Paul is a World Relief Sacramento volunteer, advisory council member and a Pedal to Resettle 2019 rider. We asked him to share his volunteer journey and why he has signed up to ride 180+ miles this September to fundraise for refugee families in the greater Sacramento area.
About three years ago, I attended a Christian leadership event and heard a World Relief staff member speak. I had been following the refugee crisis on the news and was feeling increasingly hopeless. What are we going to do? How are we going to solve this problem? I was debriefing the event with my wife that night, and I broke down. God was clearly at work in me.
My involvement with World Relief began in fits and starts. I attended a volunteer training, but I was slow to get connected. Then, I met (now) World Relief’s director, Kerry Ham. I felt an instant connection. We are both operations guys, we think and strategize in similar ways. I helped him start an advisory council or what you might call a board. We recruited members and established our purpose and vision as a council. I knew, however, I needed to do more than play a strategic role. I needed to work with refugees directly.
Last week World Relief Sacramento’s Office Director, Kerry Ham, visited asylum seekers at the United States-Mexico border. He and pastors from Vida Church Sacramento and Bayside Church Folsom saw firsthand the work of World Relief and heard stories from those who have fled in hope of safety and refuge in the US. Ham reflects on some of the stories he heard and the current situation below:
In the afternoon, I found myself on the US side of Friendship Park, first inaugurated by Pat Nixon in 1971. Over the next two decades, the border was marked primarily by a marble obelisk known as Monument #258. In 1994, things began to change, however, starting with the construction of one wall. Today, the border consists of two walls and a 20-foot space only available from the American side for a few hours on weekends. Separated families reunite at the wall where they can touch fingertips.
Saturday, December 8th, we hosted our first refugee youth soccer tournament—The Winter Cup 2018—at the San Juan Soccer Club Futsal facility in Rancho Cordova. Registration opened at 8:30 a.m., but by 8:00 a.m. a large queue had already formed. Players were eager to know which team they were on and to meet their coaches. Before the tournament officially began, the eight competing teams gathered to hear rules and words of welcome from organizer, Luke Voight.
Part of Sports Friends International, Luke and his wife, Becca, joined World Relief this summer to launch The Welcome Club, an after-school refugee youth program serving children in the Arden Arcade and Carmichael area. For the past several months, they have organized weekly soccer games and activities for Afghan refugee children. While Luke ran the tournament, Becca oversaw a carnival for the players and their siblings.
This month we hosted our first storytelling night, “Journeys to Belonging,” at Beatnik Studios in downtown Sacramento. Over 200 attendees came to hear stories from refugee and immigrant women, as well as World Relief staff members highlighting different aspects of what it means to belong and feel connected to your new home. DeVon, Wade, World Relief's Church Mobilizer, stated the fact that “when you know someone’s story, they move from being a stranger to becoming your neighbor.”
The night's first speaker, Svitlana, came as a refugee from Ukraine. She and her husband wanted to raise their family in a safer place, one where there would be no threat of mandatory military service. She was expecting twins and was barely halfway through her pregnancy. Shortly after arriving in Sacramento, she went to the hospital for a checkup, and the doctor informed her that in a matter of minutes her first child would be born. At twenty seven weeks, she gave birth to her son and daughter. Her son needed an oxygen mask to breathe, and her daughter’s heartbeat was irregular. Svitlana’s World Relief caseworker asked what her family needed. They asked if World Relief could bring them food. They were spending as much time as they could at the hospital, going home only to shower, change clothes, and maybe get a few hours of sleep.
SACRIFICE AND THE COSTS OF THE REFUGEE SLOWDOWN
“As long as I am alive and breathing, you will be okay,” Ghulam exclaimed as he pulled Jawad out of the mangled U.S. army vehicle. They had trained for a scenario such as this many times before, but neither expected it would become their reality. Jawad, a linguist for the 82nd Airborne, had been trapped inside the very vehicle meant to protect him. He was bleeding badly and in shock. The unexpected IED strike killed Jawad’s co-passenger, and had it not been for Ghulam, Jawad might have experienced the same fate.
It would have been easy to panic, but Ghulam remained calm and even encouraging throughout. In Jawad’s words, he acted as a “true brother,” kindly laughing at Jawad’s fear and then giving him bravery and courage despite the grim circumstances. They had a job to do. There were three more sites to secure, three more IEDs to deal with. They needed to keep the Taliban at bay until reinforcements arrived. Jawad was medevac'd via Blackhawk helicopter to Lagman Hospital where he’d spend a month before making a full recovery. Ghulam had saved his life. By all accounts, he was a hero.
World Relief Sacramento works with and maintains relationships with nearly 50 apartment complexes in the Sacramento region, predominately the Arden-Archade area insuring a smooth and safe transition to life in the USA.
