No matter your interests, we have something for you during Welcoming Week, September 12-20, 2020. From discussions on how to create a welcoming environment for all, to songs and stories from across the globe, to cooking demonstrations – if you want it, we probably have it.
Each day begins with a prayer or blessing from local faith leaders, both clergy and lay. Throughout the day, we will post videos on social media related to the theme of the day. Join us on our Facebook Page.
Opening Kickoff by Welcoming America. Kick off Welcoming Week with us by joining our free, livestream event featuring exciting music, dance performances, inspiring personal stories, and more! Livestream event at 3:00 p.m. Eastern Time.
Who is my neighbor? How are you informed by your religious, moral or ethical beliefs? Join the discussion using these hashtags: #WelcomingAmerica #CreatingHomeTogether #LoveYourNeighbor
Share a picture of your family using the hashtags #WelcomingAmerica #CreatingHomeTogether. #Family
Interactive experience at Taylor Books (noon), moving to Capital Market at 1:00. Fill in the blank “Home is ______” with words or pictures. Post on our traveling art board. Can’t get downtown? Comment on our Facebook page, using the hashtags: #WelcomingAmerica #CreatingHomeTogether #HomeIs
Follow cooking videos by West Virginia’s immigrants and their descendants. Share your own recipes or experiences. How does food, eating together, define your family, your culture? Share on social media. #WelcomingAmerica #CreatingHomeTogether #Cuisine
West Virginia Council of Churches Interfaith Prayer Service at noon, Mary Price Ratrie Greenspace
Panel Discussion, Facebook Live, 7:00 p.m. Panelists: Rt. Rev. W. Michie Klusmeyer, Bishop, Diocese of West Virginia; Rabbi Joe Blair, Temple Israel, Charleston, WV; Ibtesam Sue Barazi, Vice-President, Islamic Association of West Virginia; Rev. Michael Farmer, Risen City Church, Charleston, WV; Paola Garcia, DACA recipient. Pose your questions to the panelists.
Refugees, asylum seekers, and some immigrants do not have the right to vote. Vote for those who can’t. #WelcomingAmerica #CreatingHomeTogether #Vote
How much do you know about immigration issues? Educate yourself on our website or Facebook page. #WelcomingAmerica #CreatingHomeTogether #Awareness
Listen to bilingual children’s books, posted on our social media pages. St. Marks United Methodist Church Quartet and Steel Drums featured throughout the day. #WelcomingAmerica #CreatingHomeTogether #StoryAndSong
West Virginia Interfaith Refugee Ministry thanks these partners for their support:
- Welcoming America
- ACLU WV
- Episcopal Migration Ministries
- Episcopal Diocese of West Virginia
- Islamic Association of West Virginia
- Justice and Advocacy Committee, WV Conference, The United Methodist Church
- Elizabeth Memorial United Methodist Church, Charleston, WV
- St. Marks United Methodist Church, Charleston, WV
- West Virginia Council of Churches
Charleston, West Virginia Mayor Amy Shuler Goodwin proclaimed September 12 – 20, 2020 as “Welcoming Week.”
Mayor Goodwin wrote:
Our community must strive to create a culture of inclusiveness, which includes addressing disparities, understanding history and countering hate. It is time to come together and build communities where every resident can thrive and contribute.
WVIRM applauds the support of Charleston’s Mayor and City Council in their commitment to “fostering a welcoming environment for all …”
“Welcome Home.” Two of the most beautiful words ever. “Welcome home” means
- You are accepted here.
- You belong.
- You are safe.
- You are wanted.
- We, your family, have your back.
- No matter what you’ve done, where you’ve been, what you look like, who you love, you are welcome here.
This. Is. Your. Home.
Yet, many people who live here in the United States do not feel that it is their home.
For 400 years, African-Americans have been treated as less than human, valuable only for the use Anglo-Americans can make of them. It was true in the time of slave markets and is still true today when the lives of African-Americans seem to be dispensable.
Despite the promise implied by the Statue of Liberty, the U.S. has denied welcome and a home to persons seeking a safe haven.
