The past 2 months have been filled with an extraordinary amount of life.
Here’s a picture blog of my life since October:
The past 2 months have been filled with an extraordinary amount of life.
Here’s a picture blog of my life since October:
*I am going to be posting some excerpts from my book in the next few blog posts for those of you who have not yet read it.*
A yearning for community fills many refugee’s hearts with longing for a home to which they can never return. According to a newly-arrived Syrian refugee in Maryland, one of the first things he noticed was the silence: “Where are the people? Are they staying in their houses?”
An Afghan refugee to Chicago ponders, “How can I possibly feel unhappy sometimes? I have no right to sorrow. And yet at times I find I can’t enjoy what I have. I come home through empty streets to our quiet little apartment, to my mother, who sits in her chair, rocking relentlessly hour after hour, lost in her thoughts, and I start to feel so lonely. I eat something, and the food seems to have no flavor. I worry that I’ve lost the capacity for excitement that I used to have in such abundance as a little girl, living in Afghanistan with my family.”
My family was given a window into the lives of a Burundian family: elderly parents, a young husband and wife and their 4-year-old son. I picked them up at their apartment less than 1 week after their arrival in the United States. They still needed help in understanding how to buckle their seat belts. On the drive to my home, I could see their wide eyes in the rearview mirror as they took in their surroundings: an Interstate system with overpasses, beautiful brick churches, the Tennessee River, unfamiliar trees. It was as if I was experiencing these things for the first time, knowing that they had only been accustomed to life in a refugee camp for a dozen years and before that, similar primitive conditions.
Upon entering our house, they were greeted by our curious Siberian Husky, ‘Juno’. We learned they had an intense fear of dogs (which is shared by many refugees). Americans keep dogs as pets. Indeed, many dogs are considered to be family members. But to refugees living in African camps, dogs are competitors for food. They come to attack and steal. Throughout the night of our visit with the Burundian family, we kept Juno downstairs, but the 4-year-old son kept opening the door, trying to take a peek at this “wild animal” in our basement, occasionally yelling, “Go away, dog” in Kirundi.
Also on this night, they got to experience a delicacy they had never heard of: ice cream. As we brought bowls of ice cream to the table, my husband attempted to mentally prepare them by explaining that this food was very cold and they needed to eat it slowly. When the elderly father took his first bite, his eyes lit up and his whole countenance changed. With a look of awe on his face, he announced in Kirundi: “This is the best food in the world.”
While sitting around the dining table, we found a YouTube video on my husband’s iPad of the camp in Tanzania they had lived in for 14 years. Their understanding of technology was so elementary that they thought our family had visited the camp to film. On this video, we watched the anguished interviews, gaining a deeper understanding of the traumas these people had been through. They pointed with excitement and mentioned the names of their friends on this video they had left behind, wondering where they may be now. Watching this video together, it was a bridge to help connect a middle class American family with a persecuted African family. While they were overjoyed to begin a new life here in the United States, I could feel a sense of loss over what they had left behind in the refugee camp: community.
The United States is an extreme example of an individualistic nation, one in which its citizens are focused on self, looking out for #1 and pursuing personal achievement. Even in church settings, we focus on our own personal calling. There are some low-income communities in the United States that are not as individualistic. On the streets of the poor, we see neighbors hanging out on front porches, playing card games or grilling. Children have freedom to play in the streets and visit with neighbor friends freely. This is the vibrant, bustling life from which the refugees have come and for which they yearn.
One of my goals in befriending these new neighbors is to help fill the void of a deep wound, the wound of permanent loss of their homeland and culture. In its place, they can create a sense of comfort and belonging with their new community. Refugees cannot do this alone. They need Americans who are willing to step outside of their comfort zones of individualism and help bridge the gap for these newcomers. The question is: Are we willing to make the sacrifice? Do we have time for community?
All life is worthy of celebrating. The birth of a new baby is a joyful event indeed and we have been given the opportunity to celebrate alongside many expectant refugee mothers. My good friends, Patty and Faina, are hosting a baby shower on November 8, 2016 in Lenoir City for at least half a dozen refugee mothers from 3 countries.
Being new to the United States is a challenge. The language must be mastered. The food and culture is different. Delivering a baby can be an overwhelming experience even for an American woman, so what we would like to do is bless these mothers and their unborn babies with the necessary items to get them on their feet.
Infant clothes, blankets, diapers, baby toiletries. All of these things can be very expensive, especially for families who are just starting a new life in this country. We’d love nothing more than for our community (our country!) to rally behind them and show these ladies that we are in this together, that we are here for them as friends and are willing to support them in their motherhood.
