UMCOR / Our Work / Immigration and Refugees / Refugee Ministry Office / Refugee Ministry Newsletter / Archives 2010 / 2010

Refugee Ministry

May/June 2010

UMCOR Refugee Office assists Haitian Medical Evacuees

Survivors of the devastating earthquake that struck Haiti on January 12, 2010, include severely injured Haitians, many of whom have been airlifted to U.S. hospitals via U.S. military airplanes. Their injuries include amputations, burns, brain damage, and spinal cord injuries. 

Learning to walk. 
Learning to walk again.

Besides urgent medical care, the evacuees also need material, logistical and social support. Generous donations to UMCOR for Haiti relief efforts have allowed the Refugee Ministry office to partner with Church World Service (CWS) to meet these needs through CWS affiliate Refugee Resettlement and Immigration Services of Atlanta (RRISA), and CWS offices in Miami and Durham (NC).

To date, RRISA has received 45 medical evacuees, including their accompaniers; CWS Durham has received five, and CWS Miami, 62. Evacuees and their accompaniers have been granted humanitarian parole for 12 months, a status that may be extended.

“The needs in Haiti are great. The needs of these Haitians coming in are just as great,” said Erol Kekic, CWS Immigration and Refugee Program director.

UMCOR has paid two months’ rent for each of 34 medical evacuees and 17 caretakers in Atlanta, and has retrofitted for handicap access the apartments of two evacuees in wheelchairs. In Miami, UMCOR helped a widowed Haitian mother and her four children get an apartment; the father and two other children were killed in the quake. And, in New York City, UMCOR helped an evacuee in a wheelchair get into an apartment with handicap access near his relatives.

Henrik and James are Haitian evacuees who had been in a rehabilitation facility together. Now, thanks to funds from UMCOR, they share an apartment that was recently remodeled for wheelchair access. Both men are learning to walk again and continue rehab therapy each week.

RRISA Development Director
RRISA staffers, Leanne Rubenstein and Tom Van Laningham (right) and Oak Grove UMC volunteer, Hank Woolard (left) greet 2 Haitian evacuees on first day in ESL class.

When the earthquake hit they both fled their homes. Henrik managed to get his 8-year-old child to safety, but was injured when a wall fell on him. James also was crushed by a wall as he fled his home. After several failed attempts to get the men treated in Haiti, they were referred to the U.S. Naval Ship Comfort. From there the journey brought them to Atlanta for surgery and treatment.

Leanne Rubenstein, RRISA Development Director, says, “These young men are making great progress. Each left his wheelchair at home and used a walke to get to their first ESL class at RRISA’s Learning Center. The center is funded in part by a grant from Oak Grove UMC through UMCOR, and is supported by local UMC volunteers from several congregations. These guys were thrilled to come to ESL and are so thankful for all the help they’ve received since they arrived.”

Give to Haiti Emergency, UMCOR Advance #418325 to support UMCOR’s ongoing recovery work in Haiti and to help displaced Haitian evacuees in the United States.

Beyond Resettlement: UMCOR Refugee Ministry Abroad

In a Refugee’s Shoes – at UMW Assembly in St. Louis*

“Time’s up! The boats are leaving! Get on or get left behind!” These were the words shouted by Rev. Stephen Copley, refugee and immigration coordinator from Arkansas, who lent his support to act as a mean guard in a refugee resettlement simulation. In addition to Rev. Copley, the refugee resettlement workshop at the UMW assembly was led by several members of our network: Mary Lynne Ball (Oregon-Idaho Conference), Peggy Bermudez (Christ UMC, NY), Camilla Mikinny (Illinois Great River Conference), Anne Kumeh (Indiana Conference), and Naomi Madsen, Program Manager for the UMCOR Refugee Ministry office.

Refugee workshop presentation team. 
Refugee workshop presentation team.

The simulation held during the United Methodist Women’s Assembly in St. Louis, Missouri, offered workshop participants a small taste of the harsh realities faced by millions of refugees around the world. Participants were placed on an imaginary boat fleeing from their African country, and asked to make a list of what they thought they would need most on their journey to an unfamiliar land. Participants contemplated “what if” scenarios that stretched their imagination and confronted their fear of lack and of losing control. 

Then, the presenters from around the country shared their experience of church involvement in sponsoring refugees, including their own families’ experiences in connecting with refugee families. “Having a person from another country live in your home for a while is like opening a window to the world,” said Mary Lynne Ball.

Workshop participants were encouraged to go back to their UMW groups and their congregations and explore the possibility of ministry with refugees.

