April 15, 2019

Looking to get a taste of delicious global foods? Searching for ways to welcome and empower immigrants in our community? Join us May 3rd at our Taste of Migration Benefit Social happening at our Connect Language Center! At this event, attendees will be treated to delicious appetizers, meals from three different culinary regions (Mexico, Venezuela, and the Democratic Republic of Congo), sweet desserts, and fresh regional coffees.

As you journey through the tastes of each culinary region, you will learn all about our Connect Language Center and the important role it plays in the Memphis community. Meet our team members, learn about our mission, and come ready to donate towards strengthening this program, all while enjoying delicious global food.

Support from the Memphis community is vital in continuing our commitment to welcome and serve our immigrant neighbors. With your ticket purchase, you will be contributing to that calling! Reserve your spot today for just $35. (Details below)

Details

  • When: Friday, May 3rd, 6 pm to 8:30 pm
  • Where: Connect Language Center, 5340 Quince Rd
  • Tickets: $35 available here

Schedule of Events

  • 6:00 pm - Check-in, Appetizers
  • 6:30 pm - Journey to your first of three culinary regions (Mexico, Venezuela, and DR Congo)
  • 7:00 pm - Second culinary region
  • 7:30 pm - Third Culinary Region
  • 8:00 pm - Desserts, Coffee, Drawings and Last Chance to Give

Want to donate but can’t make it to the event? No worries. Visit our page here.

Learn more about out Connect Language Center here!

By Nathan Spencer

April 4, 2019

"Welcome" looks like something: it is love in action.

What is happening in our nation around immigration can be overwhelming. We see refugees and immigrants bravely leave behind everything familiar to seek safety, a life free from fear, and the chance for a new start. They are eager to learn English and American culture, enroll their kids in school, secure employment, and begin contributing to their new community. And yet how can the average person express welcome and support?

We want to help people in Memphis demonstrate Welcome in a tangible, practical way. Perhaps this isn't the season where you can volunteer regularly. Or perhaps you volunteer but want to do even more. That's why we are launching a new program: Welcome Partners!

Potential Welcome Partners like you can help us continue our services to refugees and immigrants in the Mid-South. For a suggested $25 a month, you will not only be assisting continued refugee resettlement services, you will be investing in the resiliency of refugees and immigrants in Memphis through all our programs and services. Simply put, your monthly gift will change lives.

To thank you and keep you connected, Welcome Partners will receive a new World Relief Welcome Partner T-shirt, and also be the first that we contact for any special upcoming World Relief events here in Memphis. Two such events are taking place this month!

On Thursday, April 18th, we will be hosting our “Welcomed. Welcoming Others” event at Stock & Belle downtown. Happening from 4 pm to 7 pm, 10% of all purchases made that day at this unique locale will be donated to World Relief. Visitors will also get a chance to meet two of our partners: Sarah Brubaker and Emily Frazier.

Sarah has recently launched her hand crafted “Hope Mugs” with a portion of the proceeds going to World Relief. Her main goal is the importance of spreading joy and hope in the midst of the darkness of our world. You will be able to visit with her there and learn more about her story! Her mugs will be available for purchase at the event.

Emily is a Humanitarian Photographer who has committed her time to working alongside us in capturing refugees’ and immigrants’ stories through the unique visual power of photos. Her photo exhibit will be on display in the store’s gallery for you to experience yourself. She will be present to talk more about her work as a whole, and the particular stories that she is presenting.

If you can’t make the first event, we will be having another event at Comeback Coffee for downtown’s Trolley Night on April 26th! Emily and her photo exhibit will make a return, as well as great food, drinks, and live music. The downtown atmosphere is always fantastic on trolley night so there is no better time to learn and fellowship with us.

Both events will be great opportunities to learn about World Relief's work in the Memphis community and just how impactful becoming a Welcome Partner can be.

Details:

April 18th

  • When: Thursday, 4 pm to 7 pm
  • Where: Stock & Belle, 387 South Main St.
  • Check out the event link here.

April 26th

  • When: Friday, 4 pm to 7 pm (?)
  • Where: Comeback Coffee, 358 North Main
  • Check out the event link here.

To learn more about our Welcome Partners, click here!

To learn more about Stock & Belle, follow them on Instagram and Facebook!

To learn more about Comeback Coffee, follow them on Facebook!

 

By Nathan Spencer, Communications Intern

March 8, 2019

Sarah's Unique Way to Bring Hope

            Many times in life there are certain issues that one may feel passionate about yet are left lost in inaction, wondering how to help. God’s call to help the foreign-born is one oft mentioned in the Bible. But knowing how can be difficult. If you’re looking for inspiration, look no further than Sarah Brubaker and her HOPE mugs.

