Running Toward Crisis

In light of a dark week’s events, we are becoming increasingly aware of the world’s brokenness each day. How does one respond to crisis? How should one respond to crisis? How does Christ call us to respond to crisis?

This week, Emily Gray, World Relief’s Senior Vice President of U.S. Ministries, sent out an email to our U.S. Ministry Staff. Her words affirmed World Relief’s mission to run toward the situations that most would run from: to mend brokenness where we can. Here is her message:

While on a recent flight I saw an advertisement for NBC News featuring their Evening News anchor, Lester Holt.  The spot made me think of all of you.  Let me explain…
Looking around our world it is easy to see what a very turbulent and dangerous place it has become.  Our world is getting hotter and hotter, and I don’t just mean because of the changes in our climate.  We are living through the worst displacement of people in recorded human history, and violence is increasing, not decreasing.  We are living through huge political and ideological divides that are breaking apart international alliances, governments, world religions, Christian churches and individual families.  We see rallies by white supremacists and mass murders that seem to have no specific reason beyond evil. Hatred is on the rise and we are faced with a daily barrage of bad news.
That brings me back to what Lester Holt said in his ad.  He said that reporters are people who run toward the very situations that most people run from.  But I know that reporters are not the only ones.  Across our network, and indeed around our world, I see World Relief staff running toward these very crises of displacement, hatred, governmental failure, divided churches and shattered lives to bring love, care and a peace to those who are suffering.  I see how immigrants are welcomed, and how relationships are built that are transforming lives of not only immigrants, but of those in receiving communities as well.  I see how the image of God that is reflected in all of His creation is loved and celebrated, championed and cherished.  Each of you embodies that courage, commitment and faith to keep going, day in and day out, in the face of such challenges.
As we enter this new fiscal year, our world is no less turbulent, but by God’s grace World Relief continues, and is stronger than we were a year ago.  We know that the chaos of our world and our ministry is not over, but we have much evidence from this past year that God is with us, that He has protected us and that He delights in us.  We have been, in many ways refined in this fire.  But there is surely more to come as we continue to run toward a suffering world.

Open Tables, Open Hearts

Caring for the vulnerable is not rocket science: if you open your heart to it. For a refugee family, a home is a home. There is a formidable prospect of not feeling welcome anywhere in a new country, so an open table – cramped as it may be – can be the first or most important act of welcome to their new home. 

Alysa Clark is a photographer, writer, wife, and mom, who has worked closely with World Relief since 2006. Her family’s involvement with South Park Church opened the door to what became an incredibly fruitful relationship with World Relief Chicago. When God’s heart for the vulnerable was revealed through World Relief Chicago’s ministry, Alysa and her family decided they wanted in. The Clarks ushered in the practice of standing with the vulnerable in a much more palpable way: adopting a refugee family. The family opening their home and table for this refugee family stirred Alysa’s ever-growing heart for refugees. 

In the meantime, Alysa kickstarted her photography career. Soon she felt this passion yearning for a union with her passion with refugees. In the spring of 2017, Alysa approached World Relief Chicago with her yearning to help put faces to the refugees that the organization works with. In her disappointment in the American Evangelical Church’s efforts to stand with the vulnerable over the past couple of years, she though that she could speak up in a loving way through photos: through telling stories and showcasing the faces of the vulnerable who are also made in the image of God. 

If you are nervous about what helping the vulnerable would look like in your life, take Alysa’s example to heart. Her home is small, her time is limited just as yours. But if you step in and help where there is need, God will grow your heart to make room for the vulnerable. Alysa herself asserts that as the Church, we are collectively and individually called to help the vulnerable. We all are given our circles of influences. So we need to step up and use how God’s wired us to stand with these children of God in their time of need. Helping the vulnerable can be, as Alysa describes it, messy. The time commitment can be intimidating, and it may be hard to know how to help. But stepping in and asking  where there is need is a good place to start. 

“It can be messy to help the vulnerable. The gift that refugees are outweighs any of that mess.” 

