Quiet Generosity, Big Impact

41 And he sat down opposite the treasury and watched the people putting money into the offering box. Many rich people put in large sums. 42 And a poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which make a penny. 43 And he called his disciples to him and said to them, “Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box. 44 For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.”

Mark 12:41-44

When we think of generosity, most of us probably envision large donations from athletes, actors, politicians, or the wealthy, usually intending to accomplish an audacious goal like curing a disease or ending world hunger.

The Coyle family sees giving through a different lens; a quieter generosity. When they think of hospitality and generosity, they see refugees.


The Coyles began volunteering with World Relief just over five years ago. The family of five, Danny and Bonnie, as well as their children, Debbie, Michael, and Hadassah, planned on becoming missionaries in India, and hoped they could mentor a Nepali or Bhutanese family; two of the many people groups we resettle in Spokane.


IMG_6635“I guess God had different plans for us,” Danny said with a laugh.

World Relief staff placed the Coyles with an Iraqi family five years ago, and the two families have since become one.

“We’ve just really enjoyed getting to know them; getting to know their culture,” Bonnie says. “We’ve loved becoming their friends.”

The two families are currently celebrating one of the Iraqi family’s daughters, who recently took home the Cooper Jones Award at her sixth grade graduation. The award was a special surprise for the families and recognizes the kindness in the girl that every parent hopes to see in their child.

The daughter’s kindness, as with most children, is likely a reflection of the character she observes in her parents. The Coyles see this in the generosity and hospitality of the multiple refugee families they now mentor. Their giving nature doesn’t make headlines, but it makes an impact.

The family tells plenty of wonderful stories about refugees’ generosity, but one stood out.

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When Bonnie gave birth to Hadassah just over three months ago, the family said they were almost overwhelmed because five families showed up at the hospital to celebrate with them.

“As we reflected on that over the next couple weeks, we saw how special it was,” Danny said. “They all brought gifts and just wanted to pour into our lives. It’s always been like that.”

Often, the Coyles will spend hours at the homes of refugee families, where the families make and serve them dinner. Days where the families spend less than a couple hours together are the exception, not the rule. Celebrations of each others triumphs, like the award and impromptu baby shower, are standard.

“I think I’m learning what it means to be hospitable through the way they’ve shown that to me,” Bonnie said.

Bonnie may be understating her family’s impact though. In their five years of volunteering with World Relief, the Coyle’s serve refugees with open hearts and big smiles. In addition to the families they mentor, Danny and Bonnie help refugee children with their homework, taught new arrivals the Spokane bus system, and even set up doctor’s appointments.

They do it for many reasons, including as a way to live their Christian faith. Debbie, Waras and Anhar

“We’re called to love those who are hurting; the least of these,” Danny said. “People are coming out of situations where they’re really desperate, which gives us an opportunity to reflect Christ’s love to them in the way we think he would want us to.”

In that way, the Coyle’s are showing off some generosity of their own. Like their refugee friends, they provide help where they can, within their unique circumstances to make a positive difference.

For them, it doesn’t seem to be about how many copper coins you have. It’s about how they and their refugee friends make them count.

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For host family, a little empathy pays big dividends

At World Relief, the help of volunteers gives us the power to serve refugees who make Spokane their home. Without their help, it would be nearly impossible to serve the people to whom we are called, and we are incredibly thankful for them.

Matthew and Laura Crotty decided to volunteer with World Relief in late 2015 after being prompted by separate events which stirred empathy within them to help the most vulnerable.

For Matthew, a military veteran who spent time in the Middle East, fear-inducing statements about Islam in the 2016 presidential primary season prompted involvement. He saw a need to get involved and help those who would be hurt most by the statements. Around the same time, Laura was stirred to action by photos of children who washed up on a Turkish beach.

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“Those photos hurt me, as a mother,” Laura said. “I couldn’t stop thinking about them and grieving for them.”

