Restoration in the ESL Classroom

edited_14_zps71ceal1lThis reflective essay was written by one of our ESL teachers at World Relief Chicago. We hope her words bless you as much as they bless us.

World Relief Chicago has three levels of English classes. Our classes consist of immigrants from our neighborhood community and the refugees we resettle through our agency. As the instructor of one of our classes, I’ve grown accustomed to my front row seat to the life, growth, and depth of our students. Day in and out we practice the mantras of “Mistakes are good, they help us learn!” and “Never be afraid to ask a question!” We practice pronunciation. The stress goes on the wrong syllable. We write the weekly vocabulary on our whiteboard. The first word is misspelled. We practice questions of who, what, when, and where so we can apply these to “small-talk” conversations. Our students sit in conversation groups and reveal their differences, their similarities, their quirks, their fears, and their greatest joys. Those of us who work day in and out in this context forget that, for many, these stories are not a given. Its important to reflect on what God is doing in this unique setting through and beyond the language we share.

One of the most interesting things I’ve observed in my time as an ESL teacher is the direct, but often forgotten, correlation between language and restoration that exists in full-form inside World Relief’s classrooms. Here, the term restoration is referred to as rebirth found in relational and cultural forgiveness, the discoveries and acknowledgements of one’s abilities, and the eagerness to employ skills both newfound and those waiting to be uncovered.

Restoration, in the ESL classroom, is putting back together the pieces that are left in the wake of hardship and seeing the potential for new ones. Restoration is grief in all that’s been lost and hope for all that lies beyond the grasp. Restoration is done through and in relationships and through and in language. English isn’t the key, but attempting to share who you are, who you have been, and who you would like to become provides an outlet, a means forward.

Our students discover a relationship with language and study. Some of our students become acquainted with an academic setting for the first time. Here our students find relationship sitting shoulder to shoulder with each other’s opposing worldviews. They learn to respect and search for the similarities in each other. They work to see the person before the conflict, the human being before the political, religious, or cultural differences.

Our students come face to face with a relational God. On Friday mornings, students rise earlier than normal to gather before school for a Bible study. They read a section of the gospels or Psalms and share stories of how God has gotten them through, how he’s still getting them through. Those same students encounter God when they share those insights in conversation groups in class. They encounter God when vocabulary words like valuable and worthy and creative appear in a daily text. Why does a person have value? Who makes us creative? Why are you worthy? I pose the questions and wait for the critical thinking and the answers. In open discussion, we get to the bottom of God’s worth in us, his creativity in mankind. Maybe, I hope, these conversations put a spotlight on the often over-looked Imago Dei inside each of us.

I think of the stories I’ve heard – words forming up out of the groundwork of language to create meaning to the experience of life.

I think of the woman who lived under abuse, but strove to make it to class every day. “Teacher, this is my second home. This is my family,” she says,  “I feel safe here. I’m not afraid. Now, little by little I feel strong. I’m not cry all the time anymore.”

I think of the married couple who others refer to as “Mama” and “Papa” because of their consistent, parental presence in the class. Every person gets a chocolate bar on their birthday, but our class “Mama” got a student initiated and organized surprise party. Students bought roses, balloons, cakes, and streamers for the event.

I think of the concern a body of students shares for another student who has been separated from his family. As he works to reunify his family, by bringing them to the United States, his classmates bring him groceries and call him when he doesn’t come to class. One day he sat back, looked around, and said, “Here I am alone, but I am not alone, because I have my family in here.”

I think about the tears often shed, or bravely held back, during our family and friends unit. The majority of people have lost family and friends. As we draw and label our family trees, the language and the community gives students space to write, to talk, and to speak. Their drawings and narrations become a kind of memorial to those lost loved ones.

I think of the different religions, political affiliations, cultures, and worldviews existing in one small space. It baffles me that this community even functions.

The fact remains; this is still a sixteen hour a week English class. Pain developed over the years will run deep, will pour over, will keep these students in cyclical patterns of frustration and fear. But, this is a start. Every act of restoration needs a beginning.


Three ways to stand with refugees

If you’ve been following the news this week and wondering how you can stand with refugees in your community, here are three ways you can help:

  • PRAY– Most refugees eligible for U.S. resettlement wait years until they are approved to come to the U.S. Please pray especially for the refugees who were next up in line for resettlement, and now must wait months before they can start their new lives in the U.S. Pray also for refugees in the U.S. anticipating reunification with family members abroad, and pray that the Church will respond with compassion and courage in this time.
  • GIVE– The proposed changes to the U.S. refugee resettlement program include funding cuts for resettlement agencies like World Relief Chicago. These cuts compromise our ability to care for refugees and limit our capacity to engage local churches and volunteers in this work. Please consider making a financial gift.

Thanks for standing with local refugees!


What Is a Refugee?