            Sarah’s passion for ceramics grew thanks to taking a class in college followed by a pottery vacation, after which her fire for the art was burning bright. She later moved to Memphis to help refugees by interning with Christ Community Health Center's refugee ministry services. Afterwards, she helped run a creative business (Ekata) for five years where she employed local refugees to craft unique jewelry, developing their entrepreneurial creativity and self-sufficiency. She now works at the Belltown Artisans as the Studio Manager, and runs her own business, Brukie Studio, a virtual shop of custom ceramics for remembering, celebrating, and living slowly. Reflecting on her varied experiences, she realized that running a creative business on her own could be possible.

   

         Still, her calling to help refugees remains. Using her skill and love of ceramics, she has launched her HOPE mugs. “I wanted to be able to extend the hope and freedom to dream to others.” When daydreaming about ways she could help, that word “hope” kept forming at the front of her mind. She elaborated on their stark black and white look by stating, “the light and darkness in the world. It’s hard to have hope in the darkness, but there can still be light, hope, and joy.” She decided that with every purchase of her hope mugs, she would donate $5 to World Relief. When gifting one of these mugs, you are spreading that message two-fold: The person who receives it is reminded of hope with every sip, and the proceeds help our ministry continue to serve refugees and immigrants here in Memphis.

            When asked, Sarah stated that she hopes her story can spread the message that while big donations are important, if you’re looking to help within your means, the little things matter just as much. Alone, a few dollars here and there aren’t going to change the world. But with many across the city doing their part in unique ways, change can come and help bring hope to those needing it most.

Check out Sarah’s Etsy page to purchase a hope mug today!

By Nathan Spencer, Communications Intern, University of Memphis

Photo Credit: Emily J Frazier, Emily Frazier Creative

If you want to learn about how your business can partner with World Relief Memphis, please contact our Mobilization Director Karen Spencer, kspencer@wr.org

March 8, 2019

Effective March 31, World Relief Memphis will be moving our Poplar offices out of the Deerfield Building and joining our Connect Language Center at Redeemer Baptist Fellowship, 5340 Quince Rd. We are incredibly grateful for the generous hospitality and missional alignment of Pastor Jeremy Wright and Redeemer Baptist, and we look forward to consolidating our ministry programs and staff in one location to better serve the diverse refugee, asylee, and immigrant communities throughout Shelby County as well as be more central for our various church partners.

Will you please join us in praying for the following in this transition?

  • Clear communication with all of our active resettlement and immigration legal services clients, that they know we will continue making every effort to better serve them throughout the move and afterward, and that confusion about our whereabouts be prevented

  • That our current landlord, Graber Investments, be blessed with a new tenant quickly

  • Wisdom and thoroughness as we map out the intricate details involved in a space renovation and move

  • Contractors who embrace our mission and vision as they serve both Redeemer as our new landlord, and World Relief Memphis throughout the space renovation needed to accommodate our offices

  • Financial provision for the construction materials and labor (framing, electrical, HVAC, drywall, painting). You can donate HERE.

  • Willing volunteers who will come alongside us and Redeemer for clean out and construction where possible (see photos!)

  • Protection, safety, and provision for packing and moving days at the end of March

  • Increased energy, effectiveness, and unity as a ministry team as we begin anew under one roof

 

Milam Services & CoBuilt's "CoServe" teamed up 3/2 for Bellevue Loves Memphis, installing insulation, sheetrock, and taping.

Above Left: Milam Services and the "CoServe" team from CoBuilt "CoServe" teamed up for Bellevue Loves Memphis 3/2, installing sheetrock and insulation as we convert church classroom space into new World Relief offices. 

 


Above Right: Serve901 and Grace Community School (Tyler TX) Juniors and Coach Norm Thompson finished hanging sheetrock 3/5-6. 
Top Photo: Teams from Fellowship Memphis and International Christian Fellowship came together in February to clean out the new office space and get it ready for rehab. Most participants have been attending a multi-week "Migration In Light of Scripture" class offered by World Relief and Fellowship Memphis.
 

We are personally grateful for your show of support at so many critical points in the past, and gain great confidence from believing you will be praying for us and coming alongside us during this transition as well.

If you have any questions regarding the move or connections that you believe would be helpful, please do not hesitate to reach out to us!

Grateful,

 

PJ Moore, Executive Director

February 2, 2019

Heart + Art {Celebrate Christ City's Work Around the World}

World Relief’s mission to empower the local church to serve the most vulnerable offers broad ownership and creativity to churches as they discern their unique expressions of awareness that breed love in action. So we get excited when “what if” conversations generate inclusive ways to invite others into the story of welcome.

Next Saturday, February 9, World Relief Memphis’ long-time partner Christ City Church is hosting their second annual Heart + Art banquet to celebrate and benefit their work with both World Relief Memphis and Christ City’s ministry partner in London UK! From 6:30 pm to 8:30 pm guests will be treated to beautiful art work, live music, tasty food and wine, and a live auction. Dinner will be served by Memphis’ Global Café, which not only has some of the most delicious global food in the city but entrepreneurial opportunity for several immigrant and refugee chefs to share their love of cooking.