According to the Brookings Institution, the net increase of immigrants in the U.S. population in 2018 declined more than 70% from the year before. The decline for refugees is similar. This reduction is attributed largely to President Trump’s restrictive approach to immigration, including a blanket ban on accepting persons from these seven Muslim-majority countries: Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Syria, Sudan and Yemen.
In West Virginia, however, we say to those seeking refuge, “You are welcome here.”
A focused effort to welcome refugees began in 2015 when a group of Christian, Jewish and Muslim clergy and lay persons in Charleston, West Virginia, met to discuss a response to the Syrian refugee crisis. The Syrian civil war has resulted in 12 million displaced persons, half of whom are children, making it one of the largest humanitarian crises of our time. Who can forget the image of three-year-old Alan Kurdi who drowned when the rubber boat his family used to flee the civil war capsized?
Despite our country’s shutting the door on persons fleeing for their lives, WVIRM has been able to help three families seeking refuge from torture and imprisonment in their home countries. Two of those families chose to make West Virginia their home. In resettling these families, WVIRM relied heavily on the support and expertise of EMM and local churches.
This September 2020, WVIRM, in conjunction with Welcoming America, is hosting nine days of virtual events raising awareness of the benefits of living in diverse and inclusive communities. When communities affirmatively bring together immigrants, refugees, and long-time residents, they build strong connections that lead to collective prosperity. In hosting these events, WVIRM stands with persons of faith who follow G-d’s command: “The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.” Leviticus 19:34.
Our central event, September 17 at 7:00 p.m., is a panel discussion among faith leaders and immigrants centered on the theme #CreatingHomeTogether. You can access this Facebook Live event at www.facebook.com/WVIRM.
We, at West Virginia Interfaith Refugee Ministry, say to all persons, but especially to refugees and others seeking asylum in the United States, “Welcome Home.”
September is “Immigrant Heritage Month” according to a proclamation signed by Gov. Justice in January 2020. September also marks the first “Welcoming Week” celebration in our state, sponsored by West Virginia Interfaith Refugee Ministry. Begun by Welcoming America in 2009, Welcoming Week brings together organizations and communities, immigrants, refugees, and long-time residents to build strong connections and affirm the importance of welcoming and inclusive places in achieving collective prosperity. In these times of increased division, our mutual progress depends on finding new ways to bring together people across lines of difference in order to develop greater understanding and mutual support.
Bringing people together and “striving to improve the lives of refugees” is what West Virginia Interfaith Refugee Ministry (WVIRM) has been doing since its inception in 2015. Born as a response to the Syrian refugee crisis, WVIRM has expanded its efforts to include resettling persons seeking asylum from persecution by repressive regimes. In 2018 and 2019, WVIRM accepted three families for resettlement, two of whom call Charleston home and are contributing to the local economy.
In keeping with West Virginia’s history of “Welcome,” Gov. Justice responded to an Executive Order from President Trump by consenting to refugee resettlement in West Virginia, stating that “Refugees who have resettled here have become productive citizens and are welcomed into our West Virginia family.” Charleston Mayor Amy Shuler Goodwin issued a similar response. We at WVIRM applaud Gov. Justice’s and Mayor Goodwin’s pronouncements that immigrants, and refugees in particular, are welcome here. These times of deep divisions in society call out for voices of unity.
Proclaiming that non-natives are welcome in West Virginia, however, is not enough. We must put feet to our faith, to paraphrase an African proverb often quoted by the late Rep. John Lewis. As people of faith, we are called to stand in solidarity with those who are on the margins of society. Welcoming the stranger and speaking out for those who cannot are tenets of the three Abrahamic faiths.
There are also economic reasons for West Virginians to welcome immigrants, refugees and others seeking asylum to our state.
Immigrants make up only 1.6% of West Virginia’s population, yet account for 19% of our state’s population growth, according to a March 2020 report by the WV Center on Budget and Policy, “The States of West Virginia’s Immigrants.” This population growth helps to offset the exodus of native-born residents leaving the state, which has been ongoing since at least 1990. Immigrants constitute 2.2% of the workforce, 5.5% of business owners and 2.9% of the state’s economic output. As Lin Manuel Miranda wrote in Hamilton, “Immigrants! We get things done!” Welcoming non-natives is good for business.