Their empathy is part of what drove the Crotty’s to take on one of World Relief’s most unique volunteer roles: hosting refugees for their first nights in America.

The family began welcoming some of the world’s most vulnerable people to Spokane in May just over a year ago. Since then, their house has been a temporary home for families and individuals during their first days or weeks in America.

The Crottys welcomed their first refugees in May 2016. They waited up until 1 a.m. to greet a family of six from Aleppo, Syria. To say they were nervous would be an understatement, but Laura described the experience as “beautiful.” The families communicated via Google Translate and body language for the weeks they were together and have since remained friends.

The Crotty’s kids, Avery, Jay, and Charlie, have been impacted by the experience too. Laura recalled an instance where one of their Syrian friends accidentally messed up one of Jay’s Lego creations. As happens with most children, Jay wasn’t pleased, but Laura found a way to put destruction in perspective. She showed Jay photos of Aleppo. An empathy-building experience to be sure.

“To be able to say to your kid ‘that’s Aleppo, that’s their city’ and see the growth that comes from that conversation is huge,” Laura said. IMG_6332

The kids gained even more than a lesson’s worth of perspective too. They’ve become friends with many of the folks who walked through the Crotty’s door in the last year. The families are still connected in mutual admiration and thankfulness. They share Thanksgiving dinners together and Laura’s mother is their American grandmother.

“It’s hard to let go,” Laura said. “You bond so much when someone is living in your home and communing with you. You really grow to love them.”

The relationships aren’t one-sided either. The Crotty’s say they’ve learned lessons about generosity and gained encouragement from seeing the Spokane community bond together to welcome refugees to the area.

“I think I’ve gained way more from this than they’ve ever gotten from me,” Matthew said.

In that way, it’s pretty amazing what a little bit of empathy can bring you.

We need you to Stand with Refugees

In America we mostly think of our participation in government in terms of voting to elect our leaders. However, voting is really just the surface of our democracy. Politicians change their minds. This is actually a sign of healthy democracy if they are changing their opinions because of learning new information and listening to the voices of the people they represent. As Americans we have the great privilege and opportunity to influence our leaders to stand for our values and guide our nation in the directions we believe are best. Regardless of whether we voted them in to office or not, every phone call or email we send to our leaders counts just the same. And I’ve seen firsthand how leaders can shift their positions when large groups of people raise their voices as one to advocate for what they believe is right. Please join us to make a phone call or two and raise your voice on behalf of the most vulnerable and voiceless – millions of refugees who our nation is poised to help if our government will but open the doors.

Mark Finney

Executive Director: World Relief Spokane

For former refugees, hard work pays off

Yesterday afternoon, “Pomp and Circumstance” played as students from Lewis and Clark High School walked out of Spokane Veterans Arena. The new alumni posed for photos with family and friends, smiled, and celebrated. Among those many students are a cadre of recent additions to the Spokane community: former refugees.

Moses and Rebecca are two students in that group, both graduating from Lewis and Clark and choosing to further their education elsewhere. Their stories are nothing short of inspiring.

Rebecca came to the United States four years ago from Rwanda by way of Malawi. She started at Lewis and Clark as a freshman four years ago where the school system was much different than her experience in East Africa.

Rebecca had to handle six longer classes instead of 12 short ones, make new friends, learn more English, and pick up on a brand new culture. In the face of all of those challenges, it would have been easy to quit. She wouldn’t.

She asked questions when she struggled in English and Math, and got more comfortable in the subjects as she grew. By the time her junior year rolled around, Rebecca said she knew, “I’ve got this.”

That determination paid off yesterday when she received her degree, and it will continue to serve her well when she continues her education at Spokane Community College next fall. Rebecca’s brother currently goes to Spokane CC, and both plan to head to four-year universities after earning their Associates degrees right here at home.

“I didn’t quit,” Rebecca said. “I’m proud to be willing to ask questions and get help.”

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Rebecca’s hard work paid off as she accepted her degree yesterday.