Be sure to come out for a fun night while also supporting Christ City’s hope of pursuing justice and showing mercy at home and abroad! World Relief will have a table with more information on upcoming ways to get involved. Check out the Heart + Art ticket prices and location details down below:

Details:

When: Saturday, February 9th

Where: Central Christian Church, 531 South McLean Boulevard

Tickets: $30 for an individual ticket. $200 for an 8-person table.

Note: All ticket sales close Wednesday, February 6th so get yours today!

 

By Nathan Spencer, Communications, University of Memphis

 

August 5, 2018

When we think of biblical stories or passages about time, few of us turn to Esther. We’ll turn to Genesis, where God makes time by separating the dark from the light and the sun from the moon. We’ll look at Ecclesiastes, where the Preacher meditates on the times and seasons for everything. We’ll consider the birth of Christ, an event that, according to Paul, occurred “in the fullness of time.”

But Esther offers deep insights on timing as well. When it becomes clear that Esther will need to take a stand for her people at the risk of her life, her uncle Mordecai wonders: “And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?”

It’s a question which resonates with many of us. “What if I am called to this ministry, this role, this position, this job, this relationship…for such a time as this?”

Important as such personal insights are, however, we must consider the context of this story if we want to thoroughly understand how it applies to us today.

During the time before the story unfolds, the Jews had been in exile, forcibly displaced migrants across borders – much like modern-day stateless refugees. In the times of Ezra and Nehemiah, many returned to Jerusalem to rebuild and resume their national identity.

But not all did. For many reasons, some remained displaced. Migration is arduous. Thousands of years later, we still see refugees trudging by foot for weeks in search of safety. And some are simply unable to make the journey, preferring the known risks of staying over the unknown risks of running.

The situation in Esther’s time was similar, if not worse. A sizeable population of immigrant Jews remained in the land of Persia, where Ahasuerus (Xerxes in some translations) was king. They were sojourners, temporary residents, foreigners or aliens without the rights of citizens.

We know the story: After the king dismisses his queen, Vashti, he begins the hunt for a new bride. Esther – an orphan in the care of her cousin Mordecai – emerges as the ideal candidate. But Esther has a secret: She is not Persian. Mordecai advises her to keep her immigrant status hidden, and Esther becomes the king’s new bride.

The plot thickens when Haman, who despises Mordecai, is promoted as the second-highest authority in the land. When Haman discovers that Mordecai is an immigrant, he devises a plan to not only execute Mordecai, but to kill all his people as well.

Imagine the fear among the immigrant community as they heard rumors about what would happen. Imagine the racial profiling that would have to take place to determine if a person was Jewish.

Mordecai, however, sees a way out. He asks Esther to reveal her identity as an immigrant and to plead with the king for her people.

Her first response is fear, but Mordecai, at the tipping point of the story, asks her to consider – is it possible that she came to the throne “for such a time as this”?

Esther listens. She advocates for her people – even at the risk of her life.

The story concludes with a happy ending, commemorated every year in the Jewish feast of Purim. The king hears her counsel, decides not to exterminate the Jews and sentences Haman to death.

Esther, a member of an immigrant community, has spoken up and defended herself and her people. And because of her fortitude, the community grows. The story concludes with many people converting to Judaism, inspired by the fasting, prayer and courage of the people.

Fast-forward to modern times. As a Christian, I don’t have any sort of physical crown or temporal royal power – but I believe I have a different type of royal position. I read the New Testament, and it tells me that I have unbelievable worth and identity as a child of God. But with that identity comes responsibility: I must speak up and put love in action.

And when I look at the book of Esther, I see many parallels to today.

I see refugees around the globe running from oppression and suffering, remaining stateless while the world watches.

I see immigrants in my community being racially profiled for the color of their skin and asked to reveal their citizenship status.

I see politicians at every level listening to unwise, unjust counsel.

I see a Christian community not taking time to listen to immigrants and learn why they have risked crossing borders to survive.

I see us choosing simplistic explanations, saying things like, “Take down the doors or walls at your house and see what that feels like” – uncharitably caricaturing the perspective of those with whom we disagree.

In short, I see us not following the way of Jesus.

Jesus fulfills all the instruction of the Old Testament on welcoming, loving and caring for the poor, the widow, the orphan and the foreigner.

Jesus never asks how anyone became hungry, thirsty, a stranger, naked, widowed, sick, orphaned or imprisoned.

Jesus reminds us that as His children, we have a royal duty to comfort all those longing for His compassion and mercy.

Above all, He says we will encounter Him and serve Him in the process.

In Revelation, we see Jesus as an outsider and stranger, knocking on doors and looking for shelter. “Behold,” he says, “I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him and he with me.” A few verses earlier, he warns the church against sitting on the fence of indifference.

I challenge my royal brothers and sisters to understand we cannot be lukewarm. We cannot sit in comfort and complacency when God has called us to something different.

There is a time to speak up – in our families, in our friendships, in our churches, in our government – and that time is now. Join us.