What is a refugee?

A refugee is an individual living outside of his/her home country and who is unable to return to his/her home country because of persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution due to race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.

What is the Refugee process in the US?

The refugee process is very extensive and thorough.  It could be years before a person is designated as refugee eligible to come to the U.S.  Therefore, the refugee status has to be granted before the arrival to the United States. Refugees go into a comprehensive background check to verify that they are admissible to the United States.  More information about the extensive screening process can be found here:

Can a refugee work in the U.S?

A refugee is authorized to work immediately upon arriving to the U.S.

Can a refugee petition for family members?

A refugee may petition for family members (spouse and unmarried children under 21 years old) outside the U.S to join them.  There are some qualifications and deadlines that need to be met in order to file these family petitions so it’s important to seek legal advice promptly.

When can a refugee apply for his/her green card?

Refugees are required by law to apply for his/her green card (legal permanent residence card) in the U.S one year after being admitted as a refugee.  Each refugee has to file his/her own application (family members must file separately for their green card).

What are the qualifications to apply for a green card?

For a refugee to be eligible to apply for a green card, she/he must:

  • be present in the U.S for at least one year
  • be admissible to the U.S. as an immigrant
  • refugee status has not been terminated or cancelled
  • not currently have a green card (permanent resident card)

Can a Refugee travel outside the U.S?

It is important to always ask a legal representative before the refugee travels outside the U.S.  Travel can lead to loss of the refugee’s status and possibly put the refugee in removal proceedings from the U.S.  Also, a refugee should not be using his/her home country passport to travel outside the U.S.  A “refugee travel document” is needed to travel outside the U.S.

Can a refugee renew his/her home country passport?

It is strongly recommended that a refugee does not use or renew his/her home country passport when travelling.  Using or renewing a home country passport would cause issues to his/her original assignation as refugees.

Can a refugee vote in the United States?

A refugee is not eligible to register to vote or vote in the United States. Only U.S. citizens are eligible to vote in the U.S.

When can a refugee apply to become a U.S. citizen?

After a refugee has had his/her green card for five years, he/she is eligible to apply for U.S. citizenship.

What are the benefits of becoming a U.S citizen?

Some of the benefits of becoming a U.S. citizen are:

  • Voting rights
  • Eligible to bring family members to the U.S.
  • Children born abroad to U.S citizens are automatically U.S citizens as long as certain criteria is met
  • Ability to travel with a U.S. passport
  • Eligible for Federal jobs
  • Ability to become an elected official in the U.S.



*The contents of this blog post are intended to convey general information only and not to provide legal advice or opinions.  For advice on specific legal issues, please contact our Immigrant Legal Services department.


La pasión de servicio de una voluntaria fue encendida nuevamente

Shobhana Kasturi ha colaborado como voluntaria con World Relief desde diciembre de 2014. Como abogada voluntaria, Shobhana ayuda en nuestro Departamento de Servicios Legales de Inmigración realizando la evaluación legal de casos y preparándolos conjuntamente con otros miembros del equipo, así como asistiendo con eventos de divulgación. Estas son algunas de las tantas tareas que ha realizado para asistir a nuestros abogados y consejeros de inmigración.

Hannah Kiefer, Coordinadora de Voluntarios de World Relief Chicago, tuvo la oportunidad de pasar un rato charlando con Shobhana sobre su experiencia con la organización.

¿Cuál ha sido su experiencia asistiendo en nuestro Departamento de Servicios Legales de Inmigración?

“. . . He visto clientes que vienen sintiéndose desesperanzados y abatidos, y luego, cuando salen de una consulta, hay alegría y optimismo, porque se les ha dado alguna esperanza. Veo que cada consejero y abogado quiere ayudar genuinamente.”

“No es inusual que [los clientes] vengan y den suvenires, agradecimientos, traigan comida, etc. Algunos vienen y se sientan y quieren charlar porque ahora su relación ha evolucionado. Ha trascendido incluso esa relación [de servicio]. Eso dice mucho acerca de los servicios que se proporcionan. Significa que el cliente ha sido afectado positivamente por el trabajo que se ha hecho. ”

¿Qué tipo de desafíos y/o alegrías ha experimentado durante su servicio como voluntaria?

“. . . el programa de Servicios Legales de Inmigración de World Relief. . . proporciona un mejor cuidado y atención a pesar de que [hay] una gran cantidad de casos que pasan por el mismo. No siento que los clientes sean un número. Sus abogados y consejeros los conocen por su nombre. Conocen sus casos de arriba a abajo. Si fueras ahora mismo y le preguntaras [a un miembro del personal] sobre un caso, podrían recitar fácilmente todos los detalles. El nivel de dedicación y cuidado es realmente muy alto.”

“Si tienes compasión cuando estás abogando por tus clientes, logras un impacto tan significativo. Es por eso que tienen tan buena reputación.”