Moses’ story is equally heartwarming. He and his family fled from war in Congo, and came to the United States two years ago. Moses’ transition to Spokane was equally tough, but he said he’s found a home here alongside his mom, four brothers, and sister.

Just like it is for any student, the first day at a new school was probably the most difficult, but the nervousness is amplified even more when everything is changing. In contrast to a student moving from within the United States to Spokane, coming from the Congo meant Moses had to use his second-best language and acclimate to a new system of schooling.

“I was scared,” Moses said. “Everything was new back then.”

After and finding new friends and growing into the Spokane school system, Moses says he’s glad to be here. When asked if he considers Spokane to be home, there’s not even an ounce of hesitation before an enthusiastic “Yes!” rings into your eardrums. He says every teacher is his favorite one, and loves to talk about his friends.

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Moses celebrates as his determination pays off.

 

Now, the transition comes to a fitting end, with Moses and his twin brother Elijah having been handed their diplomas just a couple hours ago. He’s excited, and extremely thankful.

“I want to thank World Relief, he said. “We wouldn’t be here without them.”

Staff Feature: Brian Mwesigwa

Meet Brian Mwesigwa, Health Care Specialist, World Relief Spokane

I am from Kenya; I was born in Kenya. My dad is Ugandan and my mom is Kenyan. I grew up in Kenya and moved here when I was seventeen, almost eighteen. I went to college and graduated in 2011, then took a two-year break and later went to grad school. I studied Public Health in college. I did an internship here with the health care team and then I moved from Spokane, in 2015, to Seattle and did some contract jobs. I had an opportunity to work here, at World Relief, so I moved back in the summer of 2016.

In my job, we work with refugees, specifically when it comes to their health. Ranging from health insurance, health screenings, referrals, surgery, anything under the umbrella of health in general is what we deal with.

I think the best part of this job is just coming to work and working with clients. Some will tell you “thank you so much for what you’ve done for me,” or just a simple appreciation; it has so much weight.  It surpasses anything when someone comes and tells you “I really appreciate what you’ve done for me.” Seeing that this person’s life has been affected in a positive way because of what we have done is very humbling.

The other part of the job I like is that World Relief is a place of work where things are constantly changing, so you are always learning new things. It is never constant, and it is never dull. Today you learn one thing and tomorrow you are confronted with something else, and then you have to learn more. Learning is relative to people. The kind of learning I am referring to is not just about the job itself, but you also learn so much from the clients. They challenge you, they inspire you, and they make you appreciate the little things that you take for granted. That is what I like about this job, the constant change, and the continued process of learning.

We do so much for our clients, but sometimes because of the nature of people, not just refugees, sometimes they feel like we are not doing enough sometimes. It can be frustrating, but understandable. I think most of our clients come from environments where they have been promised a lot of things, and nothing was fulfilled. They are told, “oh tomorrow a truck will come with a bag of rice,” and nothing comes. Or people just making false promises. When they come here, they will have that mindset. They have to go through a learning process, in America everything is a learning process and a system. For example, people from where I come from, if you are sick you just walk to a hospital, and say I have a headache, and they will see you right away. You can walk to any pharmacy without prescription.

I think in America, I’ve been here long enough to understand that we have a tendency to worry about what affects us, but not about what happens in the rest of the world. It is nobody’s fault. We have this notion that America is the greatest country in the world, which it is, I love America and this is my home. I think we have not taken the initiative to open our minds to things that happen outside of our country. Refugees are people like you and me, they are smart, intelligent, and have so much wisdom. They are loving people, they have goals, and so much education.

Where I come from, I was not a refugee, but most of the things refugees have gone through, I have either gone through it or seen it. Most of the countries refugees come from, the way their government is structured, it allows you as an individual to walk the extra mile, because not everything is given to you. For example, when I was in school back home, in order to prepare for an exam the teacher only gives you 25 percent of the material and you have to work for the other 75 percent. Teachers give you notes and books, but they don’t tell you what the exam will cover and there is no study guide. There is nothing to help you prepare.