Alysa Clark’s photography can be found on World Relief Chicago’s Facebook page, as well as her photography studio’s Facebook Page, Water Street Dreams, or 

World Relief’s Statement on DACA

World Relief Urges Swift Congressional Action to Protect Individuals with DACA Status

AUGUST 29, 2017
Jenny Yang | 443.527.8363
Matthew Soerens | 920.428.9534

 World Relief Urges Swift Congressional Action to Protect Individuals with DACA Status

BALTIMORE, MD – Recent news reports suggest that President Trump is seriously considering the termination of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which since 2012 has allowed approximately 800,000 young people who came to the United States as children to obtain employment authorization and a reprieve from the threat of deportation.

We have witnessed first-hand the transformation in these young people’s lives as they have been given the opportunity to work lawfully, which they have used to advance their educations, to help provide for their families, and to serve their local churches and the broader community.

World Relief has a long history of serving and advocating for vulnerable immigrants and refugees. Along with our local church partners, we have assisted thousands of individuals in applying for or renewing their DACA designation through provision of affordable Immigration Legal Services. World Relief believes that such a designation has afforded hard working, decent young people an opportunity to live their lives with a level of security and opportunity that allows them to flourish. Such a designation is needed to ensure these young people can continue to pursue their dreams even as Congress comes up with a more comprehensive solution.

Like many other employers throughout the country, World Relief has also been richly blessed by several staff members whose work authorization is contingent upon the DACA program. Along with many businesses and organizations, our ministry would be harmed if we were no longer able to employ these superb individuals in whom we have invested training and staff development resources.

As such, we are deeply troubled by the news that the program may be rescinded, and we urge President Trump to keep the program in place at least until such time as Congress passes a legislative solution to the legal status challenges faced by these individuals.

We urge Members of Congress to expeditiously pass such legislation, which enjoys broad bipartisan support in various polls. Most Americans agree that a young person who was brought to the United States as a young child—who has otherwise abided by the law, has applied themselves at school, and who voluntarily provided their information to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security at our federal government’s invitation to initially apply for DACA—should maintain the opportunity to work, pay taxes, and contribute. It would be unjust to punish these individuals for a decision made, in most cases, by their parents.

Members of Congress in both the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate have already introduced bipartisan legislation including the DREAM Act and the BRIDGE Act that would sustain, at least on an interim basis, these individuals’ employment authorization and protection from deportation. We applaud these efforts, and urge all Members of Congress to quickly pass one of these bills without delay.

“As followers of Jesus, we believe that advocating for this legislation is an important way to tangibly love our neighbors and to stand in solidarity with the many in the U.S. whose livelihoods depend upon this program,” said World Relief president Scott Arbeiter. “To end the DACA program at this point, without a legislative solution, would be unjust and cruel,” added World Relief CEO Tim Breene, “We urge those in positions of authority to do all they can to stand with these young people who have contributed so much to our country and have the God-given potential to contribute so much more if we, as a society, will allow them.”

As our nation faces a series of trials—including a devastating hurricane in Texas, the aftermath of violence perpetrated by white supremacists and neo-Nazis in Charlottesville, and now the possibility of hundreds of thousands of young people being put at risk if the DACA program is terminated—World Relief calls upon Christians everywhere to pray for our nation. In obedience to Scripture, we pray in particular for those entrusted to positions of political leadership, that all who call this country home, including those who are most vulnerable, “may live peaceful and quiet lives” (1 Timothy 2:2).

Download the PDF version of this press release

The Immediate and In Between by Natalie Sarrett


The following story is written by Natalie Sarrett. She is a senior majoring in International Relations with minors in Middle Eastern Studies and Strategic Intelligence at Liberty University. She grew up in the Middle East and absolutely fell in love with the culture and people (and food) and would love to see the displaced peoples throughout that region returned to their respective homelands under healthier conditions. But until that day comes, she is passionate about helping them acclimate to the United States as best they can.  She considered it a privilege to get to serve with the World Relief Chicago staff.

I’ve always been a big picture kind of person. Asking long-term questions and projecting end goals were instinctual to me even as a child; however, in the tumultuous world of refugee resettlement, that perspective can be both a help and a hindrance.