 

Karen Spencer is the Mobilization Director for World Relief Memphis. An immigrant, a student of the Bible, a world-traveler, a wife and mother, she connects the dots between the beautiful people she has met the world over and the Biblical call to love them. Contact Karen at kspencer@wr.org

 

June 12, 2018

"If You Plant Early, You Harvest Early"

 

The first son of a large family, Dawood’s father raised him implementing the Afghan Proverb that "if you plant early, you harvest early." Dawood apprenticed in his father's trade and was entrusted early with responsibilities in his father's store. He married young, grew the family business, had children, went back to finish school, and started studying English. Following carefully laid plans, his life was on track: he was beginning to harvest early.  

But new conflict and war came to Afghanistan. Dawood’s business suffered and the harvest was no longer abundant. In order to provide for his family, Dawood took a risky job translating for the Coalition Forces. His careful plans to study English proved beneficial, even though those years were fraught with uncertainty. As time went on, it became evident that his family’s safety was precarious. He learned his job with the Coalition Forces made them eligible to apply for resettlement in the United States, so once again, they began making plans. It took two years for all the paperwork, background checks, medical checks, and security clearances to be completed, but Dawood and his family were relieved to receive their visas to relocate to the USA, to Memphis.  

Dawood knew before moving to the United States that America is the land of opportunity and that if he worked hard, they would make it. He remembers the night they arrived in June 2014; they were greeted by World Relief caseworkers, volunteers and new neighbors, all welcoming them. As modeled by his father, Dawood immediately began planting seeds to succeed in the United States. Step one was to support himself and his family financially. He started working full time in a warehouse loading trucks. Although he had skills to do so much more, he understood finding your first job in the United States is not easy and he was determined to do whatever required. Not long after he began working, Dawood had to have major surgery. Even though it was a setback, he sees it as a blessing that he was in the United States when he got sick and was able to receive medical care. Back home it would have gone untreated.  

Once Dawood recovered, he began "planting" and working again. He found full-time employment at another warehouse and took on another part-time job. Soon he was able to progress to step two: buying a house. After living in America for only two and a half years, Dawood and his family began to harvest from their plans and hard work. “We have experienced a better life here compared to Afghanistan. For example, our kids are in schools, we own a house, we got our rights, we have vehicles, all positive things that have happened. I am living the American dream. I never thought I could become a homeowner in two years!”

Dawood is continually motivated by his family. “Every parent hopes for their children to get an education, go to college, get a good job. My dream is for them to go to college and get a major that lets them serve the United States and Afghanistan.” He is teaching them to plant early for their future and prays that war does not disrupt their harvest. Dawood has also decided to return to school to complete his bachelor's' degree. He knows education is important and is applying what he is teaching his children to himself.  

Before arriving in the United States, Dawood was afraid that he would not be able to worship freely here, that it would be challenging to be an immigrant and begin a new life with his family. But resettling in the U.S. was a blessing they never imagined possible. With help from World Relief, intentional planning, planting and hard work, they have adjusted well to life in the U.S. and this new culture - including new freedoms - discovering a community filled with friendship and love. Their journey has been long. Things did not all go as planned, but he and his family are thriving in this new place. They have been able to worship freely and Dawood’s family never take their new freedom for granted. “Freedom is a gift of God for humans,” he reflects. And only four years after setting foot on American soil, his family is harvesting early.

 

Catherine Gross, World Relief Memphis

Photos by Emily Frazier Creative

 

June is Refugee Awareness Month and Immigrant Heritage Month. As we share stories about our newest residents in Memphis, help us welcome refugees and immigrants by joining us as an Advocate. Learn more at bit.ly/WRMAdv6.

 

April 20, 2018

 

“What is friendship to you?”

Tigi looks at me for a moment while she thinks about the answer. She seems anxious that she may not be able to express herself fully in English, but she finds the right words.

“Friendship means helping each other when it is good news or bad news. [It means] sharing with your friends, and helping them. Even when there is nothing else to do, you can pray for your friend.”

Tigi has lived in the U.S. for almost three years now. Her husband has a steady job, they have had a baby here, and she is eager to start working again herself. They are involved in a small church with other Africans in the city. Tigi and her family have been building a joyful, humble life for themselves here. It took many people to help them get to where they are today. One of these people is Tigi’s friend Joy.

“I loved Joy on the first day [that I met her].”

Joy didn’t know what exactly to expect the first time she met Tigi and her family. She’d had experience volunteering with foreign-born people, and she knew she loved being around people from other cultures, but being a part of a Good Neighbor team was a bigger commitment. After hearing about World Relief while at her church’s missions conference, Joy said that “the seed was planted. I knew God was calling me to reach the world in Memphis.” Joy was at the airport when Tigi and her family landed in the U.S.

“The first thing I remember about meeting Tigi and her husband is that their smiles were just contagious. I started going to their house once a week to practice English, and they just welcomed me and my family right into their home.”

Joy and Tigi’s relationship grew over time. Soon, they were doing more together than practicing English. Joy recounts some of the fun things they’ve done together: “One time, we took Tigi’s family out for smoothies, which they thought were too sweet. But we also introduced them to Chick-fil-A, which they like a lot!”

