FROM VOR’s NEWSLETTER – VOR’s IMPACT ON THE REFUGEE POPULATION OF SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA
Debbie’s Holiday Party Story
This year’s VOR Christmas party could be summed up in one word, “OPPORTUNITY”!
What an amazing wide-open door to the Arab community among us. With free childcare, a hot meal, coffee, desserts and friends to talk to, the refugee community of Anaheim looks forward to this event all year long. Beautifully decorated, the room was full of men and women, young and old, from countries such as; Syria, Egypt, Afghanistan, Yemen, Lebanon, and Iraq. What a great experience of diverse people coming together to care for one another.
My friend and I sat at a table with a couple of young girls, teenage girls who are from the Middle East. Their beautiful smiles and vibrant personalities drew us into conversation that covered a wide range of topics. Soon I was being introduced to their families, each family having 11 children! These two girls represented twenty-six people! Their mother and a friend ended up joining us for the meal. After eating the delicious food provided by volunteers and refugees, we watched a clip of the story of the birth of Christ in Arabic.
I quickly pointed the girls to the video hoping they would catch the intended message. To enliven conversation, the leadership at VOR provided questions on the table in both English and Arabic to facilitate conversation. As a hostess of the table, I was asked to facilitate the discussion. As I began to read the questions, one of the girl’s mothers encouraged her to write out the answers to the questions. When one of the answers to a question was Jesus, the young girl, Aya asked “How do you spell Jesus?” I was sobered and in awe, realizing this was the first time she had ever heard the Name of Jesus, written His Name, and discovered the love He has for her!
It always amazes me how open refugees are to talking about Jesus. This night afforded volunteers the perfect opportunity to bless many beautiful souls with Jesus’ love and words. This Christmas season, I am praying for more opportunities to love on precious ones and share more about this baby Jesus and His good news!!
Praising God that VOR continues to afford me with opportunities to share my love for refugees, expressing my love of God!
Home for the Holidays
Wow…what great night we had at Voice of Refugees Holiday Party! My husband, Tony, and I have made the trip up from San Clemente for the last three years for this event and it never disappoints. It is truly inspiring to see so many different cultural backgrounds represented in one place. At one point in the evening a “Roll Call of Nations” was announced and there must have been at least 15 different countries represented by the families present that evening. I couldn’t help but think it was a small glimpse of the Kingdom of Heaven.
Each year that we have participated as table hosts, we have been blessed by meeting incredible people. it is a privilege to get to know them and celebrate together. This year was no different as we had the best time meeting yet another wonderful family who have come to the United States and are establishing a completely new life. The evening sets the tone for the Christmas season as we come together to celebrate God’s provision and focus our hearts on the Lord. We all need a place to call home. While the families at VOR are having to recreate that in significant ways, events like the Holiday Party help them build new traditions and memories that bring hope and joy to a very challenging season of their lives. We look forward to connecting with VOR throughout the year to see how God continues to use this organization to bless the refugee community.
Executive Director’s Corner
2019 is almost gone! Where did the time go? When we count the many blessings we’ve received this year, we can mark the time by the new people we’ve welcomed into the VOR family of refugees—132 families to be exact and 346 individuals.
The stories of changed lives are too numerous to mention. One such story is about a young mother of two little ones who recently moved into her own apartment. She had nothing—no beds, dressers, dining table, chairs, kitchen utensils, etc. I’ll call her Naveen (not her real name). She came to VOR in September after arriving in the U.S. in August of this year. Naveen is a single mom who is struggling establish herself as well as her kids into the U.S. culture. Last week she came to me and asked for a Bible. She came to our holiday party and heard about the ultimate gift that we celebrate receiving in the person of Jesus. She wants to read the story for herself from the Injeel (Arabic word for the gospels). Who knows how God will use this to affect her life and the lives of her kids. What we do know is that He is moving.
This year, God has used our numerous volunteers to speak into the lives of refugees as a part of VOR’s ministries and services. One such young man spends every Monday helping a committed group of volunteers provide food for distribution to our refugee families. He is a second-generation Arabic-speaking Egyptian/American college student who is committed to using his understanding of the Arabic culture to do something that will make a difference. He’s not content to sit on the sidelines. His affect as he translates prayers from English to Arabic and demonstrates the love of Jesus when he unloads food, sorts the food, and loads the boxes of food into cars for the refugees to take home. His love for refugees and willingness to serve has been an inspiration to me. We are truly blessed by the many volunteers that help make a real and lasting impact in the lives of refugees.
You are truly part of God’s plan to help refugees re-establish their lives in the U.S. with an appreciation of the fact that God loves them and has a plan for their lives through Jesus Christ.
May God bless each of you with a very Merry Christmas and the happiest of time celebrating with family as we usher in 2020!