Similarly, socio-economic studies have shown that communities prosper when they are diverse and inclusive. Inclusive communities attract population growth, contribute to quality of life and prepare us for interactions with an increasingly global society. When all people feel a sense of belonging in their community, they work to make their community better. All people, including immigrants, refugees and persons seeking asylum, are valued contributors who are vital to the success of our communities and our shared future.
From September 12 – 20, West Virginia Interfaith Refugee Ministry will shine a spotlight on the contributions made to our state by its non-native population. The centerpiece of our celebration is a panel discussion on Thursday, September 17, at 7:00 p.m. on our Facebook page, www.facebook.com/WVIRM. Faith leaders and others will discuss the importance of making West Virginia a welcoming place for all, and how you can participate in that effort.
According to the UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR, there are 79.5 million persons forcibly displaced worldwide as a result of persecution, conflict or other violence. Twenty-six million are refugees and 4.2 million are asylum seekers. WVIRM believes that we may not be able to save the world, but we can save one life. You can help.
The first half of 2020 has been unprecedented, to say the least. We’ve seen a novel coronavirus spread across the globe, causing shutdowns of schools, places of business, airlines and mass transportation, and professional sports leagues. Some countries have closed their borders.
The 14.7% unemployment rate in the U.S. in April 2020 was the highest since 1940 at the tail-end of the Great Depression. https://www.thebalance.com/unemployment-rate-by-year-3305506
Almost 18 million Americans are out of work, including 3 million who have lost their jobs permanently.
The United States has had more than 4 million cases of COVID-19, with approximately 150,000 deaths.
Police have killed 598 people so far in 2020. Blacks have made up 23% of those killed by police since 2003, despite being only 13% of the U.S. population. White on Black crimes, including assault and murder, seem to have risen, according to news reports, although clear data is hard to obtain because of differing characterizations of Hispanics.
The names of Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Philando Castille, Breonna Taylor, Rayshard Brooks, George Floyd, and James Garcia have become part of our lexicon. Sandra Bland and Ahmaud Arbery were not killed by police hands, but their deaths are a result of systemic racism.
What does it mean for a society when a person’s name becomes synonymous with police brutality? What does that say about us as individuals?
The three Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity and Islam) teach that we are – each and every one of us – made in the image of God. There is a moral component to our creation. We – each and every one of us – possess the attributes of God: justice, mercy and love.
“What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with your God?” Micha 6:8.
The Prophet Muhammad, Peace be upon him, taught: “An Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab, nor a non-Arab has any superiority over an Arab.” Islam teaches equality.
Do we see the reality of God in everyone? If we did, George Floyd would not be dead. Had Derek Chauvin seen the One True God when he looked at George Floyd, he could not have knelt on his neck for 8 minutes, 46 seconds until he stopped breathing.
There is a universal moral tradition that our purpose on this earth is to participate in the perfection of this world – what Christians call the Kingdom of God. Jesus the Christ taught that the Kingdom of God is right here, right now.
We will not complete the work of perfection, but we can’t not work toward it. We can’t be neutral in this conflict. If we are not working to dissemble the structures of racism, then we are complicit in maintaining them.
West Virginia Interfaith Refugee Ministry is working toward an anti-racist society in which all are seen as having been made in the image of God and all are welcome. Come. Join us. Follow us on Facebook to see how you can be an ally with us.
It’s been raining in West Virginia for days. So far in 2020, we’ve had 28 inches of rainfall. Our yearly average is 45 inches. The rain that nourishes our crops also causes mudslides, rock slides, road slippage and flooding creeks and rivers, causing death and isolation, as communities are cut off from each other, with no way in or out.
It’s also raining in my heart as I think of victims of the various pandemics facing the world. Some of these pandemics affect people daily (the pandemics of poverty, unequal access to and provision of health care, inequitable education and racially motivated police tactics resulting in the deaths of our Black and Brown sisters and brothers). The coronavirus is “new.” However, its effects fall disproportionately on people of color. This new pandemic does not rain down on all persons in equal measure.
The isolation required during this time of pandemic has caused us to become increasingly cut off from each other.
