugees and immigrants.
We hope you feel empowered today. Let's demonstrate love in action. We would love to hear back from you and pray with and for you if you choose to act.
- Karen Spencer, Mobilization Director firstname.lastname@example.org
WHEN: October 17th, 2019, 6:30-9:00 P.M. CT
WHERE: Avon Acres, 4361 Summer Avenue, Memphis, Tennessee 38122
World Relief is counting down to Unite Memphis, a new fundraising event benefiting World Relief to be held on October 17, 2019, at Avon Acres. The festive fall event will include a live and silent auction, fun food and drink, and a high-energy social gathering benefiting a great cause.
Attending Unite Memphis empowers refugee and immigrant communities through the support and services of World Relief Memphis. "We recognize that Memphis is an incredibly diverse city," comments PJ Moore, Director, "and we seek to understand and respect the multiplicity of cultures among us. As we seek change in the world, we recognize that we, too, are changed by those we serve."
World Relief opened its doors in Memphis in 2012. We have since served over 3,000 refugees and immigrants and are poised to serve approximately 800 people in 2019. Our office provides welcome, stability, and integration services to Memphis' newest residents through an array of holistic programming in the areas of housing, health, employment, legal, and English language training.
Karen Spencer, Mobilization Director at World Relief, adds that many in the community might feel frustrated with the ongoing immigration conversation and desire to show support without accessible avenues for action. "This event is for you - it will be both fun and tangible," she shares.
The auction will be hosted by 2019 NAA International Auctioneer Champion Trey Morris. Live auction items ranging from vacations, jewelry, and fund-a-needs will parallel silent auction items donated by numerous Mid-South businesses and artisans aligning their brands with positive, unifying change in Memphis. Items will be visible for preview and early bidding via the Give.Smart mobile platform a week prior to the event, during the event, and even remotely should they be unable to attend.
Local musicians Wyly and Bailey Bigger will provide live entertainment throughout the evening.
Consider adding to the invigorating atmosphere by purchasing your ticket for the event today. Your attendance identifies you as someone who believes in a stronger Memphis, and supports life-changing programs at World Relief Memphis.
Join us in this change journey as we collectively seek to make an impact in our city! Let's UNITE MEMPHIS.
MEDIA RSVP: Media is welcome to attend. To RSVP, contact Madeline Ingram at email@example.com
Questions? Contact Karen Spencer, Mobilization Director at World Relief Memphis, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
June 20th is World Refugee Day – a day set aside each year to honor the courage and determination of those who have been forced to flee their homes. With record numbers just released 6/19 by the UN Refugee Agency UNHCR, it is also a day to challenge those of us with the freedom to impact the lives of refugees through advocacy and action.
In advance of World Refugee Day and Refugee Awareness Month, our Resettlement Director Karissa Pletta travelled to Washington D.C. to represent Tennessee and World Relief Memphis for Refugee Advocacy Days on the Hill, sponsored by Refugee Council USA. The goal was simple: spread awareness and advocate for refugees in line with God’s call to welcome the sojourner and treat them as our own. World Relief Memphis’ position is somewhat different when compared to some of the other 33 states that were represented, as our state government is not entirely behind our cause. But instead of being deterred, this simply illustrates the need for our advocacy.
In Karissa’s meetings with members of Congress, she led discussions on exactly who we are and what we do. While some discussions confirmed informed understanding of the issues, others revealed gaps on the topic of refugees. This gap manifests itself most clearly in the misunderstanding of commonly used terms. For example, the words asylee, refugee, and illegal immigrant were frequently used interchangeably by people with the ability to impact policy. Understanding these terms is critical to navigating the nuances of these policies and our organization’s programs and goals as a whole. For example, there are no “illegal refugees” in the U.S. as all refugees living in the United States are formally invited to the country by the government after in-depth vetting from both the UNHCR and the U.S. State Department. Asylees are people in the U.S. who formally sought protection from the same causes of conflict and persecution as a refugee and were then invited by the U.S. to permanently settle and pursue a path toward citizenship.
