In the fall and winter a calling heard by a few church members evolved into authorization by our Session to call together people interested in supporting refugees in our community. With what could best be described as a mighty working of the Holy Spirit, around 27 people responded and received training (including background checks) to partner with World Relief, a local and national nonprofit that works with the government to ensure refugees are comfortably settled and connected to supportive community networks. The overwhelming volunteer support meant that we could work with not one, but two refugee families. After an initial pause as government changes occurred, both teams were assigned families and a whirlwind of action began.
This link to a video published in November of 2015 explains the vetting process for refugees which our two families have been through: https://youtu.be/aQUIxQ6TFZc . The World Relief/HighPoint.org web-site also contains a lot of information about this wonderful, faith-based organization and what they do. World Relief handles most initial settlement following federal guidelines using both federal and private funds.
The role of our Good Neighbor teams is to support this process, primarily as builders of relationships. We have the incredible privilege of being the literal hands, feet, smile---and often “wheels” of Christ, offering welcome to the stranger and being the good neighbor to those Christ has brought to us. Both families live in Winston-Salem as World Relief guidelines include their living on bus routes for ease of transportation. Each family receives financial assistance (federal and private) for a few months upon entry which covers housing and basic needs. They are to be financially independent within six months of arrival which means that quick employment is a basic need…..and World Relief helps facilitate that. English lessons are also a requirement for those who are not proficient---unless health or employment makes that not possible.
The Ayub family is originally from Pakistan and is comprised of a mother with her 4 adult children. They arrived in Winston Salem on March 2nd from Malaysia where they had been living as refugees for the past 6 years. As is often the case, our team learned of their impending arrival only one week in advance of their coming with the changing government rulings adding to everyone’s stress. World Relief and our team worked quickly to set up a house they rent, arranging for them to have a stocked refrigerator and a home cooked Pakistani meal to welcome them. Several of our team had the very joy-filled responsibility of welcoming the family at PTI airport the evening of their arrival and providing transportation for them to their new home. There was an immediate connection of warmth and love that night between the family and the team that has continued to grow over the weeks since.
Many of our church members got to meet the Ayub family when they visited during the Cantata last month. All of the family really enjoyed the music and other elements of our worship. Several women in the family wore head scarves in accordance with their Muslim faith. They were very happy to have the opportunity to meet members of the congregation and to personally express their gratitude for the love and support they have received from our church family.
The Tewelde family arrived in January but did not have a Good Neighbor Team until they were assigned to us in late February. Some delays prevented our meeting them until mid-March----and we were immediately in love with this family of six. There is a husband and wife and three little boys (ages 20 months, 6 years and 9 years) along with a young adult male cousin. They are from Eritrea (formerly part of Ethiopia) and lived in an Ethiopian refugee camp for four years before being granted permission to come to the U.S. A simple clerical error by Homeland Security and Border Patrol resulted in an almost 3-month delay of the Social Security cards of the two men. Two of our team members (and a wonderful worker at the Social Security office) were finally able to figure out the problem. World Relief was quickly able to manage the correction and help both men find employment almost immediately after the arrival of their cards.
None of the family spoke English on coming to the U.S. but they are all quick and interested learners with even the baby speaking up in English to everyone’s laughter and delight! Learning English by Sesame Street is a legitimate and wonderful thing! Everyone gathers around Dr. Seuss which makes no sense when you get into it---but is a lot of fun.
The Tweldes are Orthodox Christian (Ethiopian), and we are eager to connect them with the Ethiopian and Eritrean community in High Point. We also hope to have them visit our church soon. With three children (in car seats) and three adults, transportation of the whole family is a challenge.
We want to tell you stories of these wonderful people who have been through so much in their
lives---but we also want to respect their privacy. As World Relief has told us, their stories, are THEIR stories to tell---but we are so happy to share in this part of their stories now, and we will continue to help you get to know them too. Please join us in praying that they will continue to find a welcome here and that we can know how best to help this place become their home.
Welcome to a new way for the Clemmons Presbyterian Church Mission committee to report and inform our church family (and anyone else who links in) about our mission outreach. This blog has various parts representing our various ministries and begins with what we hope will be regular updates on our refugee families.