Updates from our Refugee Family
from Rev. Donna Marsh
It has been a month of milestones! The Zeido family has been in the United States for just 29 days, and we already love them so much—you will, too! (They are a Kurdish family who fled to Turkey from northeastern Syria five years ago, and have been working and waiting for a permanent home ever since.) They have accomplished and adjusted to a LOT in a short time, strongly supported by our team leader Claire Levy and many volunteers. You will be amazed by the ways that God is providing for them through this church family and through others in the community who are excited to join in what NPC is doing. This blog doesn’t begin to cover all of the meetings, phone calls, grocery trips and volunteer help, but I hope you will be inspired by these stories and highlights:
Day 8, Thursday May 18
NPC’s own David Zweifel, another Arabic speaker, took the family to an orientation meeting at Lutheran Social Services. Did I mention how blessed we are to have a congregation with such amazing skills and international experience? In the afternoon, NPC’s Joyce Martin went to Extended Stay, where the Zeidos would live for just 2 more days. And wow, is Joyce a good teacher! When I went to deliver some food later that evening, Ribar and Rizan’s little faces popped into their window, smiling and waving. That alone would have made the round trip in rush hour traffic worth it, but then when I went to their room, all four of them greeted me with FLAWLESS English greetings and warm handshakes. They were able to say, “Fine, thank you, how are you?” and we had a tiny but authentic conversation. It was a moment of pure joy.
Day 10, Saturday, May 20
Move in day and Great Day of Service! A huge day! Early in the morning, Lisa and Ed Stucky, accompanied by their family and a crew of American University students, fanned out to pick up rental trucks and gather donated furniture and household items from 3 sites. Upon arrival at the Rockville apartment where the Zeidos will live, the AU fraternity brothers whisked beds, couches and other furniture up 3 flights of stairs! The Stuckys and AU friends were soon joined by the Hawthornes, Tockmans, and Schottkes, who went to work washing and putting away dishes, making beds, unpacking boxes, and making the small 2 bedroom apartment look and feel like a home. It was like an HGTV show!
When our translators and I brought the Zeidos to their new home in the afternoon, their jaws dropped as they looked around and said “Thank you,” over and over again in Arabic and English. We were soon joined by more NPC friends for our version of a housewarming: birthday cake, candles and presents for Rizan, who was turning 10 the next day, and Ribar who missed having a birthday party when he turned 7 in February. The big birthday gift was 2 bicycles donated by a generous church member. It wasn’t long before the Zeido boys and the NPC youth who helped with the move-in were happily playing together outside, while the adults tried to explain the mailbox, stove, and garbage disposal!
Day 11, Sunday, May 21
Time to try out the bikes! Dave and Jennifer Schottke went back on Sunday after church to help adjust the bikes for the boys, inflate the tires and start teaching them to ride! Ribar and Rizan were smiling from ear to ear. They also took the Zeidos to the grocery store, which was just as overwhelming as the first time, with no translator on hand, but God provided once again. At a bit of an impasse, Jennifer walked outside the store to try to call someone from NPC on her cell. As she was struggling to call and write down information, a hand reached down to help keep her note paper from blowing away. Jennifer looked up and thanked the woman. They started chatting, and Jennifer noticed that she had an accent. Jennifer said, “Do you happen to speak Arabic?” She did! The woman was Armenian and had lived in Lebanon. She and her family came with Jennifer to help with the shopping. Pure blessing.
Day 13, Tuesday, May 23
This church must have been praying! The second time was the charm at the Montgomery County Public Schools’ International Student Center. With our LSS caseworker on hand, a hasty run by John Turpin for even MORE documents, and the patient guidance of NPC volunteer Barbara Reese, the Zeido boys were successfully registered for school!
Tuesday evening, however, we realized that we had our first medical problem on our hands. Ribar, age 10, was in pain from a quickly worsening toothache. Once again, God provided. Dr. Betina Buss, a wonderful NPC family member and pediatrician, made a housecall, and diagnosed a badly abscessed tooth. She went to the pharmacy for antibiotics and pain reliever and brought great relief to the whole family. And how did she navigate the language? Tuesday evening was the time that an Arabic speaking volunteer sent by our Donations Coordinator Nyla Beth Gawel was set to be at the Zeidos’ apartment setting up a computer generously donated by another NPC member.
