FROM VOR’s NEWSLETTER – VOR’s IMPACT ON THE REFUGEE POPULATION OF SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA
My name is Carina Van Cleve and I teach ESL, English as a Second Language, at VOR every Tuesday. I was born and raised in Sweden and my parents, siblings and their families are still living there. So, you might wonder how I landed in Southern California and how I ended up with VOR.
Well, when God is leading your steps life is never boring.
I remember as a little girl how I was already interested in different countries, cultures and languages. My small church where I grew up was very involved in God’s work around the world and I guess I “caught the bug”. I joined a group praying for the closed communist countries of Eastern Europe and especially Albania got my attention. I said that I would go visit if Albania ever opened up for tourism.
After university in Sweden, I worked for two years as an elementary school teacher, then in 1992 I was finally able to travel to Albania. The country had then been open for one year. I joined a church planting team in a city called Vlora and that’s where I fell in love with the Albanian people AND my American husband, Grant. Even though I was ready to stay as long as I felt led, I never thought I would stay with the Albanians for eighteen years! Our three children Sofia, Axel and Elsa, were all raised in Albania and went to a small international school there. I ended up working with our church, and volunteering at the school. I also taught Swedish to Albanians working at the Swedish consulate. I always surrounded myself with people, young and old. I loved our life there and was sad when we finally decided that it was time to move on. We left Albania 2010. I thought that maybe my cross cultural life had come to an end.
But of course I was wrong – a Swede moving to California is a cross cultural experience in and of itself. I also found myself looking for opportunities to meet people from different countries. For me volunteering at VOR is the perfect match! I get to meet men and women from so many different countries and with so many different stories. And even though English is a second language for me as well, I think I can identify with my new friends and the struggles they have when they are new in a place and when they don’t know how to communicate correctly. I have been there and done that! I have seen true hospitality and tasted some great food in my years living “overseas” and now I have all that as a volunteer at VOR as well. It’s so good – and never boring.
We are Better Together
A petite woman in her sixties came to us a few weeks ago, dressed plainly in all black, including the fuzzy cap she used to pull over her short wispy hair. Soft spoken with dark circles under her eyes, she nervously clutched her purse while sharing her story with our staff. She shared she was eventually resettled through the UNHCR, but came from a small village just outside Mosul, Iraq. She arrived in California a couple years ago and was just now making her way back to us through the encouragement of the local refugee community. This is common with refugees, often when they initially move to Little Arabia, they find it difficult to complete simple tasks, mostly due to years of trauma and PTSD.
Before even hearing her story, I could tell by her expressions and demeanor she carried with her heavy burdens. Sadly, I’ve come to recognize the face of devastating loss. Several years ago, when ISIS moved in to establish control of her small village just outside Mosul, they threatened her family and every person in the surrounding community. She shared with us she was born into this small Christian village and had lived there her entire life. ISIS militants went door to door to establish control of the surrounding area, forcibly removing people from their homes and ultimately forcing every family to quickly make a decision about their future. The family was told by ISIS they had three options going forward. They could pay an impossibly high “tax” to ISIS, fight for ISIS, or be killed. Not having money to pay the tax, not wanting to fight for ISIS, and fearing for their lives, they fled that night on foot without their belongings to another part of Iraq. She told us ISIS eventually burned the entire village to the ground, and many lost their lives.
After walking for days, dehydrated and hungry, they checked themselves into a tent camp settlement and waited. They were now living in a makeshift tent among thousands of other refugees from Syria and Iraq. The UNHCR tents I’ve personally seen in Iraq mainly consist of a few pieces of wood, a plastic tarp and a dirt floor for sleeping. There is no toilet, no water, no windows and often no way to keep others out, since there’s no door. As you can imagine with thousands living in these tents, sometimes 10-12 in one tent, the challenges are insurmountable. She explained her family spent years in this refugee camp settlement, only to be resettled to the United States with little to no resources. The global number of refugees seeking resettlement has never been higher. In 2019 the numbers were at an unprecedented 70.8 million people who have been forcibly displaced worldwide and 37,000 people are forced to flee their homes every day due to war, conflict, or persecution.
Some eventually make their way to the doors of VOR and most arrive in dire need of assistance. While at VOR they learn how to transition their lives from their homeland into their new lives here in America. We provide them with the tools and knowledge that will allow them to survive, and ultimately thrive in their new community. Having needs met in a loving environment helps to stabilize them in their new country. They face many challenges here, such as learning English, American laws, new traditions and new cultural nuances and norms, not to mention the challenges of finding a home to settle in.
