Did you hear the shouts of “Bingo” mixed with giant Jenga pieces toppling, good-natured challenges over the tossing of bean bags, and happy chatter over graduation refreshments all livening Evans Hall at White’s Chapel United Methodist Church on Sunday, June 23? That was the gleeful noise of over 40 of our Refugee Initiative’s English Language Learning (ELL) students and their families sharing high fives as we celebrated the finale to another successful year of learning together at our Family Fun Day. Several of the kids asked if we could do it again next week – and we would if we could!! What an amazing group of people, all of whom have overcome so much. Our volunteer faculty and support teams feel so blessed to share in their lives as we help them learn the English language and its route to a better life in their hew homeland! We see Christ’s Face in theirs – and pray they see a similar Light in ours.
Students and volunteers had such a wonderful experience at our Saturday morning English classes for adults in our White’s Chapel Refugee Initiative English Language Learning (ELL) program that they celebrated in grand style at the Patriotic Picnic. The potluck affair was filled with warm smells and tasty treats from the students as well as the volunteers. Participants savored authentic Vietnamese egg rolls, waffles, broccoli salad, an ancient family recipe of baked beans, and many pastries and other goodies. The atmosphere was so festive that nobody minded the heavy rains and thunder that threatened.
Students exchanged phone numbers with the volunteers and requested that the group photos that were taken would be shared with all. It was so fun, in fact, that few wanted to leave even after the deluge began. Luckily, all stayed warm and dry inside the cafeteria of Light of the World Church where classes take place. Everyone is looking forward to the resumption of classes on August 17 at 10:00 a.m.
I have met some amazing “strangers in a strange land”, people who have escaped not simply hard economic times in their home countries but abject persecution, immense fear for their livelihood (if not their very lives), and in some cases, unimaginable torture for their race, religion, nationality, or opinions. Some have had to flee, leaving their children behind. Having lived an average of 7 years in out-of-the-country refugee camps and being surreptitiously spied upon to ensure they meet strict guidelines, they have finally arrived as refugees in North Texas.
They are assisted by private agencies like Refugee Services of Texas and are cared for by WC Refugee Initiative Welcome Team coordinated by Holly Walsh. Holly and her team greet them at DFW airport and escort them to government-provided apartments that the Team has transformed from bare and empty to warm, inviting, and fully-furnished from donations, the pantries stocked with nourishing food. The Team provides them with a warm, welcoming meal and spends some time with them that first day.
But, the support and love does not stop there. The White’s Chapel Refugee Initiative (WCRI) helps the families acclimate by helping them acquire drivers’ licenses, find doctors, by driving them to appointments, and much more. Landlords sometimes try to take advantage of these tenants; members of the WCRI act as advocates on these refugees’ behalf. Some of the refugees are seeking asylum from the U.S. government. WCRI helps them find attorneys, like the ones at Justice for Our Neighbors, a United Methodist Immigration Ministry.
Although these refugees might have been lawyers, farmers, or factory workers,they often limited to menial jobs like those mandating graveyard shift hours. In order to sustain a minimum life style, many have found it necessary to work several jobs just to survive. Amazingly, most are self-sufficient within 4 months.
The most significant challenge they face is their language skill. They must improve their English. So, the Refugee Initiative holds English classes for adult refugees. The program is called the WCRI English Language Learning (ELL) and Laura Bussell is the Coordinator. Classes are held on Saturdays from 10:00 a.m. to noon. The curriculum is Cambridge Publishing’s Ventures. There are 6 levels and American culture is infused within each unit. But, ELL volunteers enrich it with other cultural events, like history lessons about the wacky tradition of Halloween and Thanksgiving, trick-or-treating down the hallways, reading Luke 2 at a Christmas party filled with Christmas cookies and carols and a lively game of Christmas bingo, potluck Friendsgiving celebrations, and patriotic picnics. In addition, they emphasize important habits for becoming a good employee like on-time attendance and participation by awarding incentive “dollars” that can be used periodically in “stores” filled with donated items.