Feature Testimony: Surprises on the Road to Citizenship
“When most of us set out on a journey, we know full well the start-point and of course we’ve pre-determined a destination. It’s what’s in between that is unpredictable.” Pastor Mike Long
I am no stranger to working with refugee families on many levels and in many different environments—both as a pastor and as a volunteer. While Zoom and the tech-centric tools we’ve all been forced into using are admittedly new to me, there is no way I could have predicted the way God has chosen to use a simple U.S. Citizenship class to reach across the country. What started out as a service to 10 or 20 local VOR families has blossomed into a multi-state (national) classroom where the story of the U.S. is told along with the story of Jesus to over 30 families in five different states.
In the Fall of 2020 a young man (I’ll call him Peter) dialed into our zoom classroom for the first time. His English skills were better than most and it took me a while to realize that his home was on the East Coast of the U.S.
When I asked how he heard about the class, it turns out it was one of those friend-of-a-friend-of-a-friend kind of stories. He asked to communicate separately from the class to learn further about both citizenship and VOR. I was able to share with him the love of Jesus and that all of our efforts in VOR are in response to that love. He went through the entire class which concluded in January.
To my surprise, when we started the next class in February, Peter was eager to go another round. He again contacted me separately and said that his is experience reached far beyond simply learning about civics, history, and the test requirements. The class provided a place where he could go weekly and find compassion and patience with his personal journey in the United States. “Peter” will stick with this second round until the end and who knows, we might even get a chance to see him join in for more of what VOR has to offer.
As a point of interest, to demonstrate Peter’s commitment to these weekly engagements, keep in mind that we start the class at 10pm Eastern time and conclude at 11:30pm. Peter and the others in this online, detached, virtual-only environment are demonstrating an unpredicted hunger for Christian fellowship and influence. Praise God for how he is using this to His glory.
From the Executive Director: Joe Guidotti
Ready, set, GO? As the executive director, I am responsible for implementing vision, mission, and operations to create the best possible loving and learning environment, so refugee families’ needs are met in Jesus Name. I confess that I was not ready or set when the pandemic hit last March, but God was ready and set to provide the GO!
Just in time throughout the past year’s journey, God revealed His plans bringing much needed volunteers, and resources enabling us to serve substantially more refugees. God knew that our regularly offered classes would grow from two classes ministering to 75 students each week to presently eight classes and groups serving over 160 refugee adults and children each week. He increased our food ministry five-fold. He provided ways for us to still meet the basic furniture needs of newly arriving refugee and asylum-seeking families. I am still depending on God for the ready, set, and GO!
VOR is beginning to feel some growing pains now. While we are serving more refugees and providing more ministry, our staffing is still below 2019 levels. We are grateful for the 3.1% increase in giving last year, which came mostly through sporadic one-time larger donations. While we are so grateful for all those who gave last year and hope they continue to give, we are praying for more monthly donors. A significant increase in monthly donors would allow us to build much needed internal capacity, which would help us to better meet ministry expansion that has already occurred and to get ready to GO for the greater number of Middle East and North African refugees that will come to the US this year.
You may have served refugees through our food ministry sometime this past year. Maybe God is calling you now to take a next step by donating monthly? If you have had an interest in helping refugees, but not had an opportunity to act upon it, maybe God is calling you now to donate monthly as your first step?
Whatever you decide, we are so appreciative of your prayers! Please continue to pray for financial stability for our families. We are now helping with smaller overdue bills, but significant financial help is beyond VOR’s capacity (we are helping families register for public rent assistance). Pray that many refugees can return to work and receive increased work hours. Pray for their health and that they experience peace during this time of increased family stresses. Please pray for VOR staff that we make wise decisions and always act in ways that positively reflect on Jesus Christ in the refugee community.
May God bless you on your journey to love Him by serving others,
VOR Community Stories
In 2021, we will share the stories of individuals who make up the VOR community. Our first story comes from Malak, our dedicated volunteer and mom of one of our staff members, Nivine Abdelkie. Our next story will go live on Instagram this Wednesday. Follow us @voiceofrefugees
Where has your journey led you?
🔊 I was born in Syria, in the city of Homs. When I got married, I moved to Damascus. I lived there with my family until I came to America.
What do you miss the most about your homeland?
🔊 I miss my son and his family the most, as well as my relatives and friends. He is 43 years old. I miss my church, where I went every week. It’s an increasing struggle to live and work in Syria because of inflation (footnote 1), but still, they work hard.
What do you like about the United States?
🔊 I like the weather and the space in California. I love the freedom and how we can have basic rights, like electricity, in America.
What is your favorite thing to do?
🔊 Cooking! I love to make tabbouleh, kibbeh, mahashi (footnote 2)…I cook every day for my family and my friends. In Damascus, every week I cooked and gather my whole family together.
What is a dish from your culture that people should try? What does it taste like?
🔊 Everyone should try Tabbouleh, it’s easy to make and you can find all the ingredients in the Arab markets here.
What is something that has been challenging for you?
🔊 The English language. I hope to know more English speakers, so that I must speak English with them. When I see an Arabic speaker, it is natural to just talk in Arabic.
What is one thing you want people to know about you?
🔊 I love my family very much. I have 5 children and 11 grandchildren. I love them so much. Also, I love to help anyone. I am very happy when I can go to VOR and volunteer.
How can we pray for you and your family?
🔊 May God protect my family.
1. The pre-war average income was 10,000 Syrian pounds, which at the time was worth around $500, but only $17 today. Read more: https://bit.ly/30bnvvr
2. Kibbeh (“form into a ball”) has a crispy outer shell made with bulgur wheat, onions, and finely ground beef. The shells are stuffed with spiced beef and toasted pine nuts, sealed, then fried. Recipe: https://bit.ly/3kJ0qJW
- Pray for refugee families’ health and that they experience peace during this time of increased family stresses. Pray for financial stability and for refugees to be able to return to stable work opportunities with work hours enough to pay for monthly bills.
- Pray for God to raise up more new monthly donors to enable adequate staffing and more effective services to meet the growing needs of the refugee and asylum-seeking community in OC.
- Pray for the provision of Pashto-speaking volunteers who can partner with us to serve the literacy needs of Afghan women and build their capacity to adjust to life in the U.S.
- Please pray for VOR staff that we make wise decisions and always act in ways that positively reflect on Jesus Christ in the refugee community.
Winter Program Dates: 1/11/2021 – 3/26/2021
Spring Program Dates: 4/12/2021 – 5/28/2021
- Pathway to Citizenship Workshop | M | 7:00-8:30pm
- Healthy Mind & Heart | Tu | 7-8:30pm
- Computer Training | W | 7:00-8:30pm
- Kids & Teen Clubs | W | 7:00-8:30pm
- ESL Level 1 to 4 | M Tu W Th | 11:30pm to 1:00pm
- US Culture, News, and Hot Topics | M Tu W Th | 1:00pm to 1:30pm
- Conversational English | Th | 7:00-8:30pm
- Friday Night@theMovies for Kids | F | 6:30-8:30pm
- Friday Night@theMovies for Teens | F | 7:30-9:30pm
- 1-on-1 Tutoring | M Th | 5:30-6:30pm
- 1-on-1 Job Coaching | By Appointment