It took time for Joy and Tigi’s friendship to grow, though. In addition to the language barrier, they faced other challenges. Tigi remembers when they first arrived in America, before she began staying home with her daughter: “At first, I was working and pregnant, and Joy came to my house. I worked night and she worked in the day, so it was hard to see each other. But it got better when I stopped working. She always asked how I was and how the baby was.”

For Joy, it has been hard at times to relate to Tigi and her experience: “One time, a few months into our relationship, Tigi was upset because she hadn’t gotten to talk to her mom in a long time, who isn’t in America. Before that, I didn’t realize how much she had truly left behind.”

But despite challenges in their unlikely friendship, Tigi and Joy and their families grew closer. They celebrated holidays together. Joy’s own mother was in the delivery room when Tigi delivered her child, which earned Joy’s mom the affectionate nickname “The Doctor” from Tigi and her husband Ibisa. Joy’s dad taught Ibisa how to drive. And the learning has been mutual, according to Joy. “I have learned a lot from them, especially about resilience, joy, and their love for the Lord.” When I asked her what her favorite thing about Joy is, Tigi said, “She likes all my food, which makes me feel loved.”

But the most inspiring part of Tigi and Joy’s story is what happened when Joy got married. In May 2017, Joy and Tigi had known each other for a year and a half, and Joy was deciding who she would invite to be a bridesmaid in her wedding. “I asked myself, ‘Who am I closest to? Which relationships in my life are flourishing?’ It wasn’t even a question, of course I had to ask Tigi!”

To ask Tigi to be in her wedding, Joy gave her a set of earrings shaped like little knots, with a card that said, “Will you help me tie the knot?” which Joy soon learned was an American idiom. “I had to explain what ‘tie the knot’ meant, but once Tigi understood what I was asking, she agreed and was very excited.”

It was Tigi’s first American wedding, and it did not disappoint: “It was very pretty, and I liked my dress. It was mostly the same as an Ethiopian wedding, but it was different because there was no dancing. That is okay, because sometimes there is too much dancing in Africa!”

-----------------------------------------

When Joy first signed up to volunteer with World Relief, she wasn’t expecting to meet one of her future bridesmaids, and when Tigi was assigned to come to America with her family, she probably wasn’t expecting to be in an American wedding so soon. But their story is a testament to the amazing things that can happen when people are willing to get out of their comfort zone and come alongside the vulnerable.

Both Joy and Tigi had words of advice to anyone who might be hesitant to volunteer with refugees. Tigi said, “If it was me, meeting someone from a new place, and a new culture, I would be scared. Joy wasn’t. So don’t be scared. They [refugees] are the same as you. Maybe they have a different culture, language, or color, but that is a gift from God.”

Joy said, “I would say to them [someone fearful of volunteering] that God’s heart is for the nations. It is a mutual learning experience, but refugees are very gracious. They are friends. This whole thing has been a beautiful surprise, but I wouldn’t want it any other way. Tigi is family now.”

 

By Noah Rinehart, Rhodes College Bonner Scholar Intern

In honor of Volunteer Appreciation Week we have been sharing a series of inspiring stories, capturing how are volunteers and immigrant friends together are #loveinaction. If you would like to learn more about volunteering with World Relief, email our Volunteer Coordinator cjenczyk@wr.org

April 15, 2018

A New Name

“The nations shall see your righteousness, and all the kings your glory, and you shall be called by a new name that the mouth of the Lord will give.” Isaiah 62:2

As we enter Volunteer Appreciation Week, we are sharing inspiring stories of relationships between World Relief Memphis volunteers and our refugee and immigrant community. We're confident you'll agree with us, our volunteers are #LoveInAction!

When refugees first arrive at the airport, it is often after a long travel journey of several flights and multiple days. This would be enough to leave the average person weary. But for refugees, this is really the end of a much longer journey, that usually includes fleeing home at the point of death, waiting for years in an underfunded, overcrowded refugee camp, and then spending a minimum of eighteen months applying for resettlement to a Western nation like the United States. Bien Fait, one of our former clients at World Relief Memphis, remembers this feeling: “Our flight was two days, we were very tired, you know flying for two days, it was a very, very big issue, because we have taken five flights. All the people, my children, were tired. Myself, I was tired. My wife, was very tired. But when we reach the airport of Memphis, we say, ‘Thank you, God.’”

 

Finally arriving to the airport in their new city marks the end of long, arduous journey for refugee families, but the beginning of a new one to build a life in America. And that journey requires the help and commitment of people like Melissa Peeler.

 

Bien Fait remembers when he met Melissa for the first time: “We met with Melissa Peeler and Michael on August 24, 2016. She came there [the airport], she received us, she was introducing herself to us. She say, ‘I am Melissa Peeler, I will be your volunteer, to show you everything in America, until you will know about America. And I will never give up, I will be with you everyday, everytime. If you have some questions, if you need some help, call me.’” He also remembers being struck by such a strong statement from someone who he didn’t even know, telling us, “It was the first time to make friends with a white man, to know American people. When she was coming and saying, ‘I will be your volunteer, your friend,’ I was scared, thinking, ‘Why will this white man be my best friend, my volunteer? What is going on?’”

