RIM #40for40 Refugee Posts:
DAY 1, July 27–Irmgard Wessel, 1st Refugee Resettled by Disciples
Today is DAY 1 of #40for40 from Disciples Refugee & Immigration Ministries! As this is the 40 Year Anniversary of the US Refugee Act of 1980, you’ll hear stories and receive resources on every weekday for the next 40 days about how you can speak and act to show you believe #RefugeesWelcome! We hope you’ll follow us every day!
Today, meet Irmgard Wessel (1925-2014), daughter of the first refugee family to be resettled by a Disciples congregation – Eureka Christian Church in Eureka, IL. Her parents, Louis and Grete, evacuated her from Germany, through England, before managing to escape themselves. After a year-and-a-half separation, Irmgard and her family were finally reunited.
Once reunited, they were sent to a hostel run by Quakers in the Midwest, to learn more about how to live in America. In that Center in Scattergood, Iowa, twelve Americans helped train thirty refugees. Eventually, a group from the local Christian Church of Eureka, Illinois visited the hostel. Members of the church had been praying for months to find ways to help the refugees they had heard about who faced difficult hardships.
The church felt their prayers were answered as they met the young Irmgard and her family, and they immediately invited them to come to their community in Eureka, Illinois. Once there, they helped to resettle the refugees in a local apartment; complete with beds, food, and other necessities. As the family remembers, “We were welcomed by the church, and came to know the congregation when we were invited to a potluck dinner.”
The town itself did its best to be helpful and prepare the family for a good life in America, even though residents were from a different religion and culture than Irmgard’s family. The town and the family enjoyed learning from one another! Irmgard eventually attended Eureka College on a full ride scholarship, and served as a social worker for over 40 years. Years later, she was awarded an alumni award from Eureka College, during the same year as Ronald Reagan likewise received an alumni award!
Irmgard’s grandchildren now operate a family foundation that helps support other refugees. In November of 2015, when one state refused to resettle Syrian refugees, Irmgard’s grandson sent a large contribution to the state who decided to accept and welcome the family. He did that, he said, in honor of his grandmother Irmgard “because she never forgot how the church in Eureka had loved and accepted her family when they were refugees.”
DAY 2, July 28–The US Refugee Act of 1980 & How We Can Support It
DAY 3, July 29 — A Safe Place to Land
Today is DAY 3 of #40for40 from Disciples RIM! Today, we offer “A Safe Place to Land,” a song about the refugee experience by Sara Bereilles, and featuring John Legend: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jN7ZVXppjuU. Bereilles wrote the lyrics during the refugee crisis of 2018. Over the next 37 weekdays, we will continue to honor the 40 year birthday of the US Refugee Act of 1980, by sharing posts related to refugees. On Mondays & Fridays, we’ll share stories of Disciples’ work with refugees. On Tuesdays we’ll share actions, on Wednesdays, we’ll offer music and prayers, and on Thursdays stories of refugee essential workers during COVID-19. May today’s music inspire you and your congregation to offer “A Safe Place to Land” for those escaping tragedies!
DAY 4, July 30–Youth Art
DAY 4 of #40for40 from Disciples RIM: See & share these youth art images showing a world of love for refugees to heal COVID-19: https://www.unhcr.org/en-us/news/stories/2020/7/5f0ec22c4/young-artists-drew-world-kindness-defeats-covid-19-animated.html @DisciplesNews @DHMDisciples @DisciplesWomen #refugeeswelcome #RiseForRefuge #discipleswelcome
DAY 5, July 30–Meet Khadra Aden
DAY 5 of #40for40 from Disciples RIM (Refugee & Immigration Ministries): Meet Khadra Aden, a refugee from Somalia. Khadra, her parents and some of her siblings fled their homeland during the civil war in the early 1990’s. Her father determined that his family would be safe only if they left their beloved country. After living in a refugee camp for several years, they were able to come to Kansas City through the sponsorship of Khadra’s sister, who was already living in the United States. The sister helped them settle into a small apartment in Kansas City, MO. Her father instilled in his children the importance of work and helping others. Khadra graduated from high school and got her first full time job in housekeeping with a Marriott hotel. She rode the bus across town, her hours were long, but she did what she could to help her family.
Khadra eventually attended community college, and for the last 15 years, she has worked at Della Lamb Community Services, a small agency providing social service assistance in KC. About 7 years ago, Della Lamb became one of three agencies to sponsor incoming refugee families in Kansas City. One of Khadra’s responsibilities was to find housing for the families, a formidable task. Thanks to the vision and leadership of Nancy Lear, Country Club Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) began helping to set up the houses and apartments. (They collect household goods, make up the beds, clean the bathrooms and kitchens and try to make warm, inviting homes.) Fortunately, through hard effort and constant prayer, Khadra established relationships with several landlords in the area, some of whom are refugees themselves. The families for whom she has found housing number in the hundreds, often finding places at the very last minute. She is a devout Muslim who is very active in her mosque, and she thanks God for every successful placement. Khadra cares deeply for every family that Della Lamb serves.
Pictured are Khadra and her three children: Khadra’s daughter works in health care and plans to get a master’s degree. Her older son received a scholarship to the University of Kansas where he is a junior. Her younger son just completed his first year at Washington University in St. Louis on a full ride scholarship.
DAY 6, August 3–Meet Peter, One of the “Lost Boys of Sudan”
DAY 6 of #40for40 from DisciplesRIM: Meet Peter, one of the “lost boys of Sudan.” As an 11-year-old, Peter was separated from his family by war, and fled violence with other young boys in 1997. He shared about his journey with Disciples Women of the Kentucky Region, saying, “What was my food? It was a tree. It was a leaf. It was mud.”
The boys first stayed for six years with other refugees in Ethiopia, surviving day by day, and sometimes seeking safety in the river. As violence continued to encroach there, Peter was tragically shot in the face by soldiers. After that, the Red Cross in Africa provided some assistance. He and other boys then found their way into a U.N. refugee camp in Kenya, where they lived for about 10 years. “There” he said, “we were given 5 gallons of water two times a day—to be used for cooking, showering, and drinking.”
His injuries prioritized him for resettlement through Kentucky Refugee Ministries, and he eventually found his way into the welcoming arms of Jeffersontown Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) near Louisville, which has worked with many refugee families over the years. Church members helped Peter get the multiple surgeries needed to repair the damage to his face and teeth from being shot.
“In Africa” he testified, “Red Cross was my family. But here, Jeffersontown Christian Church is my family.” And indeed, the love between Peter and church members is mutual. Rev. Linda Jones, then KY Regional Minister and Jeffersontown Christian Church member beamed, saying, “Peter, his new wife, and three children have brought so much love into the church. He says he has ‘found new life.’ But through him, the church did too.”
Pictured are Peter, in center of left photo, with Rev. Linda Jones (L) and Kentucky Refugee Ministry’s (KRM) Co-Sponsorship Developer Maha Kolko (R) at the Disciples Women Spring Gathering in Frankfurt, KY. in April, 2018.
DAY 9, August 6–Thank You Refugee Essential Workers