“Jesus was a refugee.”
So reads a banner outside of Holy Spirit Lutheran Church in Kirkland, where a committee of church members has been established to host refugee families and assist them in their transition to life in the United States.
“We do it because that’s what you do as the children of God,” Holy Spirit associate pastor Mary-Alyce Burleigh said. “It’s equally rewarding for us as it is to them. It’s been a gift to us, being able to learn about different cultures, including the similarities.”
Since the committee was formed last year, they have hosted two families, a single mom and her son from Iraq, who came from a refugee camp in Turkey, and a family of five from Uganda. The committee works with the Tacoma-based Lutheran Community Services Northwest, a resettlement partner of the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS), to be matched with families who are coming to the region.
“It’s been a learning experience for everyone on the committee,” Burleigh said.
Holy Spirit’s refugee committee has been assisting the refugees with everything from housing and transportation to resume writing and setting up health care.
“Our goal is to help them be independent,” Burleigh said.
One of the most costly aspects of the process is securing housing for the families. The Ugandan family is still living with a family from the church, but the Iraqi family has relocated from living with church members to an apartment of their own in Kirkland.
“Housing is the biggest issue,” Burleigh said. “Unless you can find an accessory dwelling unit or someone willing to charge less than they could, it’s expensive.”
After getting the Iraqi family settled in an apartment, the mother took it upon herself to seek employment as a teacher at a nearby daycare.
“(Refugees) want jobs — they want to be self-sufficient,” Burleigh said. “We all want the same things for our families: education for our children, career opportunities.”
They chose the neighborhood the mother and son live in for the elementary school, as one of the committee members teaches there, and they thought it would be helpful for the son to have a familiar face around when he’s at school.
Anyone interested in learning more about the committee and the refugee program can contact the church at (425) 823-2727. Donations to the program can be made by sending a check with “refugees” in the memo line to the church, 10021 N.E. 124th St., Kirkland, WA 98034. For more information about LIRS, visit lirs.org.