FROM VOR’s NEWSLETTER – VOR’s IMPACT ON THE REFUGEE POPULATION OF SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA
Volunteer – Brooke’s Story
My time interning and volunteering at Voice of Refugees has been nothing short of a great experience! I first heard of Voice of Refugees from my Arabic professor my sophomore year at Biola university. I have also known friends and groups on campus that have served at VOR too. I have a passion and desire to do what I can to advocate for refugees both here and overseas.
I make every effort to act on my desires, so I went to Greece this past summer and had the opportunity to volunteer in refugee camps serving families and children. While in Greece, the time I spent with children was very impactful for those I served and for me personally, which led me to pursue an internship with VOR.
I have grown immensely as I have taken part in what VOR is doing to support refugees in our community. I have been primarily serving in the Children’s Ministry. It has been amazing to see how much the little kids have grown, even from week to week. I love seeing how the staff is passionate about what they do and the ways they go above and beyond to care for refugees and one another. Overall, I have had a great experience interning with VOR and look forward to continuing to volunteer and take part in what they’re doing in the future!
Refugee – Alea’s Story
In 2018, VOR received a refugee family that had earlier fled Iraq due to violence. The small family consisted of elderly parents and a single daughter, Alea, in her early 30’s. Alea knew she would bear the burden of supporting her parents in the US. To better understand Alea’s situation, an understanding of refugee processing and status in the US is helpful.
Refugees served by VOR legally enter the US because they are processed through the United Nations and United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS). Refugees are not given permanent resident status. They are required to apply after one year for permanent resident status and be approved by the USCIS to stay. Additionally, refugees are issued a work permit upon arrival, however a work permit has little value to many refugees. Many refugees do not possess self-sufficiency knowledge or skills (English speaking or writing ability, able to drive, job skills, etc.) or an understanding of US culture or norms that are needed to get and maintain a job. In addition to self-sufficiency barriers, many refugees have been traumatized on their journey to the US, so many are overwhelmed and isolated. VOR is not shy about welcoming all refugees in the Name of Jesus, so we provide tangible help with loving care. This is where the gospel meets the heart of a refugee. VOR is a community of people that truly cares for refugees and trusts God to use tangible helps so they experience God’s love for them. Alea was typical, being overwhelmed and isolated upon arrival, but that soon changed.
Alea felt welcomed and cared for so she soon joined our English as Second Language classes. She progressed quickly. She also knew she needed to be able to drive to hold a job, so she also participated in driving practice. She was able to speak well enough, gained fundlemental knowledge of the US culture and obtained a driver’s license within the first four month of her registration at VOR! She was able to get full-time work, so her full time work took her away from VOR mid-2018. She was focused on caring for her family, working full-time, and pursuing residence status requirements. Her story is somewhat typical that refugees initially participate for a period of time, then return at a later date.
On October 31, 2019, one of VOR’s case workers was with her husband at a grocery store, where she ran into Alea. Alea was ecstatic to see her. Alea hugged her and started to talk with her husband about the love and all the helps she received from VOR that made a real positive difference in her and her family’s life. Alea then took our case worker to the side and opened her handbag and took out the New Testament Bible! Alea told her, she reads it daily but I had some questions about what she read and wanted to meet with our case worker. They decided to meet periodically so Alea can explore her spiritual walk. Please pray for Alea that she grows closer to God. Alea is not her real name to protect her identity.
Executive Director’s Corner
Thanksgiving is nearly here and Christmas is in the air—on the radio, in the stores and of course, on Hallmark. Why do I bring this up? Mainly because there’s a huge group of people who have taken up residence in our country that have little to no identity with the season. At VOR we have the privilege of introducing refugees, asylees, and immigrants from a variety of customs and countries to the joys of this time of year.
On December 6th we will be hosting our annual Holiday Feast which is our attempt to “marry” the two holidays yet not miss the singular point that inhabits both of them—thankfulness. The Holiday event brings people from VOR’s now and VOR’s past together to share in some food, memories, and recognition of how blessed we are to be a part of each other’s lives. I was reminded of this last week when a former ESL student and driver’s license success story walked into our offices. I’ll call her “Kawa”.
Nearly 4 years ago she came to VOR to polish her English and to get a driver’s license. She succeeded in both but what she found was so much more. As with other families, we have visited her and her family in their home to deliver donated Christmas gifts and shared in her life on several levels. Now her kids are little older and are both are in school. She finds herself sitting at home alone because the tangible reasons for needing VOR no longer exist. That is when the intangible that we provide kicks into gear. When people venture within our walls, it is not only the lessons, the teachers, the transportation and the coaching that they receive … it’s the community they experience.
Kawa was an active part of the VOR community for most of three years and she realized she didn’t need to sit home alone. We are situated in Little Arabia and there are lot of “thresholds” she could have chosen to cross but it was ours that lured her the most. Kawa is Muslim. The community she has become a part of at VOR is centered on Christ. She has attended church services with some of our volunteers, owns and reads a Bible that we provided, goes to events that are sponsored by VOR and other Christian organizations, and is very much an example of the affect we “get to have” on our refugee families.
I was recently asked if we get to “see many results” in the lives of our families. When I responded with the question, “What do you mean by results?”, the answer was classic: “I mean do lead many families to faith in Christ?” My answer was very clear and it comes straight from Ephesians 5:1. We are imitators of God. He is the one in charge of changing a heart, we just get the joy of being His light in their lives.
We have been a light in Kawa’s life. She will be at our Holiday event and we will watch God sew even more memories into the fabric of her life. Kawa is thankful for all of you who have poured a little Jesus into her. She is thankful for the fact that she has a community in the people of VOR. I am thankful that God brought her to all of us in the first place.
First off, I would love to thank Jessica Hartanov for being so quick to allow me to work under Voices Of Refugees (VOR). Being in the last semester of my senior year at Vanguard University, I was tasked to take up an internship with an organization that works in the field of Sociology; A month and a half into my semester, I was behind in my practicum course because I had not been accepted into an internship of any kind. Through such an anxiety-ridden season for me, I kept my faith in knowing that God’s timing is not my timing, and God’s timing is perfect; I kept praying and applying, then one day, my professor offered her assistance to reach out her community for me. Within that same day, Jessica had responded with an urgent need to find someone to work in VOR’s Childcare room. –Just as I was at the point of accepting defeat, the Lord came through with an internship that fit the criteria I needed to be able to graduate.
At VOR, I am tasked with working in the Childcare Room (K-5th Grade). I have had much experience working with children of all ages and temperaments, both in controlled settings and not-so-controlled settings; I do my best to take the tools I have learned from my previous job-roles and apply them in the play/classroom. I aspire to have a career that involves working with children, and at VOR I am exposed to hands-on opportunities where I can apply all that I have learned in my Psychology and Sociology classes, as well.
My experience at VOR has been such a colorful journey; I have never worked with non-English speaking clients before, so my ability to think quickly on my feet is a tool that is being stretched and refined each time I come in. The challenge I am exposed to, is the constant wrestling with myself when it comes to figuring out how I can be the most effective “teacher” to these children. I want to be the best I can be for these kids, but it is the moments where I fall short in knowing how to console them when they are upset, that I need to remind myself to just be present and leave room for God’s grace to take care of the rest.