 

Melissa remembers that day in the airport, too, and how she felt meeting Bien Fait for the first time: “You know, I honestly do not remember saying those exact words to Bien Fait that night, but I absolutely remember thinking that to myself before I committed to being on a good neighbor team and ever knew his name. I knew this was going to be a pretty big ‘volunteer thing’ and I took it seriously...I think I was so overwhelmed seeing them walk off the plane so late that very first night, and was just overcome with the raw emotion of their circumstance and how young and unsure Josephine and Bien Fait and the kids were – and just wanting to say something reassuring to Bien Fait. My heart leaps at the thought that he remembers that I said something that translated to, ‘I was committed to him and his family’ that night.”

 

Melissa’s promise was not in vain. She taught Bien Fait and his family many things. He humorously recalled the first time that Melissa showed him how to use a slow cooker: “She said, ‘Because you are in America, you should learn how to cook American food!’ She came with a pot, that had power for cooking, and she put all the stuff in this pot, and she said, ‘You have to wait one hour and twenty minutes, and then the food will be ready and you can eat it!’ We said, ‘What?! In Africa, we don’t cook like this! In Africa, we cook on the fire, and you put the pot over the fire, we need to see that something is boiling. How do you cook like this?’ and she said, ‘This is a good way to cook in America! People will leave the pot, and then go to church, and when they come back, they find that the food is already cooked, and eat it.’ I said, ‘Okay!’ She showed us, and we tried to get experience to cook this food.”

 

Melissa remembers those first few weeks being marked by difficulty: “In the very beginning, we were very much a needed helper – a driver, an appointment maker and taker, a school registrar and uniform finder, for what seemed like more than a few pretty intense weeks...but the more time we spent with each other, the more comfortable we got with each other and things naturally grew into a genuine fondness for each other.” Eventually, Bien Fait’s family was celebrating holidays with the Peelers. “Melissa’s was the first American home to visit. She invited us there. We went there with my whole family. The first day was for Thanksgiving Day. She said, ‘Please, I need all of you to come to my house! Thanksgiving Day we have to share together!’ So we went there, she provided some very, very, very sweet food, very good food, which we shared together with Michael and the children. After that, she said, ‘If anyone has something he wants to tell, because it is Thanksgiving Day, we have to say something, to say thank you to God, for what He did for you.’ It was our first time [to celebrate Thanksgiving]; in Africa we didn’t know about Thanksgiving...This was the first time, we found this in America. It’s good, it’s good!”

 

Bien Fait’s family has learned much about American culture from Melissa, but the Peelers have also learned a lot. “There are more small and medium things than I could ever say, but two of the most important things I've learned from the Mfaume's is Faithfulness and Resilience. If you had asked me two years ago if I really understood what those words meant and if I had those qualities I would have honestly told you I did! I felt very faithful and comfortable in my faith walk and had overcome enough difficulties at the time to say I had built up quite a resiliency. MY WORD...it's honestly laughable as I say that now, knowing the depths of the Faithfulness and Resiliency the Mfaume's have. The devout trust and faithfulness the Mfaume's have in God and his control in their lives is inspiring. I mean like big “I” Inspirational. They are grateful for every little blessing in their lives and talk about that openly and intentionally. They honestly put and continue to put their future in God's hands daily.  The patriarch of the family, Patient, had endured a pretty gruesome war injury and lost an eye that caused him terrible headaches and shooting pains down his neck. I never knew how much it hurt him until I accompanied him to the surgery consultation about repairing it. With the help of a translator, I learned the story of the ambush and fleeing with his young family and all the difficulties and pain the eye injury had caused and continued to cause him. But I never knew Patient without a smile on his face; he was the gentlest husband and father and walked around enduring this horrific physical pain without whining about it or even mentioning it for six months. The day of his surgery, I realized that Patient didn't really understand how unlikely it was that any of the things one the waivers he signed (saying all the possible complications that could result, including death) might actually happen. Just as he was being rolled back to surgery he asked if he could take just a moment and pray! It was a long and beautiful prayer we had translated. He asked for blessings on all the doctors and nurses in the hospital, and he thanked everyone there and prayed for me and his family, and that God's will be done with his life--as in, if he didn't make it through the surgery, that I would keep helping his family and that God would take care of them. It was so incredibly moving! There was not a dry eye in pre-op that day at Regional One, I can tell you for sure. I promise it was the dearest prayer I have ever heard in my life! That's faithfulness and resilience all rolled into one story and that's one example of hundreds I've witnessed with refugees.”