Here’s how you can be a part of this baby shower. Because there will be at least 7 mothers who are expecting babies within the next 2 months in our little circle of refugee friends, this equals out to quite a bit in baby items that these women don’t have. If you live in East Tennessee and would like to contribute gently-used baby items, please let me know and we will put them to good use. If you would like to contribute gift cards or cash, one of the ladies from our volunteer team would be glad to go shopping with the mothers and help them purchase the items they are most in need of. You can make donations by PayPal or by sending a gift card or check on behalf of the expectant mothers. Please email me privately at Brenda.email@example.com so that we can give you the necessary info to make your donation. Obviously 100% of donations go towards the women.
If you can’t financially or practically assist, we welcome your encouragement and prayers during this exciting time. Thank-you for your generosity!
This was the very personal, painful question asked by a refugee woman who was having marriage problems. Many refugees come to the U.S. having been raised in cultures with much different values regarding women than what I have been raised with. I take it for granted that I am equal in the eyes of the law. My worth is the same as a man’s here. If I were ever placed in a situation where I would need to call the police, I can make that call with confidence that I will be defended by those in authority, not physically assaulted.
Recently while accompanying an African woman to court who is in the middle of a domestic situation with her husband, I could sense the burden on her face. The United States is a scary place for a woman who does not speak the English language, but when this same woman faces a future possibly as a single mother, things look even scarier. Especially when the only thing this woman knows is what occurs to single mothers back in her home country: They are oftentimes left to beg for food. They are shunned by the community. Those in authority cannot be trusted because of corruption.
I looked this mother in the eye and told her not to worry. I explained in the most elementary English that she is safe here, that she will not be forgotten, that she has rights. I explained how she will not become homeless. She will have financial security through child support. She will receive government assistance with childcare and food. The stress melted from her body and was replaced with a smile. “Thank-you, America. God bless America” were the words that flowed from her mouth as her hands lifted in prayer.
I live in a land that does not make excuses for honor killings or violence against women. If a woman has experienced verbal or sexual or physical abuse, it does not matter if she is rich or poor; she can call 911 and entrust that she will be taken care of. There are domestic violence shelters that offer immediate protection. My mom is co-Director of one such shelter, Branches of Monroe County in Tennessee. In cases of separation from a husband or divorce, a woman will not be dumped on the streets or forced to live at the mercy of friends. There are many social services that she can take advantage of to help her get a second chance in life. These services are offered to citizen and immigrant alike.
When a refugee woman realizes that her worth is the same in the eyes of the law, an amazing thing happens. She begins to see herself through different eyes. She is worthy to be cherished. She has value. She does not have to be victimized by abuse. She can rise up and create a new future for herself and her children.
The Statue of Liberty is a symbol of freedom for all, but female immigrants take extra notice. The Statue of Liberty is a woman who represents: Liberty Enlightening the World. Indeed, many countries of the world have much to learn in regards to how they treat women. I pray that they will be enlightened with what most Westernized countries inherently believe: All humans are created equal.
I have 5 daughters. I am thankful they were born here in the US. They can do anything they want with their lives. No man has the legal right to abuse them in any way. No matter how depressing the political forecast for my nation is, when I think of the personal freedoms and protection under the law that my daughters have, I, too, join my female refugee friends and say
Refugees coming to the United States should trust that their basic needs will be provided for, one of those being free medical care upon arrival. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. I would like to introduce my friends, Benjamin and Yvette.
Photo: Benjamin and Yvette with my daughter, Scarlet.
Benjamin and Yvette arrived in Knoxville in August 2015 along with their 4-year-old son and Benjamin’s parents. They are originally from Burundi, but because of the ongoing war and serious threat against their lives, they had to flee to Tanzania. For 15 years, they lived in a Tanzanian refugee camp. Then they received word that they were approved to come to the United States to begin a new life!
Because life in an African refugee camp is primitive, medical care is sorely lacking. Such was the case for Yvette. She suffered from an abscess to her head that was left untreated. In the midst of their move to Knoxville, this abscess became seriously infected. On the airplane flight, she began running a high fever and the swelling became so intense that she was not able to open her eyes. Immediately upon arrival, she was taken by ambulance to the hospital where she was given prompt medical attention.
Benjamin and Yvette were under the impression that their expenses were being covered by medical insurance– as they are for all new refugees– but within one month of the hospital visit, they began receiving medical bills from the ambulance company and the doctor totaling over $2,000. A friend of mine helped Benjamin file an appeal with the insurance company asking if their insurance could cover all expenses beginning on the date of their arrival, but their case was dropped. They were turned over to Collections and are now liable to pay for all medical expenses. The Collections agency arranged for them to make small monthly payments, but will not budge on lowering the amount owed.