Day 14, Wednesday May 24
With transportation coordinated by Rick Hawthorne and provided by Delores Ziegler, the Zeidos headed to the Takoma Park campus of Montgomery College for English testing. This was a required step for dad Sif to begin intensive ESL class next week. He is so ready to learn. And how did little Rizan say goodbye today? With a smile and a pitch perfect English “See you soon!”
Meanwhile, I decided to walk into my children’s dentist office in Chevy Chase and plead Ribar’s case. Like almost everyone who hears about this family, the office manager and Dr. Charlie Coulter were moved, and agreed to see Ribar next week after the antibiotics have time to work.
Day 19, Monday May 29 (Memorial Day)
First trip on the Metro and a Zoo trip! Thanks to the DeSarbo family and David Mack, the Zeidos had a holiday! Together, NPC friends and the Zeidos took the Metro to the Zoo, and had a wonderful day. Although Sif and Laila are fasting during the day as part of the observance of Ramadan, according to Lynne’s Fibit, they walked about 5 miles today! Kudos to 11 year old Alyssa DeSarbo who took the lead in keeping everyone together on the Metro and bonding with the Zeido kids. The Zeidos are a close-knit, loving family, and they love to be with other young families.
Day 20, Tuesday, May 30
Sif’s first day of intensive English class at Montgomery College! This is a 30 day intensive course, designed for refugees and paid for by the resettlement agency. There is no cost to the church, but a huge benefit for Sif in gaining the English skills he desperately needs and wants in order to work. He loves the class and ended a phone call to David Mack with “Good night, Mr. David.” The only frustration is that he will have to miss a few classes for other mandatory meetings organized by Lutheran Social Services.
This was a big day for mom Laila and the boys, too. Both boys were given complete dental examinations and cleanings, entirely free of charge, at the top notch pediatric dental practice of Dr. Dana Greenwald and Dr. Charlie Coulter. We could not be more grateful for their extraordinary care and generosity. The boys have a lot more dental work ahead of them, but Dr. Charlie will be taking great care of them, and is recruiting an oral surgeon to help with some necessary extractions of damaged baby teeth.
Day 21, Wednesday, May 31
Ribar and Rizan’s first day at Luxmanor Elementary School was a huge success! The principal, teachers and students are so welcoming! There are 4 other Arabic speaking kids at the school, and as soon as they stepped off their buses, the teachers grabbed them to help Ribar and Rizan feel comfortable. When Barbara Reese and David Mack picked the boys up after school, they chattered non-stop in Arabic about how wonderful school was. They were especially impressed with all the computers! One of the Arabic speaking boys from Luxmanor lives in the same apartment complex as the Zeidos and will be on the same school bus. After school, he invited Ribar and Rizan over to play soccer. They have their first neighborhood friend!
Ribar is in 4th grade and Rizan is in 1st grade, although both boys will spend most of their day in ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) classes at first. There are only about 2 weeks of school left, so the primary goal of this time is for the boys to get comfortable with the school and practice speaking English. Many of you have asked about their schooling before they arrived in the US. Because of their precarious situation, we understand that their schooling has been off-and-on. Unlike our kids who sometimes complain about school (!), these boys are hungry for the chance to go to school and to learn.
Day 22, Thursday, June 1
Sif made a discovery this week! The man who runs the small Arabic grocery store near their apartment is from his hometown in Syria! The man has been very kind to their family, and offered to give Sif a job at $11/hr. after he learns some English. We will still look for better options, but this is a promising start. Sif also worked with an Arabic-speaking Lutheran Social Services caseworker over the phone to craft a resume. We have learned that Sif is a tailor, who at one point supervised 20 other people in a tailoring/sewing business. Time will tell whether he is able to continue in that work here, or whether he will acquire new skills and a new field. The focus is on finding employment for Sif first, then his wife Laila in the future. This is a practical and culturally appropriate approach.
Day 23, Friday, June 2
Wasting no time, Sif went to a job fair! There are some manufacturing employers in the greater DC area (especially in the direction of Baltimore) who hire workers with limited English. Right now, the focus is on finding the best options.
