In the late 1970s, Evelyn Mangham returned with her husband from doing missions work with local communities in Vietnam and began helping with the evangelical nonprofit, World Relief. When they got back to the states, Evelyn realized how many Vietnamese people were fleeing their homeland and trying to come to the United States. Determined to make a difference, she began calling evangelical churches, urging them to “adopt” a refugee family.
“She had shoe boxes of refugee information and would call people in the middle of the night urging them to take in refugee families. She got churches to start [helping refugees] before churches were really doing anything like it,” said Jenny Yang, vice president of advocacy and policy for World Relief.
Mangham was so determined to help these refugees, she contacted the U.S. State Department to see if they would help with resettlement. Though they turned her down, they approved World Relief as the first evangelical organization authorized by the State Department to resettle refugees.
World Relief, originally known as the War Relief Commission, was born after World War II when Boston’s Park Street Church decided to band together with other churches in the National Association of Evangelicals to care for orphans in Europe. As the decades progressed, they expanded their scope to Asia, Africa and the Middle East doing disaster relief, agricultural training and medical aid, but Mangham’s effort was the first time they began resettling refugees in the U.S.
“We are the ones that choose the refugees that come in that are already authorized [by the U.S. government] and help them fill out family reunification applications,” Yang said.
Yang knows a lot about the process because she actually helps with a Syrian refugee family herself. But she wants people to know that the refugee crisis is bigger than the Middle East.
“Syrians aren’t the only ones coming in. We have Burmese, Congolese, Sudanese and others, so it’s pretty diverse,” Yang said.
Touched by the work that World Relief is doing? There are several ways you can help.
“There’s a lot that volunteers can do. The main thing that we’re wanting individuals to do is to volunteer with the refugees,” Yang said. “We have 27 U.S. offices that resettle refugees. We are looking to have every refugee set up with a church volunteer. We’re asking local churches to reach out and volunteer.”
If there’s not a World Relief office near you, Yang encourages people to reach out to whoever is helping refugees resettle near you.
Want to help resettle refugees but can’t devote time? World Relief also wants churches to create welcome kits for arriving refugees. These can be anything from backpacks full of school supplies to kitchen utensils and other items refugees will use to set up their new homes. Members of one church in Washington state, for instance, drove 10 hours to deliver welcome kits because there wasn’t a World Relief nearby.
World Relief is also organizing the We Welcome Refugees campaign, an initiative to gain 10,000 signatures by Inauguration Day, to tell elected officials to continue welcoming those who have lost everything.
Check out World Relief’s website — worldrelief.org — for more information on the organization’s programs both domestic and international. You can also sign up for the refugee campaign here.