I was able to attend the April, 2016 General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in person. First time ever. One of the highlights for me was hearing this talk, by Patrick Kearon, who is currently serving as President of the Europe area for the church. Elder Kearon has had a great deal of experience in helping and organizing help for an overwhelming number of refugees, who are pouring into Europe ...
This video shares portions of Elder Kearon's talk, which for me was definitely a call to action. I began to explore the I Was a Stranger webpage to learn more and to discover what I could do to help. I eventually connected with World Relief here in Spokane. I attended their volunteer orientation back in June. One of the opportunities that appealed to me was the idea of hosting refugee families in our home. Summer was busy, they always are, but in September I began to read the emails seeking host families. In mid-October, I was in Milwaukee with my mom at this event, when I read about a Somali family of seven who would be needing a place to stay for three nights. I replied without really thinking, and then I promptly forgot. The following Monday I'm on a walk with my friend, when she mentions that she has recently attended the World Relief orientation as well. "Oh no!" I say, I've got to check my email. Sure enough, I found a confirmation message that I could expect this family at our home the following evening. Yikes! I rush home, google "Somalia refugees" and start to read up. Oh and I text my husband as well—I had just told him that morning that I was looking forward to a quiet week and the chance to clean up my growing piles and get organized for the holidays, ha! Never mind all that, once I got online, I was filled with excitement and a crazy awesome sense of purpose. I had 24 hours to prepare and I was on it. I posted some information and needs to Facebook and sent out an email to my Relief Society sisters (church friends) and almost immediately questions and offers for donations come pouring in. Honestly, I've never seen anything like it. Part of the reason I'm blogging this experience in detail is because there were so many who asked how they could get involved in this process of refugee resettlement. I'll actually blog more about the Gore family, who we hosted in another post.
For now, I want to quickly summarize 3 things I learned and what YOU can do to help.
1. This is not scary. I had several people tell me I was "so brave" or "courageous" when really I'm just impulsive. But you do need to know that hosting this family was fun. It wasn't uncomfortable at all, and it brought so much JOY into our home. I'm certain every experience with hosting will be it's own, but I'm 100% doing this again.
2. It's all about family. The Gore's are Somali yes, and their children were born and raised in South Africa. They are muslim. They've never been outside Africa, but they are so similar to us—to my family. I observed great respect between Abdi (the father) and Efray (his wife) and plenty of rambunctious sibling rivalry, teasing and affection in the children. They dress different, the eat different kinds of food, their background and world view is different from mine, but in relationships, they are the same. As soon as they began to emerge from the overwhelming jet lag, they asked me to take them to the Cricket store to get phones. With phones, they immediately reached out to extended and distant family members already in the United States. I observed great concern for them in those that have already integrated here. This desire and need to connect, to belong is universal.
3. It takes a community. This is not something you do alone. All I had to do was ASK for help and the response was overwhelming. Within 48 hours, my garage was full of clothing and household donations. My friends and neighbors filled a World Relief box truck with furniture. So many friends came to meet our new friends—they brought cookies and pizza and blankets. One friend simply brought her kids to play. We flew kites and visited the pumpkin patch. When we all simply do what we individually feel inspired to do, then needs are met and these wonderful people are welcomed and supported in so many meaningful ways. It was a miraculous thing to observe first hand.
Now, what can you do?
Google "refugee resettlement in __________" and fill in the blank with the name of your city. You'll most likely discover the organization that is registered in your state to resettle refugees. There may be more than one organization. In Spokane, it is just World Relief, who assisted almost 600 refugees in 2016. My family has helped 7 so far, so there is plenty to do in all cities and states across the U.S. I love the counsel shared in the video above: Possibilities to be a friend and lend a hand are endless. Begin on your knees in prayer and then think in terms of doing something close to home, in your own community where you will undoubtedly find people who need help adjusting to their new circumstances.
Refugees bring with them a richness of experience, education, culture, and collaboration. The United States should be a refuge and a safe haven for them. Together we can make it so.
I'd LOVE to answer questions or hear about your experiences helping refugees.
Leave me a comment!