Most of the refugees that ultimately make their way to Voice of Refugees have waited years, some a decade or longer before receiving word they would be resettled to the United States. Can you imagine waiting decades, sometimes as a widow with small children, in a refugee tent camp settlement with little to no resources to provide the basic necessities to sustain life? Life inside the camps is often marked with additional challenges, including violence from religious persecution, traffickers that seek to do harm, and a shortage of resources. One in every three inside a refugee camp is a widow, and around half are unaccompanied minors. Spending time inside these camps over the last several years in Iraq, and on the Syrian border, I’ve learned first-hand just how devastatingly difficult life inside these camps can be. It is an honor to carry their stories, but it is a heavy burden. As Americans we have been given much in terms of resources. Even the poor among us generally have more than the average refugee seeking help globally. I believe because we can help, our responsibility to do so is great. As I write this article, there are over 1 million Syrian refugees trapped in Idlib, Syria. Men, women and children are dying daily waiting for a response from the global community.
Many of our refugees come to us with devastating stories of trauma, persecution and loss. We may not be able to help every refugee globally, or the one million trapped in Idlib, but we can certainly help those coming to VOR. Many people are saddened and shocked when they learn what’s happening to refugees globally and they usually express a desire to help, so I invite them to VOR. We are at a unique time in history, where refugees are coming to us from all over the world, including countries difficult or impossible to travel to. Some of these countries are not places most Americans would venture to due to war, violence and travel restrictions.
The VOR staff has noticed that the refugees and asylum seekers coming to us this year, are some of the most traumatized we’ve ever seen. After hearing her story that day, we welcomed her with open arms. Within a few days we delivered some furniture to her small apartment. She came back a week later to thank us, greeting us with a warm smile. We are now introducing her to other families that share similar stories from the same part of Iraq as her. We are grateful that God has entrusted us with these precious souls and one by one, we can make a difference. At VOR we are blessed to be a blessing to the refugees living in Little Arabia seeking to make America their new home. We thank God daily for the stories he allows us to hold, and the refugees and asylum seekers he brings to us to serve. I believe God calls us to specific work, if this story has moved you, give me a call and I will help you get connected at VOR, we are family and you are welcome here.
- Pray for the health of refugees, volunteers, staff, supporters, and general public in light of Coronavirus.
- Pray for protection for the refugees trapped in Idlib, Syria They are in dire conditions and in constant danger. View Video
- Pray for refugees that need legal assistance, but cannot afford attorneys to represent them. Pray for favor in the courts.
- Pray for VOR Learning Center remodel to go smoothly and for the refugee families to be blessed during the transition.
- Pray for God to hand pick teachers for the summer program and inspire families to come learn of the love of Jesus over the summer.
- Pray for our college interns, that they would be a blessing to families and that serving at VOR would inspire them towards justice-based initiatives in the future.
- Pray for VOR staff and volunteers. Wisdom, discernment and grace to work with refugee families.
- Pray for new services we are starting. Favor over our weekly schedule and new volunteers to serve with us.
- Pray for the ESL Service as we transition to new curriculum that it would be inspiring to the teachers and refugee families.
- Pray for refugee family members still in their country of origin awaiting approval to join their families in the USA.
- Pray for safety for family members of refugee families still in conflict zones, war zones whom are externally and internally displaced.
- Pray for favor as we speak at local universities, churches and non-profits. That others would be inspired to join us in donating to and serving refugee families.
Executive Director’s Blog
My earnest prayer is for many of those lost to come to love and know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. So I believe the gospel of grace of Jesus Christ is best commended through loving relationships that are built on trust. However, do refugees come to VOR to build loving and trusting relationships with volunteers and staff? They do not, at first. Refugees come to VOR to receive services to meet real and urgent needs. This is why it is so important for us to improve and expand our services to continue to have the honor to lovingly minister to refugees. By meeting refugees’ temporal needs through ministry services, as we have promised, refugees will experience loving people of integrity. Therefore, by God’s grace, our, volunteers’ and staff’s, testimonies (words + actions) will have more weight in the mind of refugees, so they will be more open to the Holy Spirit as He works through us to bring in His children. Can you see why a volunteer with the right heart and attitude is so important in God’s work in the lives of refugees?
Volunteers will spend more time with refugees than staff ever will! There are only two full time and four part-time staff, but 100’s of volunteers and over a 1000 refugee families. Volunteers who realize that by doing their work lovingly and with excellence keeps our promise of help is a major evangelism tool since it helps build trust. This type of volunteer far exceeds the value of a volunteer who believes they need to share (TELL) the gospel with most everyone they meet for the first time. Jesus spent time with people, laughed, worked, ate and met them in their circumstances taking the time to listen and empathize with them. He shared God’s plan of redemption in pace with those He related with. We encourage and expect our volunteers to do the same! Sharing the gospel with dependence upon God through trust relationships is the main reason for improving and adding to our ministry services.