I took my first step through the open doors of VOR. It was March 3rd, 2018, the day of VOR’s annual Women’s Day, a time to bless our refugee women – mothers, grandmothers, daughters, and friends – in a space saturated with God’s love and rest. Arriving to volunteer for the first time, I put on a name tag and felt unsure of where to go next, when from a corner of the room, someone waved and invited me to sit next to her. Her name is Leah (changed to protect her identity). “Guess how old I am!” She was 84. Yet despite the wrinkles and the walker, Leah radiated a sense of dignity, thankfulness, and peace. “Thanks God!” she exclaims, as she proceeds to share her story – of moving from Palestine through different countries before settling in the US, of the way Jesus revealed Himself to her through visions, promising her children in times of barrenness and comfort in times of grieving, of the way she held onto God’s promises and witnessed the birth and flourishing of her six (now adult) daughters, and of the way she wakes up daily to Jesus’ comfort and embrace in the years since her husband’s passing. In awe and in the warmth of being seen and welcomed in, I began my journey and growth in the family that is VOR.
Then there was Priscilla. Before teaching ESL at VOR, Priscilla was a missionary in Pakistan for decades. Her care for her students was evident from the joy and relief on the faces of each woman who hugged and greeted Priscilla at the event. Priscilla noticed me, too. In the months after Women’s Day, she invited me to join her ESL class, where I got to spend time acclimating to new cultures, building personal friendships, and growing together with (and on some days, being a substitute teacher for) my fellow English learners from Afghanistan, Egypt, Eritrea, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria.
After all, I, too, am a learner of English as a second language. I, too, once moved to the US to begin a new journey, first as an international student from Hong Kong, encountering Christ here through college ministry, later completing graduate studies in cultural and developmental psychology, more recently working on college campuses in areas that address social and racial injustice among diverse student populations. However, it was a transformative season of working at Concordia University Irvine’s Office of Global Programs (2014-2018), where my eyes and heart opened to the powerful beauty of being human together despite the differences that threaten to divide us. In that role, I celebrated our students from all around the world, walking with them through hardship and triumphs. Also in that role, I started making friends with people from Arabic and Muslim cultures. And I saw, firsthand, God’s heart and love in the lives of each person! I realized that one could gain titles and degrees, theories and training, but without love, without courage to close the distance between us on an everyday level, most efforts toward “equipping and resourcing” for inclusion would still fall short despite the best intentions. That season at Concordia connected me to VOR, and prepared me for a life of bridging cultures and communities at the front lines. What does it take to bring the diverse individuals of Orange County, who share so much yet seem still disconnected, into interdependent community? How can public schools and colleges support refugee children and their parents to thrive in the U.S. education system? These questions jolt me awake in the morning and keep me coming back day after day to serve with VOR.
And then there was Reem. I crossed paths with Reem as changing needs moved me from the ESL classroom into VOR’s childcare ministry. Reem was the one who faithfully took care of the littlest ones who arrived at VOR daily as their mothers or grandparents attended ESL classes. Every time I think of Reem, I see a big, big heart that overflows with love and compassion. Through days of comforting crying babies and building blocks with toddlers together, I would say that the mark of Reem’s ministry is her constantly prayerful heart.
In my prior research and teaching, I observed experienced educators in action, working deftly and skillfully with children coming their way. At VOR, however, the first thing Reem always did for each baby coming under her care, was to pray and sing over them. “Jesus loves you” is a message that she brought to the little ones not merely via crafts or curricula, but through her devoted presence filled with the Spirit. Even as Reem has moved on from VOR due to family relocation, her posture of prayer and reverence for God has made a deep mark on my heart. I want to be like her – to serve each child who arrives to play, learn, and grow at VOR with prayerfulness and compassion.
Finally, the recent unrest in my homeland (Hong Kong) has brought me into a surprising new level of empathy with refugee families. Back at my first step into VOR (March 2018), I did not foresee that I would be exchanging similar Instagram pictures of crossfire with my friends from war-torn countries, being able to respond, “I know how you feel. That’s happening in my homeland, too.” We embrace in sadness, lamenting the brokenness of the places we love so dearly. But at such a time as this, I get to, even more, affirm the certainty of the hope we have in Christ Jesus, who holds history in His Hand. Only in Him can we have hope that will never be shaken. And I cry out in the name of Jesus Christ for every family that God brings through the doors of VOR and of our country, that together we can pray with the psalmist:
For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence,
for my hope is from him.
He only is my rock and my salvation,
my fortress; I shall not be shaken.
On God rests my salvation and my glory;
my mighty rock, my refuge is God.
Trust in him at all times, O people;
pour out your heart before him;
God is a refuge for us. Selah
Psalm 62: 5-8