UMCOR Helps a Gaza Family Find Refuge
* By Melissa Hinnen
March 11, 2009—Hanadi (not her real name) has faced many challenges in her thirty-three years. Her husband died from cancer and she was raising their six children as a widow in Gaza. During the recent twenty-two day war between Israel and Hamas, it was nearly impossible for Palestinian people in the Gaza strip to seek refuge outside of its borders. In fact, civilians were particularly vulnerable because they did not have adequate access to food, shelter or medical care.
Because Hanadi's husband had been a US legal resident, The US State Department of Homeland Security evacuated the family to Jordan on January 2, just days after the fighting began. They received permission to resettle in the United States, but because they were classified as special humanitarian parolees, and not refugees, they were not eligible for federal refugee funds to help them cover initial expenses. The United Methodist Committee of Relief (UMCOR) responded to an emergency funding request by the Church World Service (CWS) Immigration and Refugee Program to assist the family.
UMCOR executive, Naomi Madsen explains, "The primary goal for the funding is to ensure the family is in safe, appropriate, stable housing. Even though they are not coming through the US refugee program, their situation is essentially that of a refugee family who does not have existing connections in the United States." She continued, "The family arrived exhausted from the Gaza conflict and removing the financial burden is the first step in helping them feel welcome."
Local Church Responds
PARA Refugee Services, the CWS affiliate in Grand Rapids, found an apartment for the family. A local church enthusiastically prepared the apartment with furniture, linens, kitchen items and warm touches to welcome the family. Volunteers from the church are providing social support, offering friendship as well as practical assistance such as transportation, enrolling the children in school and explaining the process for bill payment.
Elizabeth Smith, who develops sponsorships for PARA and is a refugee and immigration coordinator for the West Michigan Annual Conference, describes the volunteers as "the most loving, gentle, kind people, who really understand the importance of just loving people."
How You Can Help
The very heart of UMCOR's first incarnation in 1940 was refugee ministry. From that day to the present, the faith and compassion of local United Methodist churches has made possible an ongoing ministry to refugees-a warm welcome to people who are forced to flee their homelands.
Jesus taught a radical kind of hospitality. Today United Methodists can embody gospel hospitality by reaching out to refugees coming to the United States. Refugee families struggle to make a new start and recover from the losses they have suffered as a result of their flight for survival. The church community, supported by UMCOR, can ease the way.
* Melissa Hinnen is the staff writer for UMCOR communications