I came into this summer’s internship still clinging to my broad stroke approach to life and work, but soon found that in order to be effective in the long-term, I must learn to operate on a day-to-day basis, feet firmly planted in the now. The families that World Relief serves needed to know that I was fully committed to their cause today. I was one of their only advocates in this strange new land, and they desperately needed assurance that someone was invested in their immediate futures.


Most incoming refugees have not had the luxury of planning their lives out a year, a month, or even a week in advance; a large portion of our clientele are escaping war-torn or poverty-stricken countries with just enough personal valuables to feel the sting of loss when they are confiscated at various border crossings. In order to properly empathize and function in the workplace, I had to narrow my scopes a bit.

In focusing more on the immediate tasks at hand, not only was I able to better prioritize work assignments, but also fully engage with the little in-between moments that make the job worth doing.

I distinctly remember the morning a timid new arrival approached me in my cubicle, asking in broken English if I would mind passing a note with her name and phone number on it to her new friend, who was otherwise occupied an orientation meeting. She was clearly smitten, and I was struck by the fact that amid all of the overwhelming stress and confusion of her first week in a new country, she had found cause for celebration (and potential companionship) in a conference room.

Another afternoon, I was helping an older Syrian man buy a bus ticket – a menial task by most standards – and stopped to ask him when he arrived in America. He had just been in the States for a few months, so I further inquired if he had any friends or family in the Chicago area. At this question, he blushed and averted his gaze. After fumbling over his words for a moment, his head shot up, and he met my eyes with a newfound confidence stating, “No. I don’t have anyone left in Syria, and I don’t know many people here yet…but World Relief, they are my family.”

Both of these instances have served as potent reminders for me of the vitality of dwelling in the here-and-now and paying attention to the more pressing needs of those around me. Over the course of the summer, I have been incredibly privileged to be allowed into people’s lives in a distinct and nuanced way that I would attribute to this freshly discovered appreciation for the immediate and in-between, with all that they hold.


This post was written by Natalie Sarrett, World Relief Chicago’s Summer 2017 Refugee Resettlement Intern.

Today Meant Something More

blog5This story was written by one of our volunteer in-home tutors. We hope her words bless you as much as they bless us.

Every day means something on a certain level — that’s what I tell myself on those many tedious days when I have to muster up the courage to get on that “L” platform in February or when I’m looking at my packed schedule wondering how I’m going to get everything done if I keep my weekly tutoring appointment. I tell myself: every day means something. But, today didn’t just mean something in the greeting card, cat poster, motivational way. Today was different. Today meant something more.

We were working on prefixes, so it was supposed to be a rather boring day. Even still, my student was eager to learn. She bent over the page and, every muscle tense, set to work deciphering the fine print of the tedious language that refused to call her its master. As she copied a list of words into her notebook, a look came into her eye that struck me. I could see her desperate desire to internalize everything I was teaching her. A pained cry escaped her lips followed by a short desperate prayer in her own tongue. She grasped the paper with both hands as if attempting to force it into submission. As far as she’s come, fifty-five is still a difficult age to learn a language.

I stepped in and began to read to her, stopping now and again to explain the words she didn’t know — which were many. I spoke slowly and sounded out the words so each syllable was audible to her untrained ear. At the same time, I was careful not to make it too choppy, else she might pick up the strange annunciation and copy it, thus making her newly discovered vocabulary unintelligible.

As I stressed about doing everything right for her, my student sighed, rubbed her exhausted eyes, then got up, and walked into the kitchen. She returned with a plate of pork with rice and a small dish of butter cookies. I smiled and thanked her. “Eat! Eat!” she said — her way of telling me “Thank You” for teaching her.

As I munched on the food, I looked around the familiar living room. Two years ago when I first started coming here, my student’s family had just moved in. The living room where we study was sparsely furnished — a low couch and a woven matt were the only items to speak of.  Today, the room was cluttered with the varied paraphernalia of an active and vibrant family.

