What Can I Do To Help Refugees?

I often receive the question, “What can I do to help refugees?” Here are a few things to help you get started in refugee ministry.

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Refugees from DR Congo enjoy lunch at the Weatherly house one Sunday after church. Photo courtesy of Saul Young, Knoxville News Sentinel.

  • “Sponsor” a single mother by weekly visits which could include sharing meals together, grocery shopping, reading to her children, going to the $2 movie theater, etc. Basically forming a friendship.
  • Weekly tutoring in English. If you can speak English, you can teach English. There are so many free resources online to help in this process. Check out: Jubilee ESL Manual and Minnesota Literacy Council.
  • Show refugees how to use the library. Take them on a weekly visit to the library and if there are preschool children involved, try to have the visits be scheduled around the same time that the library has the Story and Craft Time.
  • Invite a refugee family into your home for a meal. Make this a weekly, bi-weekly or monthly tradition.
  • Help a refugee with job or housing applications. When they are ready to move into better housing, help them move.
  • Include a refugee in your family holiday festivities.
  • If you have a garden, share in the bounty. Invite a refugee over to see your garden and teach them the names of the vegetables in English.
  • Include a refugee in your day-to-day activities. A day swimming at the lake? Going to the Farmer’s Market? Hiking in the mountains? These are perfect times to introduce refugees to their new city/state.
  • Help a refugee with budgeting skills: how to grocery shop, how to stretch their limited income.
  • Help them study for the Driver License test. When they have their permit, spend time with them as they practice driving. Having a driver’s license opens up a whole new world of opportunities!

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  • Collect gently-used in-season clothing, kitchen items and children’s books to distribute either directly to refugees in need or to a clothing closet such as Woodlawn Refugee Ministry or a nonprofit that supports refugees.
  • Purchase a large map of the United States (I find poster-sized one’s at Dollar Tree) and hang it in the home of a refugee. Show them the states and capitals. Teach them North, South, East and West. Help them become acquainted with their new country.
  • Teach a refugee about U.S. history, government and Civics including the Bill of Rights.
  • A friend of mine started a bicycle ministry. He takes donated bikes that need repairing, makes the necessary repairs and then distributes the bikes to refugee children.
  • Do you have any special giftings? I’m sure there is something you can contribute that is special to you. If you are an artist, give art lessons to a child. If you can play a musical instrument, you can teach the basics to a refugee. These are activities that will build friendships while also being therapeutic.
  • If you are a massage therapist or chiropractor, offer your services pro bono. 
  • If you are a professional in another field, consider whether your services could be used to assist a refugee, possibly by even hiring a refugee or offering an internship.
  • The possibilities are endless!
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“Your Life Matters To Me”

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This is the Ugandan refugee camp where many Congolese refugees who are attending my church lived for over a decade. There are approximately 25,000 refugees who call this place “home.”

My last post was written about 6 weeks ago. In it, I stated that there were 20 Congolese refugees attending my church. The following week, that number grew to 30. Then the next week, 40. Now, there are over 50 refugees attending my church. The numbers have grown tremendously, but our infant ministry, Woodlawn Refugee Ministry, had not. We still had the same base of a few dedicated volunteers who were assisting with ESL and the clothing closet. With the growth has come the urgency for additional volunteers in the children’s ministry. We also do not have a bus that is large enough to fit all of the refugees, so that has proven to be quite a strain on Sunday mornings, organizing the church van, small bus and additional 2 or 3 volunteers with their own vehicles to pick up refugees. There is more awareness at church of the vast need, but more assistance is still needed.

All of these growing pains are a good thing. I am reminded that a community is being built. Investments in lives are being made. While there is tremendous work in this stage of cultural adjustment for refugees, I am thankful they have new friends who can help them along the way.

I have always believed that at the heart of service to refugees is the importance of building relationships, not merely providing services. I touched briefly on this in my book, “Refugee Resettlement: On The Frontlines“. I want to know a person, to hear their story, for them to know they matter. This was easier when I had a smaller base of refugee friends. Now that the numbers have really taken off at church, I am afraid of losing that personal touch. It was an emotionally draining night a few weeks ago when our refugee ministry team discovered 10 new refugees who did not have any food in their apartment. How could this have gotten overlooked? If each refugee family has an American family or even a small group to befriend them, I doubt that this type of oversight would ever happen.