Day 25, Sunday, June 4
David Mack, our most frequent translator, who has been a godsend, and his wonderful wife, Roz, visited the Zeidos for a grocery outing and some practice navigating their neighborhood on foot—plus croquet!
Day 26, Monday, June 5
Ribar and Rizan took the school bus by themselves for the first time today with no problem!
Day 27, Tuesday, June 6
Volunteers and staff are focusing on getting the boys enrolled in some day camps, for at least part of the summer. This will help them to learn English by immersion, make friends and build confidence.
Day 29, Thursday, June 8
The apartment complex where the Zeidos are living has a lovely swimming pool, but the boys don’t know how to swim. Enter NPC’s own Leah Gordon, home for the summer from the US Naval Academy, who has volunteered to teach the boys to swim! It will be a gift that keeps on giving this summer and for years to come. Another form of providence: she took 3 years of Arabic in high school! There was also a Bethesda Big Train baseball outing tonight, but I’ll wait until next week’s blog when I have pictures to tell you about it!
In late June/early July, the NPC sponsored missionaries who work with the Kurdish population in Iraq are coming to town. We can’t wait for them to meet the Zeidos! It should be a great comfort to be with someone who knows their culture, and it will be a great opportunity for our volunteers to learn more.
Thank you to the many, many people who made month one a success! Please continue to pray for Sif, Laila, Ribar and Rizan every day. Your love, your generosity, your prayers, and your witness to Jesus Christ are making their new life possible.
How you can help
- Housing: Work with Lutheran Social Services to set up apartment and utilities
- Transportation: Coordinate rides, drive the family to appointments, and teach them how to navigate the DC area.
- Employment & Financial Education: Help with the job search and budgeting
- Language: Teach English or help translate from Arabic
- Medical: Find the family doctors and enroll them in medical programs
- Youth involvement: Social media, fundraising, being friends to youth who are new to the country
- Community Guide: Be a friend, go to the grocery store together, and introduce the family to American culture
- Social Services: Help the family sign up for appropriate documentation and state programs
The Refugee Family Project
Every day, the news is filled with images of refugees fleeing war in Syria and Iraq, with renewed conflict in Mosul just this week. Our hearts break for them, especially the children, and we wonder what we can really do.
In 2017, we are going to do something very personal. The NPC Session has approved the Refugee Family Project, in which we will welcome and support one family from Iraq or Syria, previously approved as refugees by our government, in their first year in the United States. This will be a partnership with Lutheran Social Services (LSS), which works with churches to welcome our new neighbors.
The US government determines how many refugees it will accept, puts them through a careful security screening process, and chooses who will come to the US. Agencies like Lutheran Social Services are contracted to provide case management and services for those who are selected, and to link them with Christian churches.
We will help to locate housing for the family and prepare an apartment, welcome them at the airport, help to enroll their children in school, help them to learn English and settle into the community, help them to find work, and provide transportation while they are learning to access public transportation. We will be their friends and a key part of their support system as they build a new life.
We will not be in this alone! In addition to working with LSS, we will be following in the footsteps of other peer churches, including Chevy Chase Presbyterian, Immanuel Presbyterian in McLean, and Falls Church Anglican.
Our proposed mission budget for 2017 includes a $20,000 line item for this project. Our funds are paired with resources provided by Lutheran Social Services, the US government, and the family themselves as they begin to earn income. After one year, the family is expected to be financially self-supporting. That’s a tall order, but also a mandate of this program—and the refugee families want to become independent!
There are some things we can specify and know in advance about the family that God is preparing for us. We will request a family of up to 5 people from Syria or Iraq. There are also some things we won’t know until shortly before they arrive. They may have had professional careers before they had to flee, or they may have little education. They may be Muslim or Christian. In any scenario, we will have an unparalleled opportunity to demonstrate God’s love and grace, show what it means to be the body of Christ, and invite a family seeking refuge into our lives, our church, and our hearts.
Please pray for the family that God will bring to us, as you pray for all those who are refugees. We will also need many volunteers to help with driving, tutoring, Arabic translation, job placement, and more. If you feel called to help in some way, please contact John Turpin, Director of Serve Ministries. If you have any questions about this ministry, please contact Pastor Donna Marsh.