Could your congregation sponsor a refugee family? Call us. Let’s talk. 212-870-3888. Help UMCOR link refugees to the help they need. Give to New Hope to Newcomers, UMCOR Advance #901779.

To read the full article on the workshop click here.


“Meet Charis Steffel, Sponsor Developer at CRIS”

By Charis Steffel  

Charis Steffel
Charis Steffel, sponsorship developer for Community Refugee and Immigration Services (CRIS), Columbus, OH.

I became interested in refugee resettlement when, as a junior studying Social Work at Cedarville University, I got an internship at Community Refugee and Immigration Services (CRIS) in Columbus. I’ve been here ever since.

After donning many hats at CRIS, I finally settled into the role of Sponsorship Developer. I remember how excited I felt when I started working with refugees and how this work has changed me, so I love inviting the community to get involved. It’s thrilling to see people get excited about “welcoming the stranger” to Columbus.

It’s also been a privilege to work with many churches. This summer, Worthington UMC will co-sponsor their second refugee family. I’ve been working closely with them as they prepare. Last summer they co-sponsored a family of three from Iraq, and this year the family they helped now will help them co-sponsor another family. It’s been wonderful to work with this group and see meaningful relationships they continue to develop.

I look forward to connecting with more UMC churches in Columbus and introducing them to the exciting and rewarding opportunities at CRIS. 

Check upcoming newsletters to meet more partners in refugee ministry from our CWS IRP network, and beyond.



On June 20, people all over the world will celebrate World Refuge Day (WRD). This annual celebration was established in 2001 by the United Nations General Assembly to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the creation of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)

UNHCR’s self-described mission is to “lead and co-ordinate international action to protect refugees and resolve refugee problems worldwide. . . to safeguard the rights and well-being of refugees. . . to ensure that everyone can exercise the right to seek asylum and find safe refuge in another State. . .” This is certainly a mission that deserves to be celebrated.

WRD features a different theme each year. This year’s theme is “Home,” and since World Refugee Day also falls on a Father’s Day, UMCOR is reaching out to our network of congregations to promote worship services focused on “Home” and/or “Refugee Dad's.” World Refugee Day encourages us to prayerfully reflect on the lives of refugees, and raise awareness in our communities and congregations about refugee resettlement.

UMCOR, together with Church World Service, is working with congregations and resettlement affiliates across the US to prepare for WRD. Here are a few highlights:

Lancaster, PA:

Everyone is welcome at Lancaster's third-annual World Refugee Day celebration, to be held on June 19th at the Eastern Market. The event will feature multicultural cuisine, international arts and crafts, locally grown produce and flowers, live international music and dance, and children's activities throughout the day. Last year's event drew about 700 people! There is no admission fee. The event is jointly sponsored by Church World Service /Lancaster, Lutheran Refugee Services in Central PA, and Eastern Market. For more information, contact Laura Kime at 717-358-9278.

Minneapolis, MN:

Each year, the Twin Cities World Refugee Day is a huge celebration that draws about 2000 people. There are speakers, music, entertainment, children’s activities, and a resource fair. This year the event will be held in conjunction with the opening night of MOSAIC, an intercultural gathering ( Event details available at

Louisville, KY:

 We will hold our annual picnic and games on June 18 for all clients currently attending ESL classes. And on June 12 we will celebrate our twentieth year as an agency with a dinner and program. We hope to have at least one client representative for each year that KRM has resettled refugees and that they will share their experiences since arriving in Kentucky. Special recognition will be given to a few outstanding advocates for refugees from our community.

Columbus, OH:

Saturday March 19, 1pm-6pm, the Ohio State University Student Union. Food will be donated from local ethnic restaurants, and there will be a speaker, a video, and a panel that will answer questions about local refugee populations in Columbus.

World Refugee Day 
Check out our 2010 World Refugee Day poster on our website.

We would also like to hear from YOU on the topic of World Refugee Day. What is your congregation doing this year to deepen awareness about the plight of refugees? Tell us what you plan to do so we can write about it in our next newsletter!

One thing that is very easy to do and goes a long way is to place an insert in your church bulletin on Sunday, June 21, the day after World Refugee Day. Talk to your pastor about announcing WRD at the service, or even ask him or her to raise up refugees as the theme of the service. Please follow this link to the poster. Check our website net week for more resources, bulletin insert, children's sermon, and Power Point slide.

What other ideas do you have for raising awareness in your congregation about refugees? How can UMCOR help? Please email us at: ( or call 212-870-3888. We’d love to hear from you!

Thanks from the UMCOR Refugee Team!