It’s often said, “It takes a village to raise a child.”
Imagine then what it would be like to leave your “village” while pregnant to move to a new country and culture. As you’re learning a new language and a new way of life, you’re also facing the unknowns and ups and downs associated with bringing a new person into the world. Without your family and friends — your village — to support you in the transitions, this might be a recipe for isolation.
This could have been the experience of one woman, Juliana (a pseudonym) and her husband and young son who moved to the United States from Ecuador while she was pregnant. Thanks to World Relief, a Stand Together Trust grantee, this mother, and her family weren’t without a “village” for long.
World Relief connected a group of individuals from a Chicago area church to Juliana. In the months leading up to her baby’s birth, these volunteers took turns driving her to weekly OB/GYN appointments, they planned a baby shower for her, and really came around her and her family as a community to provide both practical and relational support.
Juliana’s family no doubt felt welcomed and supported by their new village, and the volunteers discovered that there are many ways to cultivate and enrich their community.
It’s not just the volunteer who is pouring out to others, but they are also receiving friendships, too,” said Holly Tseng, Volunteer Mobilization Director for World Relief in Chicago. “The relationships formed through our programs are mutually transforming,”
Take for example the experience of Pastor Brandon Blessman, who was one of the volunteers that drove Juliana to and from her weekly OB/GYN appointments.
“I think we live in a cultural moment where productivity is valued above all else, and I know for me, it’s a part of my wiring to think that way,” said Pastor Brandon. “But my experience [volunteering with World Relief] was really helpful in sort of transforming that way in which I’m wired. The truth is there’s almost nothing more rewarding than spending my time and energy building this sort of a relationship with another person.”
That’s the goal of World Relief’s volunteer programs — that both the new neighbor and the volunteer experience transformation.
Combining grassroots and grasstops efforts
It’s that relational element that keeps many volunteers coming back.
Such is the case of one Chicagoland volunteer who has tutored three adults in English. “It’s beautiful to see how this volunteer has developed a unique relationship with each English-language student,” noted Holly. Mutual transformation must be leading this volunteer to continue making such a significant commitment.
English-language tutoring with World Relief is six months long, conducted weekly in person or virtually. The volunteer is trained to select a curriculum that best fits the student’s needs such as workplace- or relational-language skills. Together, the tutor and student work toward the learner’s goals and, along the way, friendships often form.
Not everyone can commit to weekly volunteer work, but World Relief doesn’t believe that is the only way individuals can demonstrate hospitality and enrich their communities.
Through STT funding, they’re expanding their efforts to include various types of volunteer opportunities — ranging from weekly commitments to working with a team of volunteers, and even one-time volunteer events like sorting donations or providing a chance for English language practice with a group. They’re also working the grasstops — recruiting faith leaders and other community leaders in their volunteer efforts with immigrants.
“Engaging at both a grasstops and a grassroots level at the same time is really important,” says Damon Schroeder, U.S. Mobilization Director at World Relief. “When that combination is happening it creates an entirely different environment — one that begins to shape perspectives towards immigrants in positive ways.”
Damon calls it “surround sound.” By that he means cultivating an ecosystem that includes pastors, media, social media, and community members that can encourage and empower individuals to befriend newly arriving immigrants even in communities where anti-immigrant sentiment may be a challenge
Many individuals may be hesitant to engage immigrants because of cultural distance, language barriers, or other hurdles that may make relationships difficult or uncomfortable. World Relief gets that. That’s why the organization provides extensive training, both in-person and online, resources, culture guides for countries like Afghanistan and Ukraine on ‘The Workshop’ — a collective e-learning space for individuals and teams, and ongoing mentorship to ensure volunteers get the most out of their experiences.
“This is a well-supported way to serve,” Damon said. “The volunteer program training is like a three-legged stool. The combination of e-learning with experiential learning plus mentorship is transformational.”
“If you’re open to forming a relationship with someone that can last a few months or the rest of your life, this is a great opportunity,” says Holly.
To learn more about World Relief, become a volunteer, or gather resources for your faith community, visit worldrelief.org