From the time kids are in fifth grade, they are already out of the house and in boarding school. When you are away from your parents, you learn to be independent, you learn to develop skills and tools that will help you be successful. I want people to know that refugees are resilient because of what they have gone through and because of the environment where they grew up. They can go through any kind of situation in life and make it through anything.

I have always wanted to work with minority groups and the most vulnerable. Ever since I was a little kid, I always wanted to work in either a hospital back home or places where they don’t have adequate medical facilities or providers. I grew up in an area where malaria was horrible, I have had malaria several times and I saw people dying just because they don’t have adequate transportation to the hospital. Both of my parents are trained nurses back home, but they cannot practice it here. Growing up in that environment always inspires me to go back home, not just home, but anywhere struggling. Even if that means South America or the Middle East or anywhere that experiences a kind of plight. My passion is to work for the most vulnerable and not just advocate for them, but make sure they access services. That is what inspired me to work for World Relief and that is why I am here today.

Ali

“We are Human. We are Brothers. We are Friends”

Ali is a refugee from Iraq. He moved to Spokane, Washington thirteen months ago with his wife, two-year-old son, his mother and his brother. Living every moment in fear of death, he applied for refugee status in an act of desperation to find a safe life for his family. Over two and a half years later, his family finally made it through the vetting process to come to the United States. The screening process for refugees includes refugee status approval from the UN, two security checks, an in-person interview, medical screening, and multiple airport checks; a process that takes on average 18 months to three years.

Life in Iraq

While living in Iraq, Ali worked for an American company that provided humanitarian outreach for Iraqi citizens in need, a cause Ali strongly believes in. When asked what it is like to live every day in fear of death, he responded, “In Iraq, it’s not every day it’s every minute. Every moment you can feel the danger. You can’t talk or explain or share any ideas with anyone. You can’t write any posts on your account of Facebook or Twitter because you worry that anyone can read what you think or what you want, and then make a problem in your life. It’s very difficult.”

Ali found contentment in his job, but his ties with America put his life and his family’s lives at risk. Ali and his brother were the target of several violently aggressive attacks while still living in Iraq. The attacks continued to intensify, and in 2012 his brother was taken hostage by a sector of the militia. By what Ali describes as pure luck, his brother was rescued and his life was spared. Though now safe in the U.S., Ali’s experience in his home country left him deeply shaken, “I’m still afraid to write anything, to speak anything. I live in America, but I still have worries from Iraq that come with me,” he explained.

Religious and Intellectual Oppression

Ali faced oppression in many forms while living in Iraq. In addition to the risks posed by his job, Ali held viewpoints that made him unpopular, “I believe religion is a personal thing, it’s not to share with others. It doesn’t matter what my religion or race is. I think that doesn’t matter for anybody.” Religious freedom is not a widely supported value amongst those in power in Iraq, and his beliefs put his life even further at risk. The hope of religious and intellectual freedom is one of the many reasons Ali loves his new home, “America is not like any country in the world. I know and I believe the American people are very kind people. They are very smart people, open-minded people, and I believe that.”

Ali identifies as Sunni Muslim, but his mother is Shia Muslim. Because of his mother’s beliefs, the Sunni’s did not accept Ali. The Shia’s also rejected Ali because of his own beliefs. Increasing religious tensions and isolation created even more problems for Ali in Iraq. His wife’s family is highly educated, open-minded, religiously tolerant and still living in Iraq, forcing his wife into a constant state of worry. Her worries escalated with President Trump’s new Executive Order.

Life in America

Ali is hopeful for his new life in America. “I want to be a good citizen. I want to help other people here. I want to build myself and my family and build my new society in America.” While he still harbors worries about the refugee situation in the U.S., he stands firm in his belief in America and American citizens, “I want to tell everyone here: we are human, we are brothers, we are friends.”