Photo: Benjamin learning English at church
How can a refugee who went from living 15 years in a refugee camp to now making $7.25 an hour expect to pay $2,000 in medical bills? This is too great a burden to place on Benjamin’s shoulders who is already struggling to cover basic life expenses such as rent, utilities, phone, in addition to repaying the US government for the travel loan of airplane tickets from Africa to Knoxville. Benjamin has given me permission to tell their story here because he has run out of options in asking for assistance.
I would like to ask if you would prayerfully consider making a donation on behalf of Benjamin and Yvette. You can do so at a GoFundMe page that I set up for them. I will personally see that all donations go directly to paying the medical expenses. Benjamin works hard at his full-time job and also attends English class 3 days per week. He is determined and motivated to create a successful future for his family. Being released from this burdensome obligation will give Benjamin and Yvette freedom from debt and peace of mind that they don’t have to go from one struggle in Africa to a new one in the United States. Thank-you for your time.
For the past 2.5 years, I have been actively involved in assisting refugees as they adjust to this strange new land, the United States. This is not always easy, especially when there is a language barrier. Most of the women I have met do not know English. How can I build a friendship with a woman who has endured horrific hardships when there are no words we can exchange?
Sometimes the silence is deafening. It is a silence created from grief, from loneliness, oftentimes desperation. The silence envelops me and washes over me as I sit on the couch next to a widowed Iraqi mother at her apartment. Her husband was killed working as an interpreter for our Army. There are no words I can speak to comfort her as she cries. I do not know Arabic. She does not know English. But the blurry photo of the aged woman on her lap tells me everything. My Iraqi friend misses her mother, a mother on the other side of the world in a combat zone. As we shed tears together, she murmurs those two words over and over: ‘My mom.’ It is all she can say. I know there are mountains of words she would like to express, but they remain bottled inside of her.
The silence spoke volumes on that brisk winter morning when a friend and I drove to the apartment of a Congolese single mother. I intended to introduce the two of them, to somehow explain that this new American friend would be her English tutor. As we arrived, the crumpled figure of this Congolese woman sat shivering on the edge of the sidewalk. She usually greeted me with a beautiful smile, but this time her teeth could not stop chattering. Her face appeared drained of all strength. It must have been 40 degrees outside and she had no jacket. Finally, a fellow refugee arrived with a blanket and helped us figure out what had happened. For 2 hours, she had been locked out of her apartment. As she shook relentlessly, we hoisted her off the sidewalk and to her feet. I wanted to do more. I wanted to say more. I wanted to find out how she could have been left outside for 2 hours without anyone coming to her aid. Where was her son? But I was just there, a spectator, unable to offer more than my presence.
Yet offering my presence has been the key to breaking the silence. Sharing my life with a refugee takes patience because this requires a unique friendship, a friendship which extends beyond cultural and language barriers. It is a friendship built on trust. These foreigners that I share my life with are not the typical immigrant. They have been broken, they have been battered and bruised. And I have been given the privilege of meeting them at a time when hope begins anew. Can they trust that life will be better in this foreign land? Can they put their guard down and share their heart with me? The widowed Iraqi mother knows she can trust me. I did not tell her those words in English. It is learned when we go to the market, learning new words as we shop together. It is learned when I hold the hand of her daughter on the little girls’ first dental visit, discovering that 12 of her 20 teeth are rotted. Trust is learned as my presence has endured the test of time. And where there is trust, fear cannot endure. Together we experience the gift: Shared silence brings healing.
Within 5 miles of my home in Knoxville, there are dozens of churches filled with people who will never know the intimacy of sharing their life with an ‘outsider’. I imagine that Christianity may have never spread beyond Israel if the early Christians discriminated against ‘undesirables’ such as Romans, barbarians and Pharisees. I am a busy mother to 7 children and 2 grandchildren and I, more than anyone, can give excuses as to why I have no time to befriend refugees. And yet, there is a fulfillment I experience by helping the helpless, defending the fatherless, caring for the widow. My Christian faith should look captivating to a crumbling world. Only because of Jesus’ teachings about love and radical hospitality have I chosen to do what I do. I want my children and my foreign friends to see my faith in action.