Once key terms were understood and agreed on by both parties, Karissa moved to discuss RCUSA’s “big asks.” With the number of refugees being allowed into the country at an all-time low (30,000 ceiling for the U.S. this year, which we are not on pace to meet), we are asking that the administration be held accountable to reaching the refugee ceiling this fiscal year, and to raise the ceiling to 75,000 refugees for fiscal year 2020. This is still below the pre-2016 annual average of 95,000 that had remained steady since the Refugee Act was unanimously approved by both parties in Congress in 1980.
Our second ask was inviting members of Congress to cosponsor two new pieces of legislation. The GRACE Act would set a minimum refugee admissions goal at 95,000 each year (the average referenced above) and mandates quarterly reports on refugee admissions, which would increase accountability. The NO BAN Act would repeal the refugee bans, asylum ban, and Muslim bans and would prevent the administration was setting such bans in the future. The third ask was that members of Congress would support robust funding for refugee related accounts in order for organizations to continue not only working with refugees here in the United States, but also overseas in refugee process and resettlement. Finally, the fourth ask was encouraging members of the House to join the Bipartisan Congressional Refugee Caucus.
This was Karissa’s first opportunity to meet with government officials, and the opportunity reinforced how important it is for residents and citizens to communicate vital, reliable information to better inform representatives as they consider and influence legislation. As Christians and as citizens, it is our responsibility to change the ongoing narrative about refugees, to tell the correct story, and to encourage the ongoing education of our communities. However, this is a big task, and we alone cannot complete it. With the help of friends like you, a movement can begin that will change the trajectory of the path in which we are headed.
How can people actually participate in promoting the true narrative of the refugee and immigrant community? World Relief Memphis has multiple onramps for all people to engage, no matter where they are on their journey of understanding:
- A simple yet important step in this process is first educating yourself. Without sound knowledge, the passion for serving refugees could be squandered with confusing dialogue. Follow @worldrelief, @wrmemphis, @matthewsoerens, @jennyyang318 for updates on refugee matters. Read Welcoming the Stranger by Matthew Soerens and Jenny Yang, who have researched, written and advocated for refugees and immigrants for over a decade. Consider attending a future class or seminar series on Migration in Light of Scripture by World Relief Memphis staff.
- Speak with your close friends and family. Sharing what you’ve learned and expressing your feelings and passions about this cause to those who understand and love you the most is both cathartic and helpful for gaining a more rounded understanding of how other people feel about welcoming refugees and immigrants.
- We believe fully in the power of prayer. Pray for refugees awaiting resettlement and family reunification. Pray for individuals and families we have welcomed to Memphis who are seeking stability and in early steps of holistic integration. Pray for our office and the other organizations that work with the refugee and immigrant community. Pray for our government officials who are in positions to create positive legislation.
- Prayer and action work congruently. Be a friend and neighbor to immigrants and refugees around you. Let them know you respect their strength and resiliency and want their stories to be heard. Need to be introduced? Become a volunteer for World Relief and work hand in hand with us in answering God’s call to assist the foreigner and sojourner. Click here to learn more about our volunteer opportunities.
- Call your representatives: Ask that they hold the administration accountable to the 30,000 cap this Fiscal Year. Invite them to cosponsor the GRACE Act which would ensure that the refugee ceiling won't go below 95000 (the historic average). Encourage them to also cosponsor the NO BAN act which would repeal the refugee ban, Muslim ban, and asylee ban. Ask for them to support robust funding for refugee programming.
- You can donate monetarily and/or compile welcome kits of necessary items or gently used furniture that refugees desperately need when they first arrive in America. Click here to learn more.
After the events on Capitol Hill were over, Karissa had this to say: “I am thankful for the beautiful reminder of how powerful God is in orchestrating all things. I am thankful for the conversations we had with five different members of Congress. I am thankful for the opportunity to join others and learn how advocacy can be done by every single one of us.”
By Nathan Spencer