Ali is especially happy to live in America for the sake of his son. With a widening smile, Ali explained how his son is teaching himself English through television shows and interacting with kids his age. He believes he is making a better life for his son, but he is facing a different kind of worry in the U.S., a worry based on his son’s name of Muhammed. The Iraqi roots of the name Muhammed cause Ali concern about whether his son will face prejudice and unfair treatment, especially in school. However, he repeatedly stated his belief in America and the American people, and refusal to lose hope.

Ali is currently employed at Walmart and working towards transferring his engineering credentials from Iraqi to American standards. He uses the library for resources to help further his certifications. “I believe refugees want to build this society and share with the American people. They want to build this country, protect this country, and live with these people in safety.”

Mark Finney, Director, World Relief Spokane

Meet Mark Finney, World Relief Spokane’s New Director

Q: How were you first involved with World Relief and what brought you to the organization?

A: I first came here as a case manager, or resettlement specialist, in the Reception & Placement office. I knew about World Relief from my previous work in the community and I was very interested in World Relief Spokane as the hub of the international, multicultural element of the local community. I grew up in the area and so I realize there has not always been a lot of diversity in Spokane. When I moved back a little over a year ago I noticed a difference. I started asking questions and several people said the rally-with-refs-lr-3change is largely related to refugees coming through World Relief. I have a passion for multicultural work, so when I found myself looking for a job, I wanted to get involved with World Relief Spokane.

Q: Tell me a little about your academic and work background.

A: Most of my academic and work training is related to ministry. I completed my bachelor’s in communication at Whitworth and spent a couple years as a youth pastor. I went on to grad school, seminary, and got a masters degree in theology. I worked at the same time at a church doing pastoral ministry and stayed there for a couple more years after my degree as well—including a year serving as a pastor in Thailand. I had a hard time getting launched into a ministry career after the recession, though, and I eventually got a job actually working for the seminary I had attended doing administration. During that time I also started a PhD in theology. I stayed in admin, business, leadership and ministry work all at the same time.

We moved back to Spokane in December 2015, to plant a church with my denomination, the Evangelical Covenant Church. Some things changed after I got here so the church plant did not work out, and that’s what led me to World Relief.

I have leadership and administrative experience, and I think like a pastor. That is part of what I bring to this job; I want to be an effective organizational leader and I want to think pastorally for how we can create a healthy, mission-minded Christian community in this office. I also want to empower local churches in Spokane.

Q: As a previous case manager, what is one memory that you will never forget?

A: There are a lot of them! I think meeting people at the airport is one of the most powerful moments. Being there to welcome new refugees and seeing them walk down the stairs and into America for the first time is a very powerful experience. Another thing I will never forget, and hope to continue to do often, is share meals with refugees. In their homes or mine, an amazing connection happens when you share some food, some stories, and some laughter. It makes me realize how small the world is and how we are all so similar. Even if we come from completely different places, or speak different languages, we are all made of the same stuff.

Q: What is your favorite part about working at World Relief?

A: The staff. There are great people that work here and I love interacting with them on a daily basis. I also love that this is meaningful and important work. I have a deep conviction that what we do at World Relief Spokane really, really matters. There are thousands of refugees in Spokane who are almost invisible in our community. Our office has the opportunity to give voice to their stories. We have an opportunity to shape the Spokane community’s understanding and perception of refugees–those who want to come to America and those who are already here. That feels to me to be very important in this critical, contentious time.

Closing statement:

I would like to end by reasserting our mission: we are an evangelical Christian nonprofit organization that is committed to standing with the vulnerable. We do this largely because that is the model given by Jesus. We believe Jesus stood with and for us in our moments of greatest need, and he calls us to do the same for other people. That’s why World Relief Spokane exists and that’s why we are going to continue to serve our community. We are going to help churches grow as they seek to get more involved with refugees, and to help refugees who are here (or who will come here) to have the support and love of the faith community and the larger city of Spokane.