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A morning at the DMV applying for ID’s. My 14-year-old son needed a State ID to open a bank account. Samuel needed a State ID to apply for a job.

I can’t build relationships with every single refugee. That is not what I have been called to do. My own husband, 7 children and 2 grandchildren are my #1 priority. While I do incorporate ministry into my whole life as a wife and mother, I have to put boundaries in place to protect the family that God has blessed me with. That is why I am praying for more people of action to step up to the plate and ditch the craziness of “normal” life in exchange for the richness of something deeper than what they have known.

OK, so it doesn’t have to be refugee ministry. I understand that. I applaud my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ who are sacrificing their lives overseas on the mission field, or in their own cities ministering with the homeless, or to the battered woman, or to the children in foster care. I think of you often and pray for you. May the younger generation of America cast off selfishness and instead pick up their crosses and choose the harder path. That is my hope for the refugees I meet; I hope that Christians will say to the struggling single mother with 3 children, “Your life matters to me because your life matters to Christ.”

IMG_8824On Friday, I will be picking up one of these single mothers and her children so they can spend the day at my house with my children and me. We will take them to play at the park and on their first outing of ice cream. Where will this mother be next month? Who will befriend her– and all the other women, children, families– who have come to my city and your city? Their desire is not only to say, “America is my home”, but to know and feel it in their bones, that this new country truly is the blessing they were hoping it would be.

So, my fellow brothers and sisters– if you are a reader that calls yourself a Christian– I would like to ask if you could prayerfully consider making a few minor adjustments in your life in order to make a world of difference for your new neighbor? Let us love our neighbor as ourselves. If they are hungry, let us feed them. If they are lonely, let us visit them. If they are weeping because of lost family members left behind, we will weep with them in empathy. Let our love be not merely with word and tongue, but with action and in truth (1 John 3:18).

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Woodlawn Refugee Ministry

church-eslLast year at this time, I went to church each Sunday and instead of going into my designated Sunday school class, I sat at a small, glass table near the coffee area with one Burundian refugee, Benjamin. He wanted to come to church, but his English was not the greatest, so we began reading from a 2nd grade picture Bible. He would read, I would correct pronunciation or explain vocabulary. A month later, a Congolese woman joined us. Then one of the long-time church members who walked over to get coffee noticed us sitting there reading, so he decided to join us. Over the months, word has spread, our ESL group has grown and we had to move out of that little coffee foyer to a large classroom.

 

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A group of friends from church realized that there were many refugees in Knoxville who are slipping through the cracks, who need extra help in being able to get on their feet and on the right path to self-sufficiency. We formed a team and began meeting to talk and pray about how the Lord would use us to minister to these newcomers. Thus began Woodlawn Refugee Ministry.

One of the goals of Woodlawn Refugee Ministry is to partner with refugees in their journey to self-sufficiency. Refugees need assistance in being able to figure out life in the U.S. They don’t want a handout and that’s not what we want to give. They need opportunities to create a thriving, new life in their new country. Learning English and having a Driver License are two huge steps in reaching independence.

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Rogers had lived in a Ugandan refugee camp for over a dozen years, dreaming of a better life for his family, before moving to Knoxville. After being in the US only 4 months and working hard, Rogers had saved enough money to buy a van! The joy to be able to personally drive his wife and 4 children to church rather than relying on the church bus is a feeling of freedom that is indescribable. It is exciting for all of us to be a part of seeing his dreams come true.

There are now about 20 African refugees attending our church, many of them children. There is a clothing closet where refugees can pick out a winter coat or clothes if they are in need. We have a bus that will pick up refugees who do not have transportation. But these things- the clothing closet and bus transportation- are merely services that we see on the 16387975_10212167294237990_1152672948385142189_noutside. The heart of what we are doing goes much deeper than a service. Relationships. Community. Trust. The building of new friendships with refugees is not attainable in merely providing services. Living life together in authentic community is the cornerstone. We want to live by the example given to us in the early church where the believers met together to fellowship with one another, instruct one another, share meals together and look out for the needs of one another. We all have something to learn from one another. The refugees we meet are not “acts of charity” we do to feel good; they are our friends, our brothers and sisters in Christ, our family.