This week, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced in a press conference the Administration’s refugee policy for Fiscal Year 2019, which includes a decision to lower the refugee ceiling to 30,000 people – lower, even, than Fiscal Year 2018’s historically low cap of 45,000. With just two weeks left in Fiscal Year 2018, the U.S. has admitted fewer than 21,000 refugees, which makes clear that the administration sees this ceiling merely as a maximum, not as a goal.
Historically, California has received more refugee arrivals than any other state, and World Relief Sacramento has welcomed some of the largest percentages of refugees within the twenty-office network across the USA. We are proud that Sacramentans, donors, volunteers, church partners, our Mayor Steinberg, and friends like the Sacramento Republic FC have had such a welcoming posture towards our refugee neighbors. We are grateful that our city has a long legacy of hospitality.
So here is a no-brainer.
Looking for a way to support our refugee clients on their path to self-sufficiency and enjoy a night out with some of the best pizza in the region? With only one month away from Pedal to Resettle, our Napa-area cycling fundraiser for refugee empowerment, this is probably the easiest and tastiest way to help out.
We’re excited to partner with Chicago Fire Pizza for the next month. They’ll be hosting fundraiser nights at their Roseville, Palladio (Folsom), and Midtown locations. On these fundraiser nights, 20% of dine-in and takeout orders will go directly towards Pedal to Resettle, how easy is that!
It doesn't get much easier; pick a Chicago Fire location and date. Mention World Relief - Pedal to Resettle, and present the location flier or show your server the flier on your phone. The fliers for all three fundraising nights and locations are attached below.
“My name is Ara. I am 37 years old, and I am from Afghanistan.” She wears a floral print blouse and a black headscarf. She has just finished that day’s Vocational English class, which meets Monday through Thursday for four-hour sessions at World Relief Sacramento.
An interpreter is present, and when asked to tell her story, Ara switches from hesitant English to quick Dari. In some parts of Afghanistan, she explains, arranged marriages are common. She was twelve when she met and married her husband, who was many years her senior. After they married, the couple left Afghanistan and moved to Iran for safety. Together they had a son. Her expression, throughout the telling, remains serious and guarded. Life, she says, was difficult.
After twelve years of marriage, she divorced her husband and returned to Afghanistan. A young divorcee with a child in tow, Ara received at best a chilly reception. Not long after returning home, her husband declared that he wanted custody of their son. She knew the court would side with the child’s father; so again, she left home, this time fleeing with her son to Turkey.
The Fate of the National Refugee Program is at Stake - Act Now
Usually, these emails are about the happenings of World Relief Sacramento—new programs we’re launching, upcoming events, and ways to get involved. This is not one of those emails. Based on recent events and projections about the US refugee program, we believe it is urgent that you know how you can speak up on behalf of those fleeing violence and persecution. Proverbs 31:8 tells us to “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute.”
At this critical moment, we ask you to stand with the vulnerable and to advocate for their rights. Yesterday, the New York Times published an article regarding the future of the refugee program. Since the program’s inception in 1980 under President Reagan, the President issues a determination number or ceiling of how many refugees are allowed to enter the United States. Historically, our country has led the world in helping those who are fleeing persecution. After this past year, the Presidential Determination Number was already set at its lowest point in history at 45,000. As it stands, however, the actual number arriving this year will be around 20,000. Currently, the United States no longer leads the world in demonstrating its willingness to offer a safe haven to the vulnerable.
It is believed that the number for next year will come out very soon—possibly this week. The new Determination number is predicted to be AT MOST 25,000.
In July, the Immigration Legal Services (ILS) program offered DACA renewal services for the first time to over 60 individuals through volunteer-staffed workshops.
In 1998, Brandon Vega Ayala came to the U.S. at the age of two. His mother decided to flee an abusive relationship and her family saved the money to help her and her son cross the border without authorization. In doing so, Brandon became one of the so-called "DREAMers," or undocumented youth brought into the country as young children.
In his early years in the U.S., Brandon moved often around the Sacramento area with his mother. They eventually established themselves in the Rosemont area and he attended Hiram Johnson High School. "My mom told me I had to be careful, that I didn't have papers," Brandon explained. He participated in numerous clubs and sports in school, but his lack of status thwarted his dreams. "I planned to join the U.S. military, but my immigration status prevented me from enlisting."
When the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program was announced in 2012, Brandon was a sophomore. The new program provided protection from deportation and a work permit that was renewable every two years. He filed for DACA and has renewed it ever since.
Today, Brandon lives a full life, in part owing to his DACA protections. Last December, he married Paulina, a friend from high school. He works 50 hours a week at a grocery store while taking college classes on the side to complete programs in business management and electrical engineering.