In pandemic times, when our lives are upended, when what we thought was certain no longer is, when we cannot depend on what we believed to be true, we are apt to lose our way. We become fearful and adopt a “fight or flight” attitude (too often choosing to fight). We lose our reference points, including our moral compass.
We are not unique. The pattern of obedience, sin, repentance, forgiveness, obedience, sin … is recorded in our Sacred Texts. This is the human condition relative to our Creator.
But, can we not break the cycle? Are we destined to murder our sisters and brothers, as related in the sacred story of Cain and Abel (Genesis chapter 4)? Can we not offer forgiveness, mercy and justice to all, regardless of skin color, ethnicity, faith (or no faith) tradition, gender identity and who we love? Can we not denounce all -isms, except those which build up all of creation?
West Virginia Interfaith Refugee Ministry. At the heart of what we do, who we are is: Interfaith. Our vision is guided by our beliefs, our moral compass.
I will not listen to the melody of your harps. But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.
In lay terms, G-d says, “Don’t come to me checking off all the things you’ve done that make you ‘good.’ I want to see justice and righteousness.”
G-d, speaking through the prophet Micah, was even more clear (Micah 6:8):
He [G-d] has told you, O mortal, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?
Decades earlier, the author of the book of Proverbs wrote (Proverbs 31:8-9):
Speak out for those who cannot speak,
for the rights of all the destitute.
Speak out, judge righteously,
defend the rights of the poor and needy.
What will our rain be composed of? Harsh words, bullets, violence, discrimination?
Or will we let “ justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream?”
We’re in this for the long haul!
When families from Africa came to Charleston for resettlement 16 months ago, a crew of volunteers went into action: securing housing and furnishings; setting up utility accounts; stocking the pantry; finding clothing suitable to West Virginia weather; enrolling the children in school; obtaining immunizations …
After immediate needs were met, orientation to Charleston and West Virginia began. This included introduction to grocery stores; medical providers including HealthRight; ESL classes and tutors; faith communities; the bus system; technology (the school system uses iPads); and the local USCIS office.
Our pro bono attorney and WVIRM co-founder, Lynn Clarke, has provided hundreds of hours helping the families achieve a formal declaration of acceptance of their applications for asylum. Court hearings have been postponed due to the Court’s failure to obtain a translator and, now, because of the coronavirus.
Still, we press on.
After all, if these families can travel thousands of miles (by foot, ship, bus, horse and foot again) over some of the most dangerous terrain in the world, how can we not persevere? The families’ faith provides hope to us all.
Welcoming the families to Charleston doesn’t stop with a furnished house. The families have emotional needs as well. They are far from their families and worried about the effects of the coronavirus in their home countries. In addition, their relatives may be subject to greater scrutiny because of the activities of the families seeking asylum here in the U.S.
Church World Service offers these tips to stay connected. Try one today!
- Share DVDs or Audio Books. The Stay-at-Home Order limits the families’ ability to interact with native English speakers. The more they can practice English, the better their chances of getting hired when the economy opens back up.
- Consider ordering some fresh groceries and have them delivered to a newly arrived client’s home. Some ideas: Fruits, Vegetables, Rice, Bread, Milk and Eggs. We’ll be posting foods the families like on our website or Facebook page soon.
- Due to the reduction and laying off of some service industry jobs, consider donating to a client’s rent to provide an extra cushion of support.
- The families’ cell phone plans do not cover international phone calls. A gift card would be appreciated.
Check our Facebook page and group page frequently for more ideas on how to keep West Virginia, Wild, Wonderful and Welcoming.
After traveling thousands of miles by cargo ship, by bus and on foot, the families arrived at the U.S./Mexico Border. They had survived the most dangerous jungle in the world, the Darien Gap in Panama, known as the “Migrants’ Graveyard.” They arrived in the United States shortly before President Trump restricted admission of refugees and others seeking asylum. They arrived safely in Charleston where they received shelter, food and welcoming arms. We breathed a collective sigh of relief.
Sixteen months after their arrival in Charleston, the families face additional struggles.