 

 

Volunteers are crucial to the work that World Relief does. Bien Fait reflected on how differently things might have turned out without Melissa: “My life was very difficult without Melissa. When my wife was pregnant, she did a lot for us. Each appointment, she came and took my wife to these appointments. I work, so she was by herself here. If she had a problem, who was she going to call? I would call Melissa, she would come quickly and take care of her. Without Melissa, my life would be very difficult in America.”

 

Bien Fait was so moved by his relationship with Melissa and her family that he decided to name his newborn daughter Melissa, in honor of his first American friend. He told us, “Because of the mercy she showed to my family, I say, ‘I have to give your name to my little baby. When they went to the hospital for the ultrasound, they said she would bear a baby girl. The same day, I said her name would be Melissa. To show to her how much we love her. How much we say thank you for the things she has done for us. Some people in my family, they ask, ‘Why did you call your daughter Melissa? What does it mean?’ I would say, ‘I did this because a woman with this name did many things for me when I was new to America. It was a white woman who did everything for me. She helped me with everything. For keeping this name in my mind, I will name my little baby Melissa.’ They say, ‘Okay.’ Because they need to know the meaning, and where this name came from. It is not a family name. It is a new name.”

 

Melissa remembers how she felt when Bien Fait told her of his decision. “I could not believe it, and I immediately burst out into tears and said it was just too much! I have to say, it's the greatest, sweetest honor I've ever received in my life. My three daughters are completely jealous and think that I love Baby Melissa the most now. I have to say she is really beautiful and the happiest little baby you've ever been around!”

 

 

Melissa and Bien Fait’s story is not necessarily typical, but it is a testament to the life-changing possibilities that emerge when people are willing to get out of their comfort zone and love someone who is very different than themselves. We asked Melissa and Bien Fait what they might say to someone who is unsure about refugees in America.

 

Bief Fait said, “American people have to leave this idea [being fearful of refugees]. Because, if you need to live better in a new country, you have to meet with the people who live in this country. Because those people, they will teach you how they live in their country. If they leave you, you will be everyday afraid of the rules, afraid of the new laws, but we meet with American people, and they need to be our friends. Because they know how to teach people about culture, and rules, and the laws, and when they teach you, you will be able to live without being afraid of anything. They have to come to help the African families, because we need them. We need to be with them. If they leave us, they do wrong. If the people say, ‘We cannot meet with an African family,’ we have to pray for them. Because that is not Christian. When a Christian sees someone who needs help, he has to help, without seeing the color, without seeing where this person is coming from, because the Bible says we have to help each one, without thinking about the race or the color.”

 

Melissa responded as well, saying, “First and foremost, STAY INFORMED and understand the truth about the refugee crisis in the world, and arm yourself with actual facts to proactively share with others or if you hear or read misinformation! Get on e-mail lists and advocacy texts, and follow refugee agencies on social media to keep up with current events and know what and who to PRAY for. Go to a volunteer training at World Relief Memphis- even if you don't end up committing to a Good Neighbor team, there are lots of ways to donate money or goods or services that are greatly needed, as well. SHARE STORIES with others about what you know about refugees. It is almost impossible for even the most hardened folks to hate a maimed grandfather that fled his war-torn homeland and works from 3 in the afternoon until 11:00PM because no one else wants that shift and he just wants to feed his family and save enough money for his green card. There is SO much misinformation and misplaced distrust right now towards refugees. The truth and goodness of their stories deserve to be told, too!”

 

- By Noah Rinehart, Rhodes College, Bonner Scholar Intern

Photos by Emily Frazier Creative and Peeler family

March 29, 2018

As we approach Volunteer Appreciation Week in April, we are sharing inspiring stories of relationships between World Relief Memphis volunteers and our refugee and immigrant community. We’re confident you’ll agree with us, our volunteers are #LoveInAction!

 

If there was an award for most positively persistent volunteer, it might go to Julia Allen. At 92 years old, she is energetic, socially engaged, urgent about her desire to serve refugees in Memphis, and influentially persisted to see her plan to help them come to fruition.

 

Since the fall of 2017, Julia has volunteered with World Relief Memphis through organizing and leading a weekly English as a Second Language Class (ESL) for elderly refugees in her city. The class meets Wednesday afternoons and volunteer tutors are all fellow residents of her retirement community, Trezevant Manor. Julia was reminded about refugees in Memphis when someone from World Relief presented at her church. She recalled the joy she’d experienced in years past when she had volunteered with refugees, and she knew she wanted to help in some way again. She invited World Relief to speak at a luncheon at Trezevant Manor to ignite awareness in other residents as well; several expressed similar interest, but were curbed by lack of transportation to volunteer in World Relief’s traditional roles. “A lot of people in Trezevant want to be involved in service but have limited transportation,” Julia told us. But she was determined to help, wondering if somehow the refugees could come to Trezevant. “Karen from World Relief just made me care about the refugees. You know, when we talked, she said, ‘Maybe we can bring them here!’” An idea was born.

