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Hope Award - Refugee Hope Partners

WORLD Radio - Hope Award - Refugee Hope Partners


MYRNA BROWN, HOST: Today is Thursday, September 3rd. Thank you for turning to WORLD Radio to help start your day. 

Good morning. I’m Myrna Brown.

MEGAN BASHAM, HOST: And I’m Megan Basham. Coming next on The World and Everything in It: the Hope Awards for Effective Compassion. 

Every year, WORLD recognizes a handful of non-profit ministries on the ground working to mend broken lives. Those ministries are nominated by WORLD readers and listeners, and each one has to fit a specific set of criteria. First, the ministry has to offer challenging help. It can’t just give handouts. Second, the help has to be personal, not a cookie-cutter approach. Finally, the ministry has to have a spiritual component.

BROWN: Out of the hundreds of nominees you’ve submitted, we’ve narrowed the field to five winners for 2020. You’ll hear about those ministries over the next couple weeks. Each will receive at least some prize money, and the organization that receives the $10,000 grand prize is up to you. Voting opens later this month.

BASHAM: Now, WORLD reporter Anna Johansen takes us to our first Hope Awards ministry: An organization that helps refugees find their footing.

ANNA JOHANSEN: I’m walking around an apartment complex in Raleigh, North Carolina. It’s hot, so not many people are out and about. Except for Providence—she’s 8.

PROVIDENCE: What is that thing?
JOHANSEN: It’s a microphone.
PROVIDENCE: Hello?

If you ask her how many years she’s lived here, she says “a thousand.” She actually came here with her family about six or seven years ago. A refugee resettlement agency connected them with this apartment complex when they fled the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

SUFFRIDGE: We have people from 30 countries… 

Michele Suffridge started working with refugees here in 2007. 

SUFFRIDGE: We have people who have been persecuted for their race, for their ethnicity, for their religion.

Eight years later, Suffridge officially launched Refugee Hope Partners. The ministry’s goal is to serve refugee families by providing education opportunities, job resources and by building relationships. 

SUFFRIDGE: We have a number of Nepali families. We have a lot of Rohingya Muslims that are coming here—Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan. They’ve come through Jordan, Iran, Turkey, Egypt.

Usually the families are fleeing some kind of catastrophe. They’ve crossed dozens of borders, stayed in refugee camps, filled out applications, been vetted by the United Nations … and finally landed here—in a culture they don’t know with a language they don’t understand. They’re looking for a friendly face.

This cluster of buildings isn’t a government owned facility. It’s just an average apartment complex: A couple of units per building, a common playground, and a central community center. But about 90 percent of the families living here are refugees. The local resettlement agencies know it’s a good spot, so they send families this direction.

SUFFRIDGE: It’s in a city center. There’s jobs in walking distance, it’s on a bus line. And it has big apartments that allow larger families. 

The families get some help from the resettlement agencies, but after about three months, they’re on their own. 

SUFFRIDGE: And so we’ve just been kind of become a gap filler. Through the years of, you know, we’ve created programs that have benefited the refugees. 

AUDIO: [Sound from classroom]

Education is an important part of Refugee Hope Partners. A lot of the kids have learning gaps, so Suffridge organized an afterschool program. It meets in the community center: a small square building in the middle of the apartment complex.

This is a group of 12 and 13 year olds. They’re learning math with Mary Maierhofer.

MAIERHOFER: Well, since all the areas were the same, do you think their perimeters are going to be the same dude? Say No. 

There are six students in the class today. They sit at little desks, all spaced out from each other because of coronavirus restrictions. 

Maierhofer is a regular volunteer. She comes and helps students with their homework, and she teaches summer classes. 

MAIERHOFER: I wanted to help students that don’t have an understanding for math, as I like to teach basics, and then from there, build on to it. 

The students also have a language barrier, so Maierhofer says word problems are especially hard.

MAIERHOFER: When you can’t understand the language, you have to break it down piece by piece. You know, like, “They put a marker on a trail.” They’re like, what’s a marker?

Because of that, Maierhofer does a lot of language teaching, too. But she loves how rewarding it is.

MAIERHOFER: You can see when they get it, it’s like Yay!

AUDIO: Alright, say thank you Miss Mary. Thank you Miss Mary! Bye, see you on Wednesday, good job today.

The ministry also works with parents, providing English classes and getting them connected with job resources. Suffridge knows a lot of local business owners.

SUFFRIDGE: So like Krispy Kreme, they’ve hired a lot of Nepali people. And so they’ll have really good success with this group. 

The ministry emphasizes personal responsibility for all the families. Suffridge used to organize a back-to-school giveaway, collecting donations from local churches, and then giving the supplies to the families.

SUFFRIDGE: You know, a lot of these families have been in camps where trucks come in and there’s stuff on the truck and people rush and we just saw how that was negative in the community.

So they switched it to a back-to-school sale instead.

SUFFRIDGE: So the purchase might be $1, $2. But everyone pays something. It gives the kids the joy of seeing their parents provide and that gives the parents the dignity of providing for their children.  

Suffridge wants to empower the families to do it themselves instead of just taking a handout. 

But the material needs aren’t the most important piece. Suffridge wants to provide opportunities for the families to grow spiritually, too. 

SUFFRIDGE: We want to point people to the gospel. You know, we don’t have an equation of if 98 percent of people proclaim Christ here, then we would that would be a success. But we would want 100 percent of the people to know what the gospel is and have heard the gospel in the time that they’re here. 

All of the kids are invited to weekly volunteer-led Bible studies. 

SUFFRIDGE: And I’m always amazed at how many people who are, the kids that aren’t from Christian families, even Muslim families, their parents will allow them to come. And if they don’t, then we’re like, that’s fine. We’ll see you at homework help on Monday.

The families will stay in this apartment complex for a little while, but they eventually move on, to find better jobs, better housing. Suffridge doesn’t always know what happens to them. But she hopes the time they spent here will have a lasting impact no matter where in the world they end up.

She tells the story of one Muslim family that lived here for about four years. They participated in Bible studies and after school programs and ESL classes and none of them ever changed their religious beliefs. They eventually moved to Maine, and Suffridge went to visit them recently. 

SUFFRIDGE: They welcomed me in, had dinner, we sat continued just like we had before. And there’s a relationship there that I feel like God cultivated…

They know where she stands and what she believes.

SUFFRIDGE: Cultivating that ground for wherever they go next, and I know that God is going to provide someone there in that next space for them.

Reporting for WORLD, I’m Anna Johansen, in Raleigh, North Carolina.


(Photo/Refugee Hope Partners)

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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Linda Kern

This is a great story–about Refugee Hope. And it’s happening in our city! Grateful for the volunteers who work with these people and especially the children! They are planting gospel seeds that may bear fruit later on….