Attracted by the cookies, my student’s little granddaughter — a bright-eyed, twirling, girl with the tendency to randomly burst into trills of “Let it go! Let it Go!” — climbed onto my lap. When I first started coming here, this little girl was an only child. Now, she has two bright-eyed, siblings, both of whom I held in my arms as tiny babies but are now learning to walk.

After I gave the granddaughter a cookie and sent her on her way, my student and I began chatting in simple, broken English. I told her about the project I was working on for a college class. She told me a story about a cousin whose daughter is a budding musician back home in Burma. When I first started coming here, my student and I barely spoke to each other. Our time together was mostly awkward, halting attempts at making ourselves understood, scattered with overly long periods of encouraging smiles. Today, we chattered away.  It didn’t matter that we cheerily skipped through the sentences in a way that wasn’t entirely grammatically correct. We knew what we meant and that was what mattered.

In that moment, I realized that prefixes and suffixes, while good and helpful, had never been the point. I felt this sudden need to tell her how important the last two years had been to me. The words tumbled out of my mouth: it was a privilege to see her family build their life up from scratch; it was a complete joy to watch her family grow. Above all, I truly appreciated her friendship and admired her strong determination.

My student looked back at me with a tear in her eye. “Teacher,” she said, “I see you as part of my family.”

With that, I knew, while every day meant something to her, today meant something more to me.

Standing for the Vulnerable Despite Cuts

PicMonkey CollageThe refugee program suspension has been lifted with a federal judge ruling to block the second executive order on refugees. We are encouraged by this ruling and our ability to continue serving people fleeing unimaginable circumstances. Unfortunately, the ruling does not affect the stipulation that reduces the number of refugee arrivals from 110,000 to 50,000. We know this means that there are still 60,000 people who the US was prepared to receive, but will no longer be offering the protections of resettlement this year.

Because of the cuts, we will be receiving only a maximum of 68 more refugees(208 less than anticipated) through the end of the fiscal year (Oct 1st). This drop in incoming refugees has also resulted in a drop in incoming funding as World Relief Chicago is partially funded through a government grant based on the number of refugees we resettle. We’ve had to cut personnel and many of the remaining staff must fulfill multiple roles. Even still, we are determined to continue actively standing in the gap for the vulnerable and there are many ways we can accomplish this despite the cuts.

Through Resettlement

While we are receiving fewer new families, there is still a lot to be done. Resettlement doesn’t end at the airport. Most refugee families come with only a few suitcases, some even less than that. They’ve been through hell and back. While they’re excited to finally have a stable roof over their head, US culture and customs are a whole new set of hurdles. In order to help ensure a successful transition, our case managers are working with refugees to help them heal, adjust and build a foundation for their new life. Our teams of volunteer good neighbors are also coming alongside the families, showing them around, and being that first network of friends where they can find community.  Last fall, we had a large influx of incoming families. There is still a lot to be done in helping our refugees successfully acclimate to their new home.

Through Education

Refugees arrive with varying levels of English proficiency. Learning to communicate means the difference between confidently traversing the CTA or being homebound, getting hired or being unemployed, helping their kids with homework or being excluded. Our English teachers are busy providing intensive, life-skills English language training for newly arrived refugees and immigrants. We also have volunteers partnering with individual refugees for additional, one-on-one, in-home tutoring.

Through Employment

Self-sufficiency is always our goal in refugee resettlement. Landing a good job is a critical factor in making that happen. With last fall’s influx of refugees, our employment staff faced a challenge: finding everyone jobs during a low hiring season. Many refugees ended up in what we call “survival jobs” – which helped them make ends meet through the winter, but were not enough to support their families long-term. As the weather warms up and businesses start hiring again, our employment staff is looking to help place these refugees in more stable work environments.

Through Legal Services

Immigration law is always tricky to understand, especially if you’re a newcomer to the US. Our legal services team is hard at work providing, professional, compassionate and affordable immigration-related legal assistance to low-income immigrants and refugees. Particularly in these last few weeks, as the US has undergone several rounds of changes in visa and immigration practice, many families have turned to us to help them understand their rights.

