It’s a Wednesday afternoon, Susan Lyke has just arrived at the home of the Nouras and Ibtehal Abazied. They greet her warmly and as she removes her shoes at the door, and Ibtehal offers her coffee. Soon Susan is settled in at table and begins English lessons for the day. The three share smiles and laughs as Susan reviews the day’s lessons over coffee. Before she leaves for afternoon, she goes over the week’s schedule with the couple. Ibtehal, who is expecting another child, has a doctor’s appointment the following day, and both parents have a meeting with their older son’s teacher that Friday.
Susan is one of the volunteers involved in helping resettle a Syrian family with Lutheran Services of Georgia. This scene describes a typical afternoon in the life of the Abazied family, new arrivals to the Atlanta metro area.
Last year, a team of volunteers from three Lutheran churches in Cobb County - Lutheran Church of the Resurrection in Marietta, First United Lutheran Church in Kennesaw and Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Marietta joined together to sponsor and resettle a Syrian family in their community. While LSG’s Refugee Services staff supervised the resettlement services, the volunteers took care of most of the day-to-day assistance the family required as they acclimated to life in the United States.
This arrangement was unique for LSG. While LSG’s church partners often gather donations and set up apartments for new arrivals or serve as “first friends” for refugee families, this was the first time volunteers took on the majority of tasks involved in resettling a family.
“This collaboration of the three Marietta churches, LSG’s Refugee and Immigration Services staff, and this wonderful refugee family demonstrates the public-private partnership of the U.S. Refugee Resettlement Program at its very best,” says Melanie Johnson, Program Manager for Volunteer, Congregation and Community Engagement, Lutheran Services of Georgia. “The biblical mandates to welcome the stranger and love the neighbor are embodied in lives of all involved!”
A Need Arises, A Partnership is Born
When the Abazied family asked to be resettled in Cobb County, in an apartment near their close friends from Syria, LSG wanted to honor their request. However, placing them in Cobb County would present several challenges. In the Northwest suburb, they would be an hour’s drive away from the resources available in Clarkston, a popular area for resettlement in metro Atlanta, and without easy access to public transportation.
Lutheran Church of the Resurrection has been a long-time supporter of LSG’s work, so LSG approached them with an idea. LCR members Mark Olson and Ed Aebischerhad already expressed an interest in increasing their involvement with LSG’s refugee resettlement program and encouraging more members in their church to get involved. Mark reached out to Susan Lyke from First United Lutheran Church, and she responded with enthusiasm, and the concept of a partnership between multiple churches began to grow.
“The idea was if we could resettle them in Cobb County – it would be more likely that we would have church members that would get involved. I felt it was important for our communities in Cobb to show that we are a welcoming place,” said Susan.
When it was certain that the family would be resettling in Cobb County, the three began to assemble a team of volunteers from their own churches and from another LSG partner, Holy Trinity Lutheran in Marietta. The team was comprised of around 20 volunteers who helped on a regular basis and additional volunteers who assisted occasionally.
The Welcoming Begins
The volunteers’ first task was to set up an apartment for the family. They gathered donations and worked to fully furnish the apartment and stock their cabinets and closets with the necessities.
When the Abazieds arrived, four of the volunteers welcomed them at the Atlanta airport and joined them for their first meal in their new apartment. The volunteers quickly became a source of guidance, comfort and friendship for the new refugees. The team worked daily with the family on a range of activities. They taught ESL sessions and tutored the children and offered in-school support for the family. Volunteers drove the family of six to doctors’ offices, pharmacies, grocery stores, English classes and social events around Atlanta. As Nouras began to look for a job, the volunteers helped with resume preparation, job applications, interview coaching, and worked to prepare him for the expectations of the working world in the US. In addition to practical assistance, the team aimed to boost the family’s confidence and encouraged them to trust in their own abilities to learn, grow, and be productive in their new society.
While the volunteers were teaching the Abazeid family, they were also learning a great deal themselves.
“Nouras and Ibtehal have taught all of us a lot about hospitality and gratitude,” says Susan. “We’ve really been enriched by their presence.”
“Spending time with these new neighbors helps me appreciate the fact that, regardless of race, national origin, ethnicity, faith tradition, and all too frequent tensions and wars, we share a common hope and humanity with our brothers and sisters in every corner of the world,” says Ed.
In addition, collaborative work between the three churches has had a strengthening effect on many of the volunteers’ faith.
“It’s been a blessing to work with these volunteers. They are all so loving and generous with their time. It’s been really important for my faith to do this work with others as kindred spirits united in Christ, especially in the political climate today,” says Susan. “We all really look forward to being with this family and getting together as a group.”
Ed agrees. “On a daily basis, this ecumenical effort allows each of us involved to grasp, deep within, that a true faith is truly a “faith at work’ to help others in need,” he says.
Would your faith or community group like to welcome and walk alongside a refugee family?
Contact Melanie Johnson at email@example.com to learn more about the Circle of Welcome, an initiative of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service and Lutheran Services of Georgia where the Circle of Welcome is made complete when a faith or community group connects with LIRS and LSG to accompany a refugee family. Together, we support them as they rebuild their lives and are recognized as positive contributors to society. The goal of Circle of Welcome is to increase successful integration of refugee families arriving in the U.S. and to create meaningful and varied opportunities for faith and community groups to engage with and walk alongside refugee families in service, friendship, and as advocates.