The Coronavirus has limited or halted their employment entirely. A former nurse was offered a job at a nursing home just days before the Governor’s stay-at-home order. Her husband was ready to take his driver’s license test, the first step toward obtaining a CDL license, when the Department of Motor Vehicles closed. The business that employed the second couple has reduced production, cutting their hours severely.
These two families who were on the road to self-sufficiency need our help more than ever. Will you answer the call?
Following is a letter from the President of our Board of Directors, on behalf of WVIRM, asking that you listen to the cries of those who have had to leave their homes and flee to a foreign country, because their lives and the lives of their families were in danger. Will you listen to their cries? Will you donate now?
Dear Friend of WV Interfaith Refugee Ministry:
As the world deals with this unprecedented pandemic, WVIRM finds itself facing an unprecedented situation. The COVID-19 virus is affecting all of our families, and our way of life.
At WVIRM, we are facing this same difficulty as many other households, businesses and nonprofit organizations. Our current funding will last only about 5 more months. We cannot do it alone without your help to support our two families.
For the past 16 months, we have been supporting two families from the Republic of Congo and Angola, each with small children, who are seeking asylum in the United States. We provide full financial support and cultural orientation while they try to learn how to adjust to life in a new country, earn a living and become self-independent, productive members of our beautiful State.
They were well on their way to self-sufficiency when the COVID-19 epidemic turned everything upside down. We hope they will be able to return to work by the end of the year, but if not, we need to be prepared to help.
We know friends of WVIRM are committed to ensuring that our mission to help support immigrants and refugees continues and that no family goes hungry during these difficult times.
We come to you at this time to appeal to your heart with an urgent request for help. Most of us will be receiving a check from the Stimulus Package our government is implementing. We ask you to consider sharing part or all of that check with our organization.
The donation will be tax-deductible. The CARES Act contains a provision allowing individuals to take a $300 above-the-line deduction for cash contributions to charities, regardless of whether or not the individual itemizes deductions. This is a win-win provision! You help WVIRM help families, and you get an additional tax deduction!
We are a very small nonprofit organization that is run primarily by volunteers with a part-time Executive Director supported by grant-funding. All of your donations will go into an emergency fund supporting the families.
We understand and respect how difficult these times are on us all; how stressful this is for everyone. Please help those who are less fortunate than you and those who are trying to get their life started in this country, as most of us and our ancestors did. Make a financial contribution to WVIRM. Anything is appreciated. No donation is too small.
Donations can be made online at http://www.WVIRM.com or via check to P.O Box 5387, Charleston, WV 25361.
Thank you for caring and for your generosity.
Ibtesam Sue Barazi, Board President, WVIRM
If there is anything constant in life, other than death and taxes, it is this: Plans Change. COVID-19 has altered all our plans. College and lower level school classes are being held online. Graduations have been canceled; proms, too. We don’t run out to the store to purchase something just because we think we need it. We’re being more careful how we spend money, because our continued employment is not assured. First time homebuyers: how are they going to make their house payments? This is the story for the middle class.
But what about those living paycheck to paycheck, or on public assistance, or without income at all? According to an article written in Marketwatch.com in May 2019 (before the new coronavirus hit), millions of Americans are one paycheck away from financial disaster.
“Certain communities were more prone to economic hardship in the event of missing a paycheck. Roughly two-thirds of households earning less than $30,000 annually and Hispanic households would be unable to cover basic living expenses after missing more than one paycheck, the researchers [from the Federal Reserve] found.”
Consider, then, those persons who are barred from receiving unemployment compensation, TANF and SNAP benefits. Consider the two families seeking asylum in the United States that WVIRM is resettling in Charleston, West Virginia. Employment comparable to what they held in their native countries has not been possible due to limited English fluency and professional licensing requirements. Like Blanche DuBois in A Streetcar Named Desire, they are depending “on the kindness of strangers.” Strangers such as you and me.
In strange times such as these, donations to charitable organizations decline. Understandably so. But there are still ways you can help WVIRM help the families we support. Here are a few examples:
- When shopping BOGO deals, donate your extra item. We’ll pick it up.
- Do you receive items from a food pantry you don’t like or need? We’ll pick those up, too.