Amazon Book Description: The topic of refugee resettlement has become a divisive issue in the United States since the terrorist attacks in Paris. Being on the frontlines of refugee resettlement in her community, Brenda Weatherly has a window into a world that is uncommon for most Americans. Having become acquainted with over 100 refugees in her city through volunteer work, as well as sharing meals with over 40 refugees in her home, Brenda offers a voice that is not often heard: the voice of reason. Discussing the need for Americans to advocate on behalf of refugees, while acknowledging that there are challenges involved with a clash of cultures, Brenda does not peddle easy answers.
Join Brenda in this book–part-memoir, part non-fiction– as she takes a critical look at the resettlement process and discusses:
Her convictions as a Christian in helping ‘the stranger’
Her personal experiences as a volunteer with refugees
Europe’s challenge with unregulated mass migration
Her desire as an American citizen to balance compassion with discernment in who we allow to enter our country
The Elephant In The Room: Islam, diversity and women’s rights
A game plan in how we can help refugees assimilate to a new culture
The need for a complete overhaul of the current system of refugee resettlement
On Tuesday, May 31, my Ebook “Refugee Resettlement: On The Frontlines: Christian Compassion Meets Rugged Reality” will be published to Amazon. I am looking for a few folks who would like to review my book for free in exchange for an honest review on Amazon. I am looking for people who have time to read it and post the review within 7 days. The book is 105 pages long.
Amazon Book Description:
The topic of refugee resettlement has become a divisive issue in the United States since the terrorist attacks in Paris. Being on the frontlines of refugee resettlement in her community, Brenda Weatherly has a window into a world that is uncommon for most Americans. Having become acquainted with over 100 refugees in her city through volunteer work, as well as sharing meals with over 40 refugees in her home, Brenda offers a voice that is not often heard: the voice of reason. Discussing the need for Americans to advocate on behalf of refugees, while acknowledging that there are challenges involved with a clash of cultures, Brenda does not peddle easy answers.
Join Brenda in this book–part memoir, part non-fiction– as she takes a critical look at the resettlement process and discusses:
If you are interested in this assignment, please email me at Brenda.firstname.lastname@example.org.
For the past 14 years, I have kept in touch with a sweet family from Malawi, Africa. Our friendship started after the mother, Mary, read an article that I had written in an internationally-distributed magazine. The magazine somehow made it all the way to Malawi and we began writing letters back and forth as pen pals and now keep in touch through Facebook. Mary’s husband, Charles, is a school teacher and Mary is the school’s treasurer. I am honored to say that Charles and Mary chose to name one of their daughters after me. Brenda is now 12 years old and in 7th grade.
Throughout all of these years, our mutual friendship was based on our love for the Lord. I have never been asked to send money to them. Charles and Mary, although living in a country riddled with many problems, have chosen to focus on teaching the children at the school rather than succumb to despair and desperation. That is, until this past week.
I received a message from Charles letting me know of the dire circumstances they are in. Malawi has been hit with a severe drought. There have been no rains since July 2015. Because of this drought, the people have not been able to plant their crops. Corn is difficult to buy and it has become very expensive. Charles said, “Absenteeism is now a major challenge as most minors cannot come to school on [an] empty stomach.”
The above photo is of the Mulambe school. There are 89 students enrolled, but today (April 27) only 14 were present.
Of the above photo, Charles says: “At Kadyang’anda school 103 learners enrolled but only 16 were present (April 27). We used to receive soya flour from the government but funding ceased. Sourcing of food was left in the hands of the community which is failing completely. If we can have maize it can be grinded into flour and cook porridge and this can encourage minors back into school.”
I promised Charles and Mary that I would do whatever I could to help them feed these children. The only thing I know to do is to write a blog post and share this on social media. If you would like to ensure that these precious children will not have their education interrupted and if you would like to know that they are being fed at least one full meal per day while at school, I ask you to consider donating towards the purchase of sugar, salt and maize as well as the cost of transportation and milling involved with this process.
I am trying to raise $1,000 for these children. The funds would cover the cost of both schools feeding the children through July 2016. I am thankful to call Charles and Mary my friends. I know that if the tables were turned, they would be helping me in my time of need. Please prayerfully consider making a donation that will go directly to these schools in Malawi. You can either make a donation directly to my Paypal account, email@example.com, where 100% of the money will go to the schools. Or if you feel more comfortable donating through a GoFundMe account, you can do so here, but please be advised that GoFundMe will deduct a 5% fee from each donation. Thank-you for your generous support!
For more information about the Malawi drought, please read these news articles:
I am in the beginning stages of writing an ebook titled, ‘Refugee Resettlement: On The Frontlines.’
Some of the topics that will be covered are:
Coming soon to Amazon!