 

Julia and World Relief did find a way to bring refugees to Trezevant, and it has been a big success for both the residents of Trezevant and the refugee clients. Julia shared, “[One of] the really big things we’ve learned through this ESL class for these folks, [be]cause these are older folks...is they stay home. They’re the ones who babysit, they’re the ones who don’t know enough English to get out, so they stay home until their children can take them to the grocery, so they are housebound. So this is an outing, something they’re doing without their family. They’re coming together, and they love that.” World Relief staff can affirm this. Even after the very first class, one of the ESL students, content and smiling, said, “Today was a good day. I’m not alone.” Their new friends benefit from intentional, individual tutoring and the opportunity to practice English, often 2:1 volunteers to clients. “One of our men is 83, and he’s from Baghdad, and he can write a sentence! So he’s moving on big time, and we’re all excited about him! He’s our most enthusiastic…It’s just amazing at 83 to be so eager to learn...They all are so sweet, so appreciative.”

Roza concentrates on her lesson

Julia spoke about other benefits she has seen. “I would like to think they are seeing some Americans who are friendly, warm, and helpful. They are excited to get out and see some of the world without somebody to lean on. They have become very friendly with each other. I think, and I hope, they feel that they’re making some progress.”

 

And the volunteers? “What we get out of it is immeasurable. It’s just a joy to live here and think that you’re doing something that is maybe beneficial to somebody else. You can get very isolated and self-centered here, and even happy, but not be contributing at all. And these people love what they’re doing.”

 

“Every time I visit the class at Trezevant, I feel it is a sacred space, I can’t really describe it any other way. These two groups of people together give me a glimpse of the Kingdom on Earth as it is in Heaven,” described Karissa Pletta, World Relief’s resettlement specialist responsible for Elders services.

 

Of course, the Elders’ ESL class hasn’t been without its challenges. Julia shared that she had to be selective about which residents to invite to volunteer with tutoring because of an experience with someone who vocalized not wanting to welcome refugees. “You know, when you’re only with people who are fearful, it’s really hard not to take on some of their fears,” Julia said. She also told us about her desire for this class to be more relational than transactional: “We don’t want it to be like, ‘We are the ones giving to you poor creatures!’ But instead, we are friends working together. And I think we’ve instilled that atmosphere.”

 

Their friendship was strengthened on a recent field trip to the Brooks Museum of Art in Memphis. Aware of their nationally touring exhibit, African-Print Fashion Now, the volunteer tutors suggested the joint visit for a tour and tea. The museum provided guided visits to historic portions of the museum as well as fabulous docent-led focus on the fabric exhibit. The afternoon fostered continued community building.

 

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When scheduling a time to meet with Julia outside of the ESL class, she said, “Well, you can’t come at 9, that’s my water aerobics class. Be here at 10!” In a few hours together, hardly a single person, resident or worker, passed us by without offering a “Hello, Miss Allen! Good morning, Miss Allen! How are you doing today, Miss Julia?” Clearly, Miss Julia is not your average 92 year old, and when we sat down to talk, she wasted no time getting to the point. She had a story to tell, and she was ready to tell it.

 

What inspired Miss Julia to go above and beyond in the way that she has for these refugees? In addition to being an active community member (“My children say, ‘Mother, you’re never in your room, we can’t ever get you on the telephone!’”), serving others has been a part of Miss Julia’s life for a long time. “I’ve done a lot of mission trips with my church. I thought I wanted to be a missionary until I met my husband. I’ve just always been drawn to serve in some way. When I was younger, I was very shy. When I was in college, it was during the war, they had a program at church asking volunteers to go into communities where they were short-handed, and they just didn’t have enough people to do things. So I went to Mobile, Alabama, that summer. That was the first time I really just reached out. I think it was a formative time for me because I got over being shy. And then, I just went from there, because I wasn’t happy if I wasn’t doing something that I felt was helping. But you know the receivers are yourself. I, too, was finding out that this means far more to me than it could possibly mean to a refugee. And that’s what brotherhood and service and all those things, that’s what that means.”

Julia Allen pursued this program to welcome elderly refugees

Once Miss Julia knew there was something she could do to help refugees integrate more successfully, her empathy moved her to action: “You start thinking about what would I do if I had to leave everything I own, even the members of my family, and leave, run away for safety, and go through the ordeal of the refugee camp, and wait, wait, wait? And then come to a place that is so entirely different from their experience, not knowing anybody, not knowing the language, running into all different ways of doing things. I just thought, what would I do if I had to go to Congo and learn Swahili?”

 

Miss Julia offered advice for anyone who is hesitant to get out of their comfort zone and come alongside refugees as they rebuild their lives in America: “We’re so aware of refugees in Memphis now in a way that we were not before. There is a desire to do what we can. I just have to believe that you’re gonna find some more people that would like to do this. And you have to have faith. Even [if you think], ‘I’ve never done this, and I don’t know if I can.’ You can! And the only way to find out if you can is if you do it.”

 

Miss Julia, thank you for inspiring us with your example. You model Love In Action.

 

By Noah Rinehart, Intern, World Relief Memphis

Photos by Emily J Frazier/Emily Frazier Creative for World Relief Memphis