Prayer is one of our core values at World Relief, a priority and foundation to accomplishing our mission.
Prayer changes our perspective and our posture. It helps us recognize we are not in control, but we are seeking hope in the One who is.
And so we are inviting you into a change journey of prayer as we start our new (fiscal) year. The Bible has a lot to say about God's heart for the vulnerable, including immigrants. Starting October 1, we are launching the "I Was A Stranger" 40-Day Scripture and Prayer Challenge. You can follow along with us on social media as we share one verse to read and meditate on each day. You can start the plan on the YouVersion Bible app. Or you can visit The Evangelical Immigration Table for printable bookmarks and downloadable graphics (like the one pictured here) in English and Spanish. And you can share the challenge with others, sparking a change movement.
What change of perspective could come of this prayer challenge? What encouragement could we lend to our community by leaving other narratives aside and seeing our neighbors of all nationalities as people of worth, dignity, created in God's image? How might we pray more urgently for people forcibly displaced and strangers in new lands, including America? How would we pray differently about policies that affect them?
Start the "I Was a Stranger" Challenge with us today!
Kristen Morris heard about World Relief during her time at Rhodes College. As a member of their City Link program, she volunteered in the Memphis community during three years of her college career. Her first year was spent in an elementary school, but after exploring her international studies major further, she wanted to shift her volunteer focus to connect more closely with her studies. Through her major, she developed an interest in immigration and wanted to get to know immigrants in her new community. This desire made World Relief a great fit for her. The program put her in touch with World Relief Memphis, and she volunteered here for six semesters, until her graduation in May 2020.
One of the things that stood out to her the most about her experience at World Relief was the collaborative nature of the nonprofit sector, both between organizations and with local churches. One of her classes had discussed the large number of nonprofits in Memphis and their collaboration with one another. She was able to see that collaboration first hand with World Relief’s connections to organizations such as Christ Community Health. She also enjoyed seeing the collaboration between churches of different denominations who all agree that they are called to work with immigrants and welcome them to the Memphis community.
Kristen spent her time at World Relief in the Employment and Casework departments. Through this work she interacted with program participants on a daily basis, through home visits and providing support at appointments. By her final semester of the internship, she had become the intern in charge of the Friends of Trezevant English Program. This program connects participants in the Refugee Elders program with residents of a local retirement community. The goal is fostering community and further developing English language abilities among the Elders. She was surprised and impressed by the willingness of the retirement community residents to give of their time and energy to their foreign-born contemporaries. And these relationships were important to her, too. She got to know the Elders participants through driving them to the class, and she even spent time outside of the internship at the retirement home with those she had met through the class.
Kristen credits World Relief for helping her develop professional skills, such as confidence, creative problem solving, and resilience. On her very first day of the internship, she was surprised at how much freedom she was given in accomplishing her assignments. But once she recovered from this initial surprise, she came to appreciate the freedom and the confidence it gave her. And when she made mistakes? They only helped her learn about herself and the graciousness of her refugee neighbors. Both the technical experience with refugees and the confidence she gained during her first two semesters as an intern set her up for successful adaptation of her skills for a program in Morocco in the summer of 2018. She was grateful for already having cross cultural experience, as she lived with a host family and worked in a very different culture from the one she was raised in. Ultimately, Kristen hopes to use all of this experience in her career, either in peace and development or in conflict resolution. We are grateful for her work with us and excited to see how she uses her skills in the future!
By Sarah Barnett, Mobilization Intern
Learn more about becoming an academic or summer intern with World Relief Memphis like Kristen and Sarah! Visit HERE for more information and to submit your application.
Savannah Day became interested in refugee resettlement through talking to a high school friend who was involved in a refugee resettlement program in Fayetteville, Arkansas. When she looked for a similar organization near the University of Mississippi, where she was a student, she couldn’t find one. After expanding her search to surrounding cities, she found World Relief Memphis. Her goal was to learn more about social service providers and to be exposed to people from different cultural backgrounds. During her time at World Relief, she learned this and so much more through her work in the Direct Services department, as she engaged with both program participants and World Relief staff. Savannah credits the semester internship she spent at World Relief with sparking her love for those who are different from her and their cultures, even driving her to apply for the Peace Corps after her (virtual) graduation from the University of Mississippi in May 2020.
