New Hope Baptist Church members Tina Ortkiese, Rebecca Bankey and Diana Evans welcomed a refugee family from Central African Republic as they arrived in Atlanta en route to resettlement in Clarkston. Photo courtesy of Rebecca Bankey

Community Voices: Local churches help refugees resettle

How do you explain a vacuum cleaner to someone from an impoverished distant country, whose languages you don’t speak, and whose family has just spent two years in a refugee camp and really just wants a roof over their heads?

A group of volunteers from New Hope Baptist Church in Fayetteville had this and more to figure out over the last five months as they helped a refugee family from Central African Republic resettle in Clarkston.

Church member Rebecca Bankey is part of the Good Neighbor volunteer group, one of New Hope’s local mission projects. “We are committed to being like Jesus by welcoming and loving the vulnerable right among us,” she says.

Volunteers at this and five other Fayette County churches have been aiding refugees through World Relief, one of nine national agencies authorized by the U.S. State Department to resettle families fleeing all sorts of strife. Word Relief is the humanitarian arm of the National Association of Evangelicals, and partners with Christian churches throughout the country.

Joshua Sieweke, director of World Relief’s Atlanta office, says that the agency has helped resettle refugees from 17 countries, including Burma, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Iran, Iraq, Syria and Ukraine.

After Rebecca heard about previous efforts to help refugees, she shared information with her Bible study group and others in the area. They collected donations of household items for a family who arrived in Atlanta last September.

Names are kept confidential, but the father is a cobbler and his wife is a tailor. Their four children range in age from 2 to 11; their youngest was born in the refugee camp in Chad where they lived for two years.

Because the family arrived with just a single suitcase, the New Hope volunteers collected furniture, appliances, clothing, linens, kitchenware — everything needed to start a new life from scratch.

Joshua says such donations are “a huge blessing” for the refugees, who receive a lump sum of $1,125 per person for their initial rent, utilities and basic necessities. He says that when the admission of refugees is cut, so too is the funding that supports the overall resettlement program.

“Refugees are husbands, fathers, wives and children who are desperately hoping to find a place to accept them and let them live their lives,” Joshua says. He notes that refugees entering the United States are all pre-assigned to placement agencies that personally guide them through the resettlement process — which includes housing, health screenings, school registration, English classes and job placement — for months.

The father in the family recently helped by New Hope now works in a chicken processing plant, as do many refugees. The mother may be able to earn extra money using a donated sewing machine.

Rebecca says she appreciates the hardships they have endured. “It just amazes me, the resilience of people.” The volunteers gradually decrease their involvement as each family becomes self-sufficient, but they stay in touch.

Whatever happens nationally regarding refugees forced to leave their homes, there are people here ready to welcome them into a new one.

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