You don’t have to be a part of my church in order to make a difference in the life of a refugee. If you have the time and willingness to invest in a friendship with someone from a different culture, I would love to talk with you about how you can be involved in refugee ministry.

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So Many Needs, So Many Blessings

The past 2 months have been filled with an extraordinary amount of life.

Here’s a picture blog of my life since October:

October 2016

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In October, Mike and I got to fly to Oregon to visit my sister, her husband, my niece and nephews, and my aunts and uncles.

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My Oregon family. I miss them so much!

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Mike and I rarely go on extended trips alone together. On this day, we drove along Highway 1 on the Oregon Coast. It was so beautiful. We were the only one’s in the restaurant because a huge storm was forecast. We spent 2 hours in this restaurant, watching sea otters and dolphins swim by the window. Great memories.

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After Oregon, I traveled to Fort Jackson, South Carolina with my daughters Tiffany and Lillia. We got to see Tiffany’s husband, Thomas, graduate from Basic Training with the National Guard. Congratulations, Thomas!

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Later in October, we went to a corn maze and pumpkin patch with the grandkids, Alonzo and Celine. Because of the drought, there wasn’t much of a corn maze. 😦

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Trunk or Treating with friends at different churches in Knoxville

November 2016

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November found me busy with friends organizing a refugee baby shower. Here are some of the donated items we delivered to a few different families.

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It’s an impossibility to visit an Iraqi friend without being overwhelmed by their hospitality.

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I got to meet this cute little bundle on the day she was born. Angel was born on November 7, only 15 minutes after arriving at the hospital via ambulance!

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Here is baby Angel with the rest of her family and my daughter, Scarlet. I am overjoyed that this new little baby will never know life inside of a refugee camp. These friends of mine are no longer refugees, so we don’t refer to them as refugees. They are Congolese friends starting a new, abundant life in Knoxville, Tennessee.

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Life still goes on at home even amidst the busyness of refugee ministry. Here, Mike is painting our basement. It previously had dark wood paneling. Even with the windows to bring in natural light, we wanted our basement to have a more updated look.

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A bright basement with the warm light of the morning sunshine greeted me the day after we finished painting. Even from the top of the stairs, it looks much brighter.

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When Isaac needs a haircut, we ask my oldest son, Andrew. Being in the Navy for 4 years and now in the National Guard Reserves, he’s had tons of experience in giving buzz cuts. My 82-year-old great Uncle Bill was watching and decided he wanted to get buzzed, too!

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Here’s Uncle Bill getting a military buzz cut! His hair was so thin on the top beforehand. The few long wisps of hair would not stay put when he left the house, so he said he was taking the plunge and cutting it all off.

December 2016

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I was honored to be able to witness the birth of this sweet Iraqi baby girl on December 1. It was an amazing scene with 2 Iraqi moms and another American friend helping the mother during labor and delivery. This little girl is an American citizen. She will never know the fear of living in a war zone. Praise the Lord for new life!

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Merry Christmas! It’s already time to decorate the house and put up Christmas lights outside. We’re busy with baking Christmas cookies, wrapping presents and attending Christmas concerts at the girls’ schools.

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Another birth! This Iraqi baby was born December 13 via c-section. I considered it a privilege to accompany the mother to her doctor appointments throughout the past few months. I was able to see on the ultrasound how this little girl was growing. On several occasions while arriving at the office, the nurses mistook me for being the mother’s interpreter. They finally figured out I don’t speak Arabic and so stopped asking me to interpret! We used a phone interpreter service to be able to communicate with the doctor. Even though the mother is not fluent in English, she knows enough to have basic conversations with me. And I’ve learned a few Arabic words as well. Still, I have learned a universal truth: Friendship is possible even when words are absent.