Savannah’s favorite memory from her time at World Relief is the relationships she built, especially with one particular Muslim family from East Africa. Mohamed, Amina, and their two children had lived in a refugee camp for six years before being invited to enter the United States as refugees. When they arrived, Savannah was at the airport to greet them, and walked alongside them as they adjusted to life in Memphis. She provided transportation and support for both Mohamed and Amina, who was pregnant, at their initial medical and social services appointments after arriving. These included Amina’s prenatal care visits, a topic which Savannah didn’t know much about herself. But she was able to learn alongside Amina, including researching related topics on her own to provide better support. Through accompanying the family to their appointments, Savannah built relationships with every family member as she helped them navigate the systems and culture of the United States. During one of these appointments in the springtime, she had an opportunity to share some of the background and celebrations of Easter after Mohamed asked her a question about the upcoming holiday. That same conversation led to him sharing about the Muslim tradition of Ramadan with her, resulting in mutual respect and better understanding for both of them.
Savannah is grateful for the opportunity she had to both contribute toward and learn from the diversity of Memphis. At the end of the semester, she left with a desire to work in a cross cultural environment and to visit a new place, as she had been inspired by the resilience demonstrated by World Relief program participants. This hope led her to a study abroad experience the following summer in Israel, where she worked with refugees displaced from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. She was also able to explore some of the themes she learned about in her internship in an academic context. Her undergraduate senior thesis was on the topic of resettlement policy and recently changed policies’ impact on the work of World Relief and other similar organizations. Her experience at World Relief instilled an interest in this area and gave her impactful experiences and connections from which she could draw in future endeavors.
Before the pandemic hit, she was on track to leave this coming September for a position with the Peace Corps in Morocco. She still hopes that opportunity develops, but has shifted her plans this year to pursue biblical justice for marginalized populations through a Christian fellowship program in New York City. Her time at World Relief changed the way she viewed the church’s role and responsibility to reach out to their vulnerable neighbors, leading her to highly value this trait in a church body. She points the focus back to Jesus as he routinely uplifted people and populations without power in his society. She has had the opportunity to engage with other believers on this topic, even helping to shift some of her family members’ mindsets toward political questions of immigration by discussing these issues through the lens of shared humanity and generosity.
When asked what her advice is to college students considering this internship, she said, “if you have time you should do it, and if not you should make time for it!” We couldn’t agree more!
By Sarah Barnett, Communications Intern
To learn more about our internship programs, read more HERE. Now's the time to apply for an academic internship with us!
Today, June 18, 2020, the Supreme Court made the decision to uphold DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) and protect Dreamers. A permanent decision still needs to be reached in Congress, but today we celebrate with the young men and women across the country who can continue contributing to our communities and long for a path toward citizenship. Dorian is a DACA recipient in Memphis.
In a society that is pushing a message of division daily, it is a blessing to meet someone striving to change the narrative and whose life is an example of the potential for Dreamers in Memphis and beyond. Dorian first arrived in America 16 years ago, when his parents left Honduras for America with the dream of finding stable work to raise their family. Dorian describes his family’s choosing of Memphis as “destiny.” It was a risky decision for his family who arrived undocumented. At the time, Memphis was not a city on the rise, packed with exciting emerging opportunities as it is today. A pivotal event helped change his trajectory moving forward. DACA was passed, giving him a pathway to legally attend schools and pursue his life-long goals.
His 8th grade teacher – whom has since become a mentor and like second family – expressed her sense that he had an incredible knack for learning and immense potential. With her and her husband’s support emotionally and financially he was enrolled at Christian Brothers High School. He describes his Freshman year as a culture shock: “There was a huge lack in minority students. The quality of education was very good. But, I did deal with stereotypes and microaggressions because I was different.” Undeterred, Dorian used the negative energy as fuel to keep him motivated and considered himself to be his biggest enemy. “At the end of the day, if I fail, it’s because of myself. I can’t let societal obstacles stop me.” He finished his Freshman year with the highest GPA in his class. Continuing to build on his success, he excelled in honors classes and just graduated from Rhodes College where he studied Economics.
