Friends, we've been quiet for far too long and in the interim, so MUCH has been happening with our Make Welcome sewing classes! Our apologies for the extended silence. How about a long overdue update ...
Since our last blog post (waaay back in November of last year), we finished up the year with a wonderful Christmas party. Lisa led our devotion/discussion Christmas symbols - familiar to most Americans, but perhaps unfamiliar to some of our students. While she shared their roots and meanings, the women enjoyed decorating Christmas cookies in the shapes of these symbols. We exchanged gifts and it truly was an exchange, as the students had pooled their money and purchased beautiful nesting bowl sets for each of the sewing teachers and childcare helpers. We were so moved by their thoughtfulness and generosity. Of course, the kids all had a great time, too, making ornaments, decorating cookies, and opening gifts. Everyone loves a party and our Christmas party has always been a very special time of celebrating with our refugee students!
We began 2016 by taking the month of January to prepare for our move to a new teaching space! In the month before Christmas, we had been in conversations with Project 658, a local refugee service organization that has a community center near a number of the apartment complexes where our students live. We were invited to bring our classes to the center, with the option to increase the number of classes and students we serve. It was a surprising invitation and as we reflect on the its timing, we know it was an answer to prayer and an opportunity that we hope will make our sewing classes more sustainable over the long term. It also gives us wider interaction during the week in our community and the opportunity to partner with others.
We decided to make the move on a trial basis, and in February, launched a new beginner's class on Tuesday mornings. The class quickly filled with students from Afghanistan, Eritrea, Burma, Congo, and Colombia. Our beginners class that started last September continues to meet on Wednesdays, and our more advanced students, who constitute the production team for Journey Home, come on Fridays.
It's been an exciting challenge, figuring out the logistics of teaching three classes a week, but our teaching staff has risen to it! I (Beth) am grateful for all that Lisa, Carla, and Sara have done to make the transition go smoothly. In addition, we have partnered with Project 658 staff to handle childcare and transportation on Tuesday and Wednesdays. Julia continues to oversee all of those logistics for the Friday class, as well as leading training in finances and money management with the Production team on our once a month Friday evening classes. We're learning as we go, grateful for the encouragement and generosity of so many that enable us to offer these classes.
Bright, big space ready to be transformed into a ...
... with plenty of room for cutting tables, ironing stations, storage,
and large group teaching!
It's been a busy, full, interesting last few months and we want to catch you up on some of the other things we've been doing including what we've been sewing in our weekly classes. So stay tuned ... and thanks for reading![. . .]
Our emotions have been on a roller coaster ride as we have followed the news in recent weeks ...
We have been so saddened by the plight of refugees from Syria, fleeing war, violence, and terror. A few weeks back, images in the news and on social media stirred many to act or give; many who had been either unaware of or unconcerned about this devastating crisis were stirred and began to respond. We have seen an increase in awareness about the plight of refugees in our hurting world and had hope that in the midst of this horrible crisis, many would reach out in compassion to welcome those who have fled the violence.
Then, we were excited and gladdened by the news of political change in Burma, the home of the refugee artisans of our Make Welcome family. The women in class were all very happy last Friday as we asked about change in their country. There is hope that a new day free from the political tyranny of the longstanding brutal military dictatorship is finally beginning to dawn. They know that change will be slow, but there is hope.
On that same day, we were distraught to hear of the terrorist attacks in Paris. We grieved with the citizens of Paris, of those who lost loved ones in such senseless violence. And then, in the aftermath of the Paris attacks, we have watched in disbelief as the governor of our own state of North Carolina, together with governors of a number of other states, banned resettlement of refugees from Syria. We have felt sad, angry, and confused.
In the midst of this swirl of events and emotions, we give thanks. Yes, we continue to give thanks! God is love. He is light and "in Him is no darkness at all." (1 John 1:5). In a world so full of darkness, we know that the light of Christ still shines. We endeavor to be a beacon of that light, responding not in fear or hopelessness to recent events, but acting in humility, faith, confidence, joy, and love.
At Make Welcome, we are compelled by the love of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:24) to care for, serve, and learn from our refugee students and friends. We recognize that not all of the agencies and organizations that work with refugees are Christian organizations. Nevertheless, we deeply appreciate their work and give thanks that such organizations exist in our city and that among many of them, there is a refreshing spirit of cooperation and collaboration.
We give thanks for those who hear and respond to the call of our compassionate God to care for those who are weak, homeless, poor, oppressed.
We give thanks, especially for the many in our own city who have worked tirelessly to welcome and care for our new refugee neighbors. We have no doubt that these organizations and individuals will continue to sacrifice their time, money, comfort, and resources so that newcomers who have fled here will indeed find Charlotte to be a place of welcome and refuge.
We are grateful for the work of the two refugee resettlement agencies that do the initial work of welcoming refugees to Charlotte. They greet newcomers at the airport, set them up in apartments, help their children get registered in school, oversee medical needs upon arrival, enroll them in ESL classes, provide job counseling, and so much more. These two agencies are:
After the initial few months, the resettlement agencies must pass on the work of caring for refugee families to other organizations. We are thankful for the work of many organizations in our city that provide a wide variety of services:
In addition to these organizations, our local schools, health department, police department, housing authority, community college, and others provide much needed services in the refugee community. While much needs to be done to continue to raise awareness and serve the needs of the refugees in our city, we are thankful for the work that is ongoing.
We also give thanks for a number of individuals who have chosen to relocate to certain areas of the city in order to be good neighbors. Not waiting for organizational backing, these friends care for their refugee neighbors by advocating with landlords, befriending children in their apartment complexes, joining in multi-ethnic, multi-lingual Bible studies and prayer groups, and helping in whatever ways they can as they become more and more connected to their refugee neighbors.
Finally, we give thanks for those churches that have welcomed refugees into their fellowship and sought to reach out with the love of Christ in word and deed. There need to be more churches that shoulder the tasks and welcome the foreigner and oppressed. We give thanks for those that do so now and pray for more!
This is by no means an exhaustive list of all those people and groups who serve refugees in Charlotte but these are some of the folks with whom we have worked in the last three years and for whom we are very grateful.
Yes, in the midst of swirling emotions, in the ups and downs of the news of these past weeks, in the concern for what lies ahead ... we give thanks!
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