Crossing the Language Barrier

Every single staff person and volunteer with Refugee Services confronts the language barrier every day. We know that dealing with language barriers is one of the biggest apprehensions that new volunteers and churches have, and it can be hard to imagine how you will communicate without a shared language. Here, we share with you some of the strategies that we employ on a daily basis. Use the non-verbals: Non-verbal communication is such a huge part of how everyone communicates on a daily basis, whether or not we’re using a shared spoken language. A kind expression and welcoming smile go a long way in showing someone that we care about them and are willing to be patient. Similarly, expressions and body language can provide  clues that someone might be feeling overwhelmed, confused, or discouraged about a challenge or decision they are facing. These cues are  important to recognize as we help … Continue reading

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First Things First: What do refugees really need?

If you were tasked with the responsibility of welcoming a new refugee family to Minnesota, would you know where to start? Setting up a household and introducing a family to their new home is a large and complex process, so we thought it might be interesting to give you a peek into some of the truly first needs of a new family. Housing: As soon as we find out about a new family that will be arriving, we start searching for an affordable apartment, preferably close to other members of the family’s community. We often have about 2 weeks to locate, secure, and furnish an apartment. That means things like preparing leases, getting keys, and completing initial inspections. The affordable housing market in the Twin Cities is tight, so building relationships with landlord partners is key. Furnishings: We don’t rent furnished apartments and most new families arrive with just a … Continue reading

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Refugee Services in the News!

We were recently featured in a Star Tribune article written by reporter Mila Koumpilova. Mila shadowed case manager Katia Iverson as she worked with a newly arrived Somali family for their first 90 days in Minnesota.  We were excited to have such a realistic and detailed portrait of a new refugee family’s journey shared with the public and wanted to share it here on our blog in case you have any difficulty accessing the Star Tribune’s archive of the article. Years with no nation, 90 days to become a Minnesotan Poised to take in thousands of refugees, Minnesota navigates hurdles. By Mila Koumpilova, Star Tribune • Photographs by Reneé Jones Schneider, Star Tribune AUGUST 28, 2016 Katia Iverson and Abdirahman Abdullahi have 90 days together. For Katia, the case manager, that’s the time she gets to usher newly arrived refugees into life in Minnesota. For Abdi, a father of five who landed … Continue reading

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Co-Sponsorship: The Cornerstone of Church Ministry to Refugees

Did you know that nearly half of all foreign-born residents in Minnesota are refugees? Each year Minnesota welcomes around 2,100 new refugees and your church can play an important role in welcoming these new families through co-sponsorship with MCC Refugee Services. Co-sponsorship is the cornerstone of refugee care ministry. So far in 2016, teams from 4 different churches and community groups partnered with MCC Refugee Services to help newly arriving refugee families connect to their new community in a well-supported, cooperative way. Many more have committed to future months and are busy building their teams and praying for their yet-to-arrive refugee family. Co-sponsorship teams work with our staff on tasks like setting up the family’s apartment, greeting them at the airport, helping transport them to and supporting them during their important appointments, & helping with school enrollment. In addition to those tasks, teams also help their refugee family find the … Continue reading

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Awa’s Journey

Every now and then, we like to share the stories of refugees that we have the privilege of meeting and working with at Refugee Services. More than a decade after fleeing her home in Somalia, Awa finally had the chance to start life over in the US, and we wanted to share her family’s story of struggle and success in Minnesota. We hope you are inspired! Awa lived in northern Somalia with her husband and children, one son and one daughter. The regime the family lived under became increasingly totalitarian and oppressive during the 1980s. During that time, Awa held many different jobs. She worked as a midwife, had a position with the Red Cross, and owned a family-run cafe and motel. In the early 1990s, chaos broke out in Somalia. Rebels and government soldiers clashed violently throughout the region and Awa’s family was in constant danger. Awa’s husband was … Continue reading

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Leadership Transition at Refugee Services

After 16 years of staff and contract roles with Refugee Services, the time has come to bid a fond farewell to our Director, Kristine Bjerkaas Friesen. She is joining the staff at the Minnesota Department of Human Services, Resettlement Programs Office, where she will serve as a primary contact at the state level working to ensure access for refugees to state assistance programs. Taking her place, we are excited to welcome back Ben Walen as Interim Director. We hope you’ll take a few moments to read Kristine’s farewell note and Ben’s introduction! Farewell Note from Kristine: Since starting my work in refugee resettlement at MCC in 1999, there has not been a single day that I have arrived at work feeling confident in my abilities to face the unseen challenges the day might bring.  I have had a daily meditative ritual in which – during my morning drive – I … Continue reading

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Sonder, or Riding the Bus with Refugees

What follows is an incredible essay shared by one of our bus riding volunteers, Rachel Forde. Take a few moments to read and we know that you’ll be inspired, challenged, and refreshed, just like we were. Enjoy! Sonder n. the realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own—populated with their own ambitions, friends, routines, worries and inherited craziness—an epic story that continues invisibly around you like an anthill sprawling deep underground, with elaborate passageways to thousands of other lives that you’ll never know existed, in which you might appear only once, as an extra sipping coffee in the background, as a blur of traffic passing on the highway, as a lighted window at dusk. -John Koenig, The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows It was one of those situations that happens from time to time when you ride the bus: you approach your stop … Continue reading

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30 Years of Hope

On the blog this week, we are sharing with you some introductory remarks that our Director, Kristine Bjerkaas Friesen, recently shared at a meeting as Refugee Services celebrates 30 years of welcoming refugees. We hope you are inspired! Writer D.L. Mayfield shares these powerful words on welcome in a world where many are afraid: “So let’s live like we are loved. Let us fixate on that, and I bet it will start to chip away at the great lies and fears we have swallowed whole. Be not afraid, the angels said, and they paved the way for a Savior who was himself a refugee–torn from his home, oppressed, beaten, ridiculed, and killed in a horrific way by the powers that be. A Christ who suffered what so many in the world suffer, who understands the temptation to fear, who loves in radical and unsafe ways, who asks nothing less of … Continue reading

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Carrying Forward the Light of Christmas

We wanted to share here a reflection written by our Volunteer Coordinator, Melody Ward, about the way in which an old hymn revealed new meaning to her this Christmas season. Last week, I sat in my church’s Christmas Eve service with my husband and children and felt a sense of expectation that kept me in prayer as we sang Christmas hymns together. Toward the end of the service a very talented mezzo soprano sang “O Holy Night” and one of the verses brought tears to my eyes. The expectation I was feeling was fulfilled as the relevance of the verse fortified my resolve to keep fighting for refugees… “Chains shall He break For the slave is our brother, And in His name all oppression shall cease…” The refugee is our brother.  Quite literally, refugees have lived in bondage and slavery. They have experienced persecution and have made subsequent terrifying flights … Continue reading

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Respect for Religious Freedom and Love of Neighbor: A Call to Offer These Christmas Gifts

We are sharing here a statement recently released by the Board of Directors of the Minnesota Council of Churches. We invite you to read and share this call for respect of religious freedom and love of neighbors. Minnesota Council of Churches , Statement of the Board of Directors, 2015-12-11 As Christian leaders who serve as the board of the Minnesota Council of Churches, we want to speak to our communities of faith and to the larger community of people living in Minnesota. To begin, we want to address the members of all our communities of faith.  We call on people to speak with respect in a tender time when we all feel vulnerable and unsafe after acts of mass violence.  “Be not afraid…” is an exhortation in the Bible, again and again.  Let that be the deep value in which we rest. Courageously reaching out to our neighbors, learning more … Continue reading

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