Sister Joan Chittister famously said: “We are each called to go through life reclaiming the planet an inch at a time until the Garden of Eden grows green again.” This week we celebrate one of those inches as we mark the first anniversary of the arrival of the Syrian refugee family All Saints was privileged to participate in sponsoring.
From the story we told last year as we prepared for their arrival:
When All Saints Church agreed to partner with the Interfaith Refugee & Immigration Service (IRIS) as part of the resettlement team for a family of Syrian Refugees we could never have guessed that “our” family would not only arrive weeks ahead of schedule but also in the vortex of controversy following the brutal attacks in Beirut and Paris. But arrive they did — a family of four with two sons (5 & 3) and a baby on the way — on Thursday, November 12.
Our Senior Associate for Peace & Justice Juliana Serrano reports: “One year later, they have adjusted well and still learning a lot about living in the U.S. They will be getting their Green Card very soon which will allow them to travel if they want to (they are very excited about that), and that means they are one step closer to citizenship. Please continue to keep them in your prayers.”
Juliana also noted that thanks to the “Change for Change” campaign (collecting loose change during Lent to help support “our” family) All Saints was able to underwrite the cost of a used car and a year’s worth of insurance: a critical need for a family of five adapting to life in Southern California! Privacy protections preclude sharing photos — but we can report that the three boys were adorably decked out as Spiderman, Batman and Superman for their first American Halloween.
Finally, we want to share this thank you letter from the folks from IRIS — whose ministry makes stories like these possible.
Dear members of All Saints Church, Pasadena:
On behalf of the IRIS staff and the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles, I want to thank the dedicated members of the All Saints Pasadena Welcome Team and the entire congregation for what you have done to help one of IRIS’s refugee families, a Syrian family of four (who became a family of five shortly after arrival, when the family welcomed a new baby, her third boy!). This week marks the one-year anniversary of the family’s arrival, and I am writing this as the family is preparing to apply for their green cards, a privilege available to all refugee families after they’ve been in this country for a year.
This family, as you know, fled the violent war in Syria only to wind up living hand to mouth in neighboring Jordan. They spent four years in Amman, living in a tiny apartment, without permission to work, living off their savings, some charitable donations, and help from relatives and friends.
After registering as refugees with the United Nations in Amman and going through all the tests and checks required, the family waited for years to hear which country would accept them for resettlement. Finally, the U.S. government gave its approval. At first, the parents felt worried. “We didn’t know anyone in the United States,” the mom told us recently. “We wondered how we would manage, who would help us.”
Little did this family know that, halfway across the world, there was a church whose members wanted to help a refugee family just like them. Because of the high cost of housing and living, Los Angeles usually does not receive refugees who don’t already have relatives or friends who help with initial housing, financially and with all other matters. But, thanks to All Saints Pasadena’s generous donations (of money, furniture, countless volunteer hours, enlisting the help of other community members who also want to help), this Syrian family has now been living in their own apartment for one year.
The two older boys are doing well in school and are speaking English like natives, the mom told us recently. The father, who used to make a good living as an electrician with his own business in Syria, has been working, and is studying English. The mom is still nursing the baby and studying English every day. The family has made lots of new friends, some from the Arab-American community in the San Gabriel Valley.
I want to especially thank All Saints’ very own Juliana Serrano for her support, and the dynamic duo of Susan Long and Sabine Frej, the Welcome Team co-chairs, who have been the most involved on a weekly basis in the family’s life and helped coordinate all of the All Saints’ team.
Finally, the family has asked that I pass along their thanks to All Saints Pasadena for the help they have been given to establish a life here. They said they will be forever grateful. And so are we. As IRIS gets ready to resettle hundreds of new refugees in the coming year, we will need to rely on the kind support of our volunteers and the faith-based community more than ever before. Thank you for opening your hearts and minds to this important ministry.
Meghan Taylor, IRIS Executive Director
In this moment of challenge as we look at all the deep needs of our community, nation and world it can be so easy to be overwhelmed into immobility. Here’s hoping that this story of “an inch at a time” for one Syrian family will serve as encouragement as we keep moving forward … until the Garden of Eden grows green again.