Shobhana tuvo observaciones adicionales para compartir.

“[El Departamento no sólo] les proporciona servicios legales, sino que también les dan esperanza, una pequeña luz de esperanza. El abogar por los derechos de otros nos es una tarea mecánica, sino que se combina con la pasión y el deseo de lograr su éxito.”

“Ésta ha sido mi experiencia y es por eso que quiero seguir teniendo una relación con el Departamento

A New Way To Celebrate the Holidays

Even though October is barely over yet, you’ve probably noticed that Christmas decorations are popping up in a variety of places. The fact that people are focusing on  Christmas already, before Thanksgiving has been celebrated, elicits many different responses from people. As shoppers begin to gear up for the Christmas season, retailers everywhere are gearing up for our nation’s unofficial national shopping days, Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Most people know that these shopping days exist, but did you know that there is also an unofficial global day for giving?

On Tuesday, November 29th people all across the world will participate in #GivingTuesday. The focus of this movement is to encourage people to give to their local charities in any way that they are able to. This is a way to celebrate the holidays that we here at World Relief Chicago are pretty pumped about!

World Relief Chicago would like to invite you to participate in #GivingTuesday by building a Welcome Kit for a refugee family. When refugees arrive here, they often don’t have necessary household items. Providing a Welcome Kit for a family not only provides them with items that they need, it also shows them that they are welcome and that it is important to us that they feel at ease in their new home.

A Welcome Kit could be something that you and your family do together to positively impact the life of a refugee family. Or you could spread the word to your church and inspire a Welcome Kit drive. No matter how you chose to go about giving, you will be providing much needed materials as well as assurance that a family is welcome in their new and unfamiliar country.

While you’re preparing to do your part on #GivingTuesday, feel free to let others know about this global day of giving, as well as our Welcome Kits, while using the Giving Tuesday hashtag!

Learn more about the #GivingTuesday movement at

Learn more about our Welcome Kits at

The Road to Citizenship

With Election Day 2016 drawing near, one thing is sure to be on the mind of every U.S. citizen – voting.


This year’s vote is particularly significant for the approximately 680,000 individuals who have become naturalized U.S. citizens each year since Election Day 2012; this election will be their first opportunity to cast their vote for President.


While the benefits of becoming a naturalized U.S. citizen are immense, so are the eligibility requirements.  To apply to become a naturalized U.S. citizen, a U.S. legal permanent resident must satisfy all of the following general eligibility requirements*:


  1. Be at least 18 years of age at the time of filing;
  2. Be a legal permanent resident of the United States for a required period of time;
  3. Have lived within the state or USCIS district where he/she claims residence for at least 3 months prior to filing;
  4. Have demonstrated physical presence within the United States for a required period of time;
  5. Have demonstrated continuous residence for a required period of time;
  6. Demonstrate good moral character;
  7. Demonstrate an attachment to the principles and ideals of the U.S. Constitution;
  8. Demonstrate a basic knowledge of U.S. history and government, as well as an ability to read, write, speak and understand basic English; and
  9. Take an Oath of Allegiance to the United States.


In our Immigration Legal Services department, we recognize the complexities of the application process.  Therefore, it is our goal to provide affordable, reliable, quality legal services to members of our immigrant communities seeking U.S. citizenship.  One way we have been able to accomplish this is though assisting eligible U.S. legal permanent residents to apply for U.S. citizenship through in-office appointments and naturalization workshops.


If you or someone you know is interested in determining legal eligibility for U.S. citizenship, please call our Immigrant Legal Services department at 773-583-3010. For additional information on World Relief Chicago’s Immigrant Legal Services department, please visit


Although any naturalization applications submitted now will not be adjudicated in time for Election Day 2016, once granted, a naturalized U.S. citizen will be able to exercise his or her right to vote in any local, state, or Federal election in the future!


*The contents of this blog post are intended to convey general information only and not to provide legal advice or opinions.  For advice on specific legal issues, please contact our Immigrant Legal Services department.


Our first 5k!

Last Saturday, around 150 runners and walkers lined up across the starting line at the first World Relief Refugee 5k. The group was a mix of of 6-minute milers, parents with strollers, and kids running their first 5k. Some participants heard about the event from their church, others were invited by a World Relief staff member or volunteer, and still others simply saw a flyer posted at their local grocery store or coffee shop. What united this group of runners was their desire to come together to raise awareness and support for Chicago’s refugee community.

Runners and walkers enjoyed the beautiful weather, chatted with one another to find out how they were connected to the cause of supporting local refugees, and were even treated to free massages at the end of the race.

We were humbled by the great turnout and show of support for refugees in Chicago. We suspect most people had a good time, but we’ll let you check out the photos below to decide for yourself. Thanks again to all our walkers, runners, volunteers, and donors!