July 31, 2013

Congregational Co-sponsors Provide Solace, Welcome to Refugees

Shopping at WalMart
Shopping at Walmart. Left to right: Becky Houston of Deer Park Baptist Church, the refugee family's congregational cosponsor; Mom - Kam Nuam Niang; Dad - Hau Khan Lian; Son - Hau Deih Tuam. Photo: Brenda Childress

Nothing can make up for what Hau Khan Lian suffered at the hands of the military in his native Burma.  Still, there is solace in the warm welcome he and his family – ethnic Chin refugees – have received since Church World Service resettled them to Louisville, Ky., in April.

Hau Khan Lian was a farmer until soldiers of his country’s military regime captured him.  They questioned him aggressively, hit him, and forced him to serve as a porter.  They also hit his wife.

He escaped with his family to Malaysia, where he worked as a carpenter until he got the opportunity to resettle to the United States.  He, his wife Kam Nuam Niang and their son Hau Deih Tuam were received by Kentucky Refugee Ministries, the CWS resettlement affiliate in Louisville – and by cosponsor Deer Park Baptist Church.

Lee Welsh, Kentucky Refugee Ministries’ co-sponsorship developer, calls Deer Park and other congregational co-sponsors “people of faith at their best.” 

Why?  In preparation for the arrival from abroad of families about whom they know almost nothing, they collect furniture and other household goods and set up “beautiful, beautiful apartments,” she said, giving careful thought to “what would be really special for the family.”

“I always love to go to the apartments and see how they have thought of everything,” Welsh said.  “I have seen fresh flowers on the table, candies in a candy dish, photo holders, stuffed animals for the children.”

Then congregation members help greet the new arrivals at the airport, accompany them to the apartment, and serve them a hot meal.  KRM’s co-sponsors typically commit to pay new refugee arrivals’ rent and utilities for the first three to four months, to help the family bridge to finding work and achieving self-sufficiency.

 “When we arrived, we could not speak English, and we were very tired,” Hau Khan Lian recounted through an interpreter.  “We followed the other passengers off the plane.  Then we were surprised and very happy to meet someone who speaks our language.”

That “someone” was Si Blur, the family’s case worker at Kentucky Refugee Ministries.  Also there to greet the new arrivals and accompany them to their new apartment were several members from Deer Park Baptist Church, including Pastor David Platt.

“The apartment is comfortable, and it is good,” Hau Khan Lian affirmed.  Once the family had gotten some rest, church members took them shopping for clothing and some non-food items.  They also presented Hau Deih Tuam with some toys.  His favorite: a truck that lights up and makes noises.

Church members have been accompanying the family to appointments, and in the process showing them how to use the bank and post office and get around Louisville on their own.  Hau Khan Lian is attending English classes daily, has completed a four-week employment orientation program, and has begun the job search process.

Deer Park Baptist Church, which is dually aligned with The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and the Southern Baptist Convention, has co-sponsored several refugee families since 2008.  “I just love doing it,” said Rebecca Houston, the congregation’s refugee resettlement team leader.  “It’s a blessing.  It’s a need.”

Welcoming the Eh Moo family to their new home
Members of Immanuel United Church of Christ and a translator from Kentucky Refugee Ministries welcome the Eh Moo family on 4/25/13 to their new home in Louisville, KY. Photo: Jenifer Schultz

Another Louisville congregation, Immanuel United Church of Christ, currently is co-sponsoring its fifth refugee family in six years – Eh Moo, his wife Paw Lar Krit, and their three daughters.  Karen ethnic refugees from the war in their native Burma, they lived in a refugee camp for 11 years before being accepted for resettlement to the United States.  They arrived in Louisville in April with just one small piece of luggage for all five of them.

Sherry Loeser, who leads the Immanuel UCC team that is assisting the family, recalled, “One of our members who’s a wonderful cook went online for recipes for a meal they could and would eat.  We showed them around the apartment.  They were obviously exhausted, and famished.  They ate big, and then we got out!”

Not forever, of course.  Within a day or too, “the appointments started – for food stamps, Social Security cards, health screenings,” Loeser said.  Members of Immanuel UCC accompanied them, and also enrolled the oldest daughter, age 7, in school.

Loeser said all the families Immanuel UCC has co-sponsored have moved to self-sufficiency “more or less quickly based on who they are and sometimes on how much English they have upon arrival.  They all want to work, and they work hard.” 

Immanuel UCC has close to 300 members, with 160 people in church on a typical Sunday.  Loeser said at least 100 members have “done something actively” in the past six years to help new refugee arrivals.

“Either they actively went out and bought something, or drove them somewhere,” she said.  “Refugees typically arrive at night, and we have a group of night owls that goes out to meet the family at the airport and take them home. “

Refugee resettlement “is probably the thing we do mission-wise that draws the best response from the congregation,” Loeser concluded.  “There are so many ways in which you can help.”

See also: Church co-sponsors make U.S. resettlement easier, refugee testifies