Megan Chrans, Intern
The rich smell of spice greets me at the door as Radmila Mijatovic welcomes me into her home. She is cooking dinner in the kitchen, comfortable in her space as she talks about her day at work and the family pictures on the walls. She recounts the time her family first arrived to the United States and was greeted by American volunteers who would eventually become dear friends.
Exhausted after a grueling 14-hour flight from former Yugoslavia, Radmila and her husband, daughter and son got off the plane at O’Hare International Airport and stepped into a new country, culture and life. Leaving a war-torn and divided country where the economic situation was devastated and jobs non-existent, Radmila and her family decided to begin a new life in the United States. Not knowing anyone, unfamiliar with the language, and carrying their life in a suitcase, the family felt the uncertainty and excitement of a new beginning.
American volunteer John Jackson and his family waited outside the international gate for the Mijatovics to arrive. Even then, John knew that the next few days would mark the beginning of a prolonged relationship with this family. “When you host a family like that,” he explained, “you get connected and then you’re with them for a long time.” However, he could not quite anticipate how closely the Lord would interweave their lives in the future.
The Jacksons volunteered as a host family with World Relief DuPage and agreed to welcome Radmila and her family into their home for three days while an apartment was set up. However, due to delays with the apartment, the Mijatovics stayed with the Jacksons for ten days instead. Using simple phrases and gestures where language was lacking, the Jacksons helped orient the Mijatovics to the United States. The impromptu educational sessions ranged from explaining how the gas on the stove worked to teaching the difference between a nickel and dime.
Radmila remembers how the Jacksons helped with everything. “I never felt like I was so far from home because John’s family was so nice to us.”
When the Mijatovics eventually moved into their apartment, they still continued the close relationship with the Jackson family. The kids – three on the Jackson side and two on the Mijatovics’- especially connected. Because the Jacksons lived just down the street they were consistently available to help with any questions or needs. The Mijatovics often invited the Jacksons over for cultural and religious holidays and the families continued to learn about the other’s lives. However, in the midst of this, the Mijatovics faced a big challenge: they needed jobs.
John found himself in a unique position at his company, MagnetStreet which designs and produces personalized wedding, life moment, business, and school printed products. MagnetStreet also happened to be a key partner of World Relief Employment Services. When a job position opened in production, John thought Radmila would be a great fit. Working together with World Relief and John, Radmila was soon hired.
MagnetStreet: A Unique Ministry
John’s desire to place World Relief’s refugees at MagnetStreet resulted from years of involvement with international work. He longed to find a way to focus his passion for internationals locally in the Wheaton area.
John’s global perspective was formed early on through his family’s experience hosting internationals in their home and traveling abroad. Later, John participated in mission trips, and then moved to China for an extended period of time after receiving a graduate degree in cross-cultural communication. Coming back, he taught at a Christian school before deciding to work as a recruiter for a mission agency in the United States. During this time he also began to take his global background and apply it nationally.
After eight years of recruitment work, John began to feel that his time in formal ministry was coming to a close. Though in many ways this change did not make sense, the Lord moved in his heart and he chose to take a step of faith, saying, “Lord, you have something else for me.”
He began talking to people about his desired shift in vocation, and at church struck up a conversation with Brian Baird, CEO of MagnetStreet. Brian mentioned an opening in Human Resources, and 11 years ago, John began his career at MagnetStreet. The company was experiencing expansion due to increased production work and John spent much of his time hiring to meet the new demands. Through a personal relationship with Matt Gibson, former Employment Services Manager at World Relief, John learned about opportunities to hire refugees.
John refers to MagnetStreet as a “Kingdom Company,” and there could not be a more fitting description. Providing jobs to refugees who are still adjusting to a new way of life has lasting impacts. Furthermore, doing so in a company run by a Christian executive team with compassionate hearts for people from other countries is truly unique.
A personal relationship morphed into a valued partnership. MagnetStreet needed employees to keep up with demands, and World Relief had an endless supply of eager workers supported by job counselors who walked hiring companies and new refugee employees through the entire process. Though taking on a greater risk by hiring people who were not familiar with English or American cultural practices, MagnetStreet understood the lasting benefit of employing people who had left behind war, persecution and a denial of basic human rights and looked to the future with hope.
Adam Beyer, Employment Services Manager at World Relief DuPage/Aurora, says that the majority of companies they partner with are not faith-based, and interactions are centered purely on a business relationship. Companies are naturally most concerned with work ethic and their employees’ understanding of the American workforce. Fortunately, World Relief Employment Services’ goal is to help adult refugees secure full-time work, provide training and develop resources so that refugees can achieve stability and move toward meaningful vocations.
Adam remarks that the partnership with MagnetStreet is especially unique because it’s based on both a business and missional understanding.
Today, Radmila is still employed at MagnetStreet and reflects on the blessing it has been. She says, “[The people at] my job, we are like family.” She recounts the different job positions she’s completed within the company as she gains better language skill and can take on more responsibility.
Her family has a house now and her kids are in college. Through the help of volunteers like the Jacksons and companies like MagnetStreet, they have been able to establish a new life full of opportunity and hope.
Though MagnetStreet does not hire many refugees anymore because their expansion phase is complete, they continue to partner with World Relief through the generous donation of products and services.
Many of the refugees MagnetStreet hired years ago still work at the company and have progressed into higher-level positions. John stops in now and then to catch up with Radmila at work and their families continue to share special meals and holidays together. As John reflects on the volunteer experience that led to this lasting relationship, he says, “It opened our eyes to what refugees face when they come…just to think, what would that be like for me – to go to a country, pack a suitcase, not speak the language or have any resources – that’s it and you show up. How would I survive? What would I do? And to think how valuable that would be to have somebody meet you at an airport and be like, ‘Don’t worry about things, we’ll take care of you.” Johns remarks that you never forget the first people you meet.
Radmila says again and again, “I am so thankful. I cannot forget…never.”