Currently, Dorian is striving to enter into the corporate field and better the country that he has called home for many years. However, in these past few years, the opportunities for DACA Dreamers have been called into question. “When the removal of DACA was first threatened, I felt my dreams crashing in. I gave everything I have to make America great yet they suddenly don’t want me here?” His fear is far from the only one, as thousands DACA recipients are living with the knowledge of policy change looming overhead. As we talked, our photographer and fellow advocate for refugees and immigrants made an excellent point: “We all came to America at different points in history with dreams and goals unachievable in our homelands. If now certain people are not allowed here, by extension of the same logic, we all should not be here.” Despite this, Dorian is choosing a life of joy. He has returned the compassion and guidance he received from his mentors while a young student and has become a mentor for a 3rd grader and 6th grader while also remaining active in the DACA community at Rhodes. “My main goal every day is this: How can I translate my love of all people into actions? Your experiences define what you believe and that’s how I’ve developed my faith.”
As we look to the future of DACA Dreamers and Latinx immigrants in this country, there is still much work to be done for us to fully embody Christ’s command to love and accept the sojourners. Dorian’s goal is to change common misconception and spread love. “We didn’t come here to be criminals and rapists. I want my story to show that despite immense odds that you can still be successful. I want to widen the doors for the future of world changers. I always see hope and want to change the narrative about immigrants, refugees, and illegal aliens. I’m optimistic that this will happen.”
In light of the Supreme Court decision, Dorian shared these thoughts:
SCOTUS's recent ruling on DACA elicited a wave of emotions--gratitude and hope are the two most prominent. The uncertainty of my legal status has been a burden that is mentally draining. As I looked forward to starting my full-time job, my concern grew, as the termination of my legal status would crush my hopes of entering the corporate world. However, today's news brought temporary relief. I have not seen my extended family in over 15 years, so the possibility of using advance parole to see them and travel for work is exhilarating. Unfortunately, Dreamers do not have the privilege to vote, but I hope people that can vote to do so. The 5-4 ruling in favor of DACA highlights how one vote can make a difference. This is a victory, but we still have a war ahead. I am hopeful for an equitable and just world, not just for DACA recipients.
By Nathan Spencer
Photos by Emily Frazier
June is #immigrantheritagemonth and #refugeeawareness month and we have been featuring stories of Memphis students who are thriving as part of our community. With your support, World Relief offices across the US have helped file approximately 4,300 applications for protections under the DACA program over the last eight years. Together, we’ve provided thousands of young immigrants with access to education, jobs and a promising future. When you give today, you ensure our vital work together continues. If you would like to sign the Dreamers letter to Congress with the Evangelical Immigration Table, click here.
June was first declared as World Refugee Awareness Month in 2001 culminating in World Refugee Day June 20th. Since then, June has been a time to acknowledge strength, courage, perseverance and resilience of millions of past and present refugees who live around the globe, including here in Memphis!
Refugees are men, women, children who have been forced to leave their home country due to war, conflict, credible fear of persecution (due to race, nationality, religion, political opinion or social group). Today more than 25.9 million people have refugee status, and another 41 million are internally displaced.
But when invited to a final country for permanent resettlement, these neighbors are welcomed into community, provided vital services, and thrive when given the opportunity to embrace a life of peace, freedom, education, employment, and serving their communities.
Do you wish to learn more about the current refugee crisis? Considering we can't host an event in person this year, this is a great opportunity to invite family and friends to watch the same film or read the same book remotely, then discuss over Zoom, Facetime, What's App, or more! Other things to do this week include:
- talk with a refugee friend
- order take out from an immigrant-owned restaurant (like Global Cafe or Naguara Home Made Food!)
- partner with us by giving or volunteering
- learn a phrase in the language of your refugee friend
- call or write state and national senators to advocate on behalf of refugees
- share with someone why you welcome refugees!