- Hand sanitizer, alcohol wipes, bars of soap – anything to help combat the virus – would be appreciated.
- Bus passes are needed. You can buy these online and mail them to our office at PO Box 5387, Charleston, WV 25361.
- Share this article on social media. The wider the audience, the greater the potential for help.
The Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act (CARES) contains incentives for charitable giving:
Charitable Giving Incentive: Creates a new above-the-line deduction (universal or non-itemizer deduction that applies to all taxpayers) for total charitable contributions of up to $300. The incentive applies to cash contributions made in 2020 and can be claimed on tax forms next year. Section 2204. The law also lifts the existing cap on annual contributions for those who itemize, raising it from 60 percent of adjusted gross income to 100 percent. For corporations, the law raises the annual limit from 10 percent to 25 percent. Food donations from corporations would be available to 25 percent, up from the current 15 percent cap. Section 2205.
Plans change. Life as we knew it is different. What doesn’t change, what hasn’t changed, is the can-do spirit of the American people. West Virginians, in particular, have a history of helping their neighbors. Mountaineers are strong, resilient, proud, creative and compassionate.
WVIRM was founded by people of faith who wanted to put their faith into action. Let’s put feet to our faith. Together, following the guidelines of trusted health professionals, we will survive this pandemic and come out better on the other side.
Please share your ideas of how to help each other and the two families we support, while maintaining safe health practices. And, if you are able, please use the donate button to make a financial contribution.
In 2019, WVIRM welcomed and assisted 3 asylum seeking families right here in Charleston, WV. Two have stayed here, and with WVIRM’s help the children are enrolled and thriving in school, and the adults are rapidly learning English and adapting to life in our community. All four adults obtained work permits and found jobs, and we at WVIRM heard high praise from their employers. Unfortunately, governmental policies respecting work permits for asylum seekers are currently causing a gap in employment, as one category of work permit has expired for all of them, and they have to wait for work permits in the next category. But WVIRM, thanks to your generosity, is keeping them safe, housed and fed, until they can move again toward independence as soon as the next category of work permits arrive.
Through the generosity of our donors, and through local grant funding, we have hired an Executive Director, Betty Ann (BA) Miskowiec, firstname.lastname@example.org, and she is greatly expanding WVIRM’s ability to recruit volunteers to help our current families, and to further our efforts to bring more asylum seeking families to our community. We also have not given up hope of someday seeking approval once again from the U.S. State Department to bring refugees for resettlement in our beloved West Virginia.
Through a partnership with the Islamic Association of West Virginia, WVIRM has also funded scholarships for four West Virginia students, with refugee, asylee or Temporary Protected Status, to continue their studies at Marshall University and WVU. We are so proud of these hardworking WV student scholars! We have also funded, through a donation to the Syrian American Medical Society, the living expenses of 8 medical student who have fled Syria and are studying medicine in Turkey.
WVIRM is also working hard to educate our community members about the migrant crisis. WVIRM participated in Civil Rights Day at the Legislature, and continues to update our representatives in government. We have attended religious and community meetings and events, giving informational talks, and handing out well researched, accurate information on the crisis.
With ACLU West Virginia, we sponsored the movie “Midnight Traveler” at the Floralee Hark Cohen Underground Cinema. Afghan filmmaker Hassan Fazili and his family were forced to flee their country when the Taliban put a bounty on his head. This documentary was well-received and provided insight into some of the difficulties our asylees have faced in their journey toward freedom.
It truly does take a village. Please help WVIRM continue to grow, and to provide safety, right here in West Virginia, for asylum seeking families who are so grateful for a chance to live and work among us. WVIRM is a 501(c)(3) tax exempt organization, and your donation can be sent by check to WVIRM P.O. Box 5387, Charleston, WV 25361, or you can donate online by clicking on the “WVIRM donate button” at http://www.wvdiocese.org/pages/aa-egiving.html the egiving page of our fiscal agent, the WV Episcopal Diocese. Donations are tax deductible to the extent provided by law.
Thank you so much for your support of WVIRM. Together we are saving lives and growing our community! Best wishes for the holidays and a safe and Happy New Year!