Through Advocacy

Over the last couple months, we’ve been mobilizing staff to spread awareness of refugee needs. Churches and community groups are requesting World Relief Chicago representatives to come speak on refugee issues. We always value these opportunities to be a voice for those who have none and to call the Chicago community to join us in actively standing in the gap for the vulnerable.

The Executive Order and What it Means

airport-welcome-wisam-1.jpgTravel Ban, 120 days, 90 days, seven Muslim-majority countries, there are a lot of catch-phrases and facts floating around about The President’s executive orders on refugees. With Monday’s signing of the revised order, a new layer of complexity and confusion has arisen. We at World Relief Chicago want you to be informed and confident in speaking about the issue of refugee resettlement. We’ve put together this fact sheet to explain what the new E.O. actually says and what that means, particularly when it comes to our work with refugees in Chicago.

  • The new executive order revokes and replaces the original executive order on refugees. This means that the original bill, which was temporarily suspended due to legal issues, will not go back into affect. The game is reset so to speak.
  • Suspends entry of foreign nationals from Sudan, Syria, Iran, Libya, Somalia, and Yemen for 90 days. There are some new clauses that make exceptions for green card holders and allow for case by case judgements on medical emergencies and other special circumstances. But, for the most part, individuals from these seven countries won’t be allowed into the US until after June 14th.
  • Suspends the entire US refugee resettlement program for a minimum 120 days. This is one of the major stipulations that affects World Relief Chicago. It means, from March 16 – July 14, World Relief and all other US refugee resettlement agencies will not be receiving any new refugee families. Not only does this prevent Syrian refugees — fleeing civil war and ISIS — from finding a safe home in America, but it also affects refugees from Burma, Ukraine, Cambodia, and many other countries who are not connected to ISIS. Four months may not seem unreasonable, but, for war-weary parents trying to provide for their children in refugee camps, it’s a long time.
  • Reduces the number of refugees the US will accept this year from 110,000 to 50,000. This is a huge cut that has major implications for World Relief Chicago. This year, the US has accepted 32,000 refugees, 148 of whom have been resettled through World Relief Chicago. This means that from now until the new fiscal year (Oct 1st), only 18,000 more refugees will be allowed into the US and a maximum of 68 will be resettled through World Relief Chicago. These numbers are the lowest in our country’s history. Last year, the US accepted 84,000 and World Relief Chicago resettled 425 refugees. All this stands in stark contrast to the vast amount of need as we are currently facing the largest humanitarian crisis of our generation.
  • Issues a review of the immigration and refugee resettlement process. The current refugee screening, which is the most thorough of all US entry processes, is a multi-step process that generally lasts anywhere between 18 months to 3 years, and includes fingerprinting, biometrics, retina scans, and multiple interviews by different agencies, including the United Nations, State Department, and U.S. Department of Homeland Security.  For this reason, as well as the system’s proven track record (of the roughly three million refugees admitted since 1980, none has ever killed a single American in a terrorist attack), World Relief has argued that that compassion and security do not have to be mutually exclusive.

According to Tim Breene, CEO of World Relief “This new executive order does not solve the root problems with the initial order—the cutting of refugee admissions by 55% and the inability for some of the world’s most vulnerable refugees to come to the United States, it is more of the same.” World Relief has publicly committed to being both pro-security and pro-refugee. For the past forty years, we’ve carried out our mission, to empower the local church to serve the most vulnerable. A large facet of carrying out that mission has been in resettling refugees. In a recent press release, World Relief called on the administration to commit the resources and coordination needed to carry out the security review process as quickly as possible to ensure that this life-saving refugee resettlement program is not delayed any longer than necessary. “We stand with refugees. Standing with us are many thousands of American citizens in congregations and communities across the nation who have joined us in this cause,” says World Relief President Scott Arbeiter, “We will continue to appeal to churches throughout the U.S. to continue to support refugees.”

If you would like to join us in supporting refugees, we have released a limited edition #WeWillAlwaysWelcomeRefugees t-shirt. The t-shirt is available for purchase on All proceeds go to support our work with refugees.