Here are some reading/listening/watching recommendations - LOTS to choose from this week or this summer:
Books on the Refugee/Immigrant Experience
Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys
Brothers of the Gun – A Memoir of the Syrian War - by Marwan Hisham
Call Me American by Abdi Nor Iftin
City of Thorns by Ben Rawlence
Displaced: Refugee Writers on Refugee Lives by Viet Thanh Nguyen
Enrique’s Journey by Sonia Nazario
Exit West by Mohsin Hamid
Homes: A Refugee Story - by Abu Bakr al Rabeeah
Seeking Refuge by Stephen Bauman, Matthew Soerens, and Dr. Issam Smeir
Sweetness in the Belly by Camilla Gibb
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon
The Bee Keeper of Aleppo: A Novel by Christy Lefteri
The Boat People by Sharon Bala
The Fox Hunt: A Refugee’s Memoir of coming to America by Mohammed Al Samawi
The Girl Who Smiled Beads by Clemantine Wamariya
The Good Immigrant: 26 Writers Reflect on America by Nikesh Shukla
The Monk of Mokha by Dave Eggers
The Newcomers by Helen Thorpe
The Refugees by Viet Thanh Nguyen
The Ungrateful Refugee: What Immigrants Never Tell You by Dina Nayeri
To Stop a Warlord by Shannon Sedgwick Davis
We Crossed a Bridge and It Trembled: Voices from Syria by Wendy Pearlman
Welcoming the Stranger by Jenny Yang and Matthew Soerens
What is the What by Dave Eggers
Graphic Novels on the Refugee/Immigrant/Asylum Seeker Experience:
Illegal by Eoin Colfer
The Best We Could Do: An Illustrated Memoir by Thi Bui
The Unwanted: Stories of the Syrian Refugees by Don Brown
Undocumented: A Worker’s Fight - by Duncan Tonatiuh
Zenobia – By Morten Durr
When Stars are Scattered by Victoria Jamieson and Omar Mohamed (Published April 14, 2020)
Books for Young Adults
A Land of Permanent Goodbyes by Atia Abawi
A Long Walk to Water: Based on a True Story by Linda Sue Park
Escape from Aleppo by N. H. Senzai
How Dare the Sun Rise: Memoirs of a War Child by Sandra Uwiringiyimana
In the Sea There are Crocodiles by Fabio Geda
Nowhere Boy by Katherine Marsh
Refugee by Alan Gratz
The Night Diary by Veera Hiranandani
The Red Pencil by Andrea Davis Pinkney
We Are Displaced: My Journey and Stories from Refugee Girls Around the World by Malala Yousafzai
Four Feet, Two Sandals by Karen Williams and Khadra Mohammed
My Two Blankets by Irena Kobald
Sea Prayer by Khaled Hosseini
The Journey by Francesca Sanna
I’m New Here by Anne Sibley O’Brien
MOVIES AND DOCUMENTARIES
God Grew Tired of Us
The Good Lie
Born in Syria
Fire at Sea
First They Killed My Father
Share your book or movie reviews on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram and tag us: @wrmemphis.
What is World Relief's Asylum Program? | ¿Que es el Programa de Asilo?
World Relief Memphis offers the following support programs to individuals and families granted asylum into the United States.
World Relief Memphis ofrece los siguientes programas de apoyo a individuos y familiares que han obtenido el estatus de asilo en los Estados Unidos.
We work with clients to navigate the American workplace, taking steps together toward career development and successful integration through job application assistance, goal setting, and job referrals.
Trabajamos con clientes para navegar el estilo de trabajo Americano, tomando pasos juntos hacia el desarrollo professional y exito en integracion a través de asistencia en aplicaciones de trabajo, crear metas, y recomendaciones de trabajo.
We offer quality, accessible English courses which are available in the morning and evening. There are classes from beginner to advanced levels.
Ofrecemos cursos de Inglés con calidad accesible los cuales están disponibles en la mañana y noche. Estas son clases con niveles desde principiantes hasta avanzados.
Other Services | Otros Servicion De Apoyo
Schedule a consultation appointment to learn about eligibility for additional support services, including cash assistance, medical insurance, healthcare, navigation, and case management.
Programe una cita de consultacion para aprender acerca de la eligibilidad para servicios adicionales de apoyo. Que incluyen asistencia en efectivo, seguro medico, asistencia medica, navegación y manejo del caso.
For more information CONTACT US at: | Para más información contáctenos como:
Please share with friends!
"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. Aise chooses to stay fluent in Lingala as well, and practices regularly by visiting with cousins and family over various apps.
Now, both are thriving in school and are excited for the future. Emily is a senior at Central High-School and Aise is a sophomore on Central's varsity soccer team. 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.