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I love my church family. The welcoming spirit. Our doors are open to you. All colors, countries, income brackets, those unsure of their faith or sexuality. We live and grow and learn together. As Jesus said, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second commandment is this: Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:30-31) This is what I am trying- in my humanness- to live out day by day.

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Yearning For Community

*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.

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My 6-year-old daughter with 2 of our Burundian friends

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.”

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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.

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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?

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A Baby Shower for Refugee Mothers

img_1514All 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.

img_1516Here’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.weatherly@yahoo.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!

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Welcome To My World

You may have noticed that I am an infrequent blogger. I have a lot I would like to say, but most of my thoughts remain hidden from cyberspace. I have always believed that if I am going to do something, I want to do a good job of it. Whatever I put my heart to, I am in it 100%. Blogging takes a backseat because of the busyness of my life. How busy can things be, you ask? I would like to share with you a little about my world.

As many of you know, I am married with a big family. I married my high school sweetheart, Mike, 22 years ago when I was just 18 years old. Together we have 7 kids and 2 grandkids.

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Summer 2016. All 7 kids together for a pic.

Andrew is 24 years old, has been married to Kristal for 5 years and they have 2 children. Alonzo is 3 and Celine is 2. Andrew served 4 years in the Navy and is now serving in the National Guard Reserves as well as finishing his degree in Criminal Justice. Kristal is the most amazing daughter-in-law I could ask for.

Tiffany is 19 and was married last year to Thomas whom our family has known for 14 years! It was a joy for our two families to be permanently linked together with this union. Thomas is also serving in National Guard.

Kaylie is 17, homeschooling and attending Community School of the Arts. She is hoping to graduate soon.

Isaac is 14, homeschooling and learning computer animation, as well as occasionally working with Mike.

Lillia is 12 and homeschooling. She also attends Community School of the Arts. Lillia and Isaac are active in the church youth group.

Josie, age 8, and Scarlet, age 6, attend elementary school and are doing great there. Last year when I made the decision to put them in public school, it was a big change for me. I had homeschooled my kids full-time for 16 years, but I couldn’t deny that I felt the Lord was beginning a new season in our lives. They are learning a lot at their school, have great teachers and I get to have lunch with them anytime I want. 😀

 

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My Family May 2017

This past Fall (2016), I began classes with Johnson University, pursuing a degree in Intercultural Studies with an emphasis on ESL. I don’t know how long it will take me to get a Bachelor’s because I am only doing a part-time load. I almost did full-time courses, but opted not to because 1) I don’t want to go in debt and 2) I want to still have a life outside of school!

I am still very busy with refugee ministry and this is something that I love doing. Because of some unfortunate dealings and unjust situations that could not be resolved with the resettlement agency this past summer, I chose to separate myself from them after 2.5 years of extensive volunteering. This doesn’t mean that I’m dropping out of refugee advocacy by any means!  I continue doing what I’ve been doing– assisting refugees, befriending them, teaching them English– through my church and other community organizations. I like to keep my schedule open to accommodate unexpected needs– which usually occur on a weekly basis, either with my own family or my refugee family.

 

img_7403I am no longer on Facebook. I don’t do Instagram or Twitter or Pinterest. I try not to fret about the future of my country and I’ve found that taking a social media “fast” is peacefully therapeutic. However, I do keep myself updated with international news and remind  myself that for all of my country’s faults, my kids are being raised in relative ease and can go to sleep in peace without the worry of barrel bombs raining down on them in the middle of the night. My apologies for not faithfully keeping up with this blog. I am assuming you will understand why after reading this post. My days are busy, or I’d rather say, fruitful. If you have any questions about refugee advocacy, I would love to connect with you privately. You can email me at brenda.weatherly@yahoo.com. May God bless you!

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Female Refugees Say: Thank-you, America

“What are my rights as a woman in the United States?”

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.

congo_woman_crying2010-med-bigRecently 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.

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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

“Thank-you, America.”

 

 

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Unfair Medical Expenses For Burundian Refugees

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.

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Refugee Resettlement: On The Frontlines: Christian Compassion Meets Rugged Reality

imageExcerpt from the book:

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

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