Have you wondered what it is like to be the first family in an ethnic or language group to arrive in the U.S.? To be the first of your language to navigate schools, jobs, and culture? Many immigrants benefit from the assistance of those who have arrived before them, who can coach them on the culture, finding jobs, and be going to the doctor.
But this was not the case for the first Massalit families from Sudan. When they arrived in August 2015, they didn’t have the benefit of friends, family, or anyone who spoke their dialect to help them on the road to stability and integration. And they didn’t know they would be the first of their group to blaze the trail for others.
The Massalit are an indigenous group from Sudan’s war-torn and impoverished Darfur region. They are subsistence farmers who live in mud huts with thatched roofs. They have no running water, no electricity, no vehicles, and little access to education. Like many people in Darfur, the Massalit are targeted by militias and the Sudanese army simply because they are part of a particular ethnic group. Many Massalit families have been forced to flee for their lives into neighboring countries, especially Chad. There, they live in overcrowded camps, unable to return home.
After 10 years in the brutal environment of refugee camps in Chad, a small group of Massalit families learned that they had finally been approved to resettle to the U.S. in a state called Illinois. They were excited to be leaving their difficult lives in the camps, but also nervous about entering a culture so different from their own. They had heard many rumors about life in the U.S…. even rumors that some Americans were cannibals!
When WRDA staff learned that the Massalit families would be arriving, they began reading about Massalit culture and quickly realized the group would face serious challenges in their adjustment. The Massalit knew no English, and they spoke an Arabic dialect – which is also called Massalit – that was not spoken by anyone in WRDA’s network. They were unfamiliar with many aspects of western culture, and since they were the first families from their ethnic group, WRDA staff knew they would need specialized support to give them the best possible chance for success.
Soon after the families’ arrival, World Relief’s Counseling Center staff met with them to assess their learning needs and then organized biweekly adjustment groups for all of the Massalit refugees at their apartments. During these meetings, counselors and volunteers – with the help of an interpreter – focused on showing rather than telling and created a safe environment for the families to ask questions, shape meeting topics, and practice what they were learning. The Massalit practiced how to use household cleaning products. They learned about western concepts of hygiene, time, and other norms. They learned to understand and organize their paperwork. They practiced the basics of budgeting and opened bank accounts. They began to use everyday items that we take for granted, like scissors, alarm clocks, and phones.
Each time the Massalit families gathered for a group meeting, they were eager to learn. Without a readily shared language and working with people from a standard of living radically different from our own, the World Relief counselors had to repeat lessons several times. But the families faced every challenge with a smile, and their confidence built up steadily over time.
These group sessions with staff and volunteers served as a supportive space for the Massalit families to cement all they were learning through WRDA’s Job Readiness and ESL classes, as well as what they experienced in their regular doctor’s appointments, school visits, and community interactions. They had a place to talk about the stressors and fears they faced in their new community, and learn ways to cope with problems.
The Massalit families’ determination and resilience - combined with all of WRDA’s services and adjustment group sessions - allowed them to realize incredible transformation within their first year.
Today, fifteen months after the first Massalit families arrived, many of them are now speaking conversational English. Several have driver’s licenses and have received donated cars. They have maintained jobs, become independent, and adjusted well to life in America. They constantly express gratitude for the new lives that they have been given and the hope they have found, thousands of miles from home. And they are eagerly living into their role as the pioneer families by helping the Massalit that have come after them to navigate the community and adjust to their new homes.
"I Was A Stranger" Challenge
Understanding God's heart for immigrants
This election season, there were many voices seeking to shape what we think about immigrants and refugees. More than in any other presidential election in recent history, immigrants were a point of contention between the two major party candidates.
As Christians, we look to the Bible to instruct us about how we live our lives. When it comes to refugee and immigration issues, though, LifeWay Research polling finds that only 12% of U.S. evangelicals say their views on this topic are guided primarily by the Scriptures.
This poll should motivate and challenge us to seek out what the Bible says about this important issue in our day. This Christmas season, join World Relief DuPage/Aurora in taking the “I Was a Stranger” challenge. Printed on a downloadable bookmark, the “I Was a Stranger” Challenge is 40 Scripture passages that relate to the theme of immigration. Whether you choose to read one passage a day or one passage a week, this is a great resource to study and learn from what the Bible has to say about immigration.
Join us in taking the challenge! Download a bookmark and other resources here or stop by the World Relief DuPage office to pick up printed bookmarks for you and your friends.
Creative Ways to Give
Give Hope Shop and Challenge Grant
There is so much to love about the Christmas Season - - family traditions, festive lights, music, the joys of gift planning and giving, and a chance to give back. Many families seek out ways to give to each other while also supporting causes they care about.
This is why we love World Relief’s “Give Hope Shop”. This is an opportunity to donate toward a project that is meaningful to a loved one, in their name, while also making a difference around the world. Through the Give Hope Shop, you can purchase a representational gift to support economic development projects or disaster response across the globe, or can give to support immigrant and refugee services right here in the U.S.
Locally, you may also consider a financial donation to programs like the Counseling Center, to provide hope for the refugees and immigrants you have come to call your friends. We have recently received a challenge grant from a generous local foundation that has offered to match donations dollar for dollar if we are able to raise $25,000 by the end of the year! To find out more about this opportunity, contact Tim Kustusch at firstname.lastname@example.org.
We have many opportunities to celebrate the joy of the Christmas season while sharing that joy to bless others in our community. Consider “Give Hope Shop” or gifts to WRDA as an option, and make a difference here and around the world.