Our new Monday evening ministry services launched three weeks ago without a hitch. Unless you think that fifteen refugees and asylees showing up for our new computer class prepared for twelve students is a problem! It was the kind of “problem” we want to experience more and more at VOR. We quickly resolved the issue by adding my laptop to the mix and a couple of refugees shared a computer. The students are thoroughly enjoying the class taught by Steven Oh, from Sarang Community Church, who is supported by a couple of roaming volunteers that provide individual attention during the class. There have been four to seven students participating in Homework Help. The students are younger than anticipated, but the young adult volunteers are adjusting the content to meet the younger students’ need. Women’s social group got off to a slow start, but as I write this eight women are thoroughly enjoying haircuts by a volunteer!! Yes, haircuts!
We hope to add another evening of ministry service including a parenting class, citizenship class, and another social group. We also would like to offer one-time classes on subjects that would be an interest to those integrating into the USA. If you are interested in leading an evening parenting class or citizenship class or be a class aid, please feel free to call or email me.
English as a Second Language classes are “under renovation” too. Instead of offering just two ESL classes containing students with a wide range English capability, we are going to four small size classes. This will allow a better teaching and learning environment. Please pray for our students as change is not easy, moving from two to four classes means relationships will be impacted. Pray that more ESL teachers (NO experience required) join us. As the four classes stabilize, we will be preparing to add an additional day of ESL classes and other ministry service on Thursdays (VOR is open only Monday through Wednesday currently).
Jesus showed us the importance of relating over food, so we are very happy to follow His example! In January, we began Monthly Celebrations & Potlucks to recognize and celebrate notable achievements or advancement by those that attend and our volunteers. The past two parties, we have celebrated birthdays and acquiring a work permit. You are invited to our Monthly Celebration & Potluck, which is held the last Wednesday of each month. If you would like to attend, please contact Jessica Hartanov for more information: JessicaH@vorservices.org.
We were recently blessed when Custom Comfort Mattresses donated 23 twin mattresses to VOR. Can you imagine having to sleep on a couch or floor? Six refugee family’s children no longer must sleep in makeshift beds or on the floor! We have more mattresses and furniture to deliver but our Furniture Ministry needs some help. We are looking for an Arabic and English speaker, who is very organized, able to lead, and physically strong, to join us on staff to help lead this ministry. If you are interested or know someone who might be, please call or email me.
Ministry Services happen by good-hearted people who give of their time and talents to those in need. But it takes much more to make them happen, it takes a room to do ministry in with furniture to sit on and lights that stay on. It takes ESL books, flat screen TVs, computers, office supplies, software and their upgrades and the list goes on and on. It takes a paid staff. In other words, ministry services happen through donors who God has called to give regularly and generously! Will you please prayerfully consider making a regular monthly donation or one-time generous donation to help refugees? To help you pray, it costs approximately…
- $100/month provides English as a Second Language to a refugee.
- $90/month provides one month of childcare for a refugee child.
- $60/month a refugee student to attend our seven-week 2020 Summer Student Camp ($685/student)
- $50 a month provides weekly distribution of food to a refugee family.
- $40,000 for Summer Student Camp.
- $75,000 to help staffing level and benefits.
In order to great a more pleasant learning environment, we began the year giving our facility a minor facelift. We decluttered and cleaned then painted, and reorganized room usage. If you haven’t visited for a while, we invite you to come and check out the work in progress. Our next step is to establish a professional, yet welcoming, décor that will connect with those that attend and our volunteers. If you are or know of an interior designer that would like to volunteer their expertise to help create a welcoming learning environment, it would be greatly appreciated: JoeG@vorservices.org.
Saturday, March 7: VOR Clean-Up Day with Rowland Heights Church Youth Group (Closed Event)
Saturday, March 14: Women’s Day! Volunteer Today! 9:00 am to 3:30 pm
Wednesday, March 25: VORLC Monthly Celebration & Potluck, 11:30 am to 1:00 pm (email Jessica for details)
- Mondays: Food Distribution, 11:30 am to 3:30 pm
- Mondays: Computer Class, 6:30 pm to 8:30 pm
- Mondays: Women’s Social Group, 6:30 pm to 8:30 pm
- Tuesdays: Driving Practice (Temporarily Suspended)
- Mondays: Homework Help for Youth, 6:30 pm to 8:30 pm
- Tuesdays: Driving Practice (Temporaily Suspended)
- Mondays-Wednesday: US Culture, News, History, & Morals, 9:30 am to 10:00 am
- Mondays-Wednesday: ESL Classes (Pre, 1, 2, and 3), 10:00 am to 2:00 pm
We need volunteers, especially in ESL and Furniture ministries, email or call, (949) 374-8794, Jessica for details.