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Helping resettle refugee comes naturally for coordinator

By Deidre Jacobson

Helping refugees comes naturally to Colleen Daniel, member of Liberty Park United Methodist Church (UMC), who grew up in a family with a global perspective.

She began coordinating many tasks when the Shared Ministry of Spokane UMC churches agreed in August to sponsor the Etienne family from Burundi through World Relief. Colleen was ready for this type of ministry.

Colleen Daniels

Colleen Daniels and Eritie Etienne

“My husband and I adopted twin Korean ten-month-old babies, I have a Chinese-American sister-in-law, a Columbian-American former brother-in-law, and my sister is marrying a Finnish man in a few weeks. I think it’s related to the ethos in which we were reared. Over the generations the definition of family for the large Daniel clan had little to do with genetics. We folded in those who needed a family,” she said.

I’ve been fortunate to travel internationally several times over the course of my adult life and I have a number of close relationships with people from other countries. For instance, my Chinese sister-in-law, who at the age of two immigrated to the United States with her parents, was reared in a typical Chinese household that included her paternal grandmother who never spoke English in the 35 years she lived here.

“Just by hanging out, by listening, by visiting with family or people I encountered on my travels, I picked up intangible as well as concrete experiences that shaped my cultural awareness,” she said.

Colleen, who grew up in Lacrosse, has a bachelor’s degree in home economics and a master’s in human development. She came to Spokane from Walla Walla four years ago to work on her doctorate in leadership studies at Gonzaga.

World Relief volunteer coordinator Jan Monroe contacted United Methodist churches when she learned a Methodist refugee family from Burundi would be arriving in Spokane and would need assistance.

She presented the request in August to the Shared Ministry, which involves pastors and lay people from seven Spokane United Methodist Churches: Centenary, Central, Highland Park, Liberty Park, Manito, Moran, and St. Paul’s.

They agreed to sponsor the family.

The ministry, which meets monthly, has previously coordinated various projects, including vacation Bible school, youth activities, retreats and picnics. This fall two other congregations, Fowler UMC and Trinity UMC, are joining the shared ministry and are also contributing to the resettlement ministry.

Although the shared ministry’s response to the request from World Relief was generally favorable, the group wanted more information before agreeing to the project.

Deb Conklin, pastor at Liberty Park, and Colleen met with Jan to find out more about the family and their needs. They learned that the Etienne family includes father and mother, who were originally farmers, a girl 11 and five boys ages 20, 17, 14, five and three years old.

The father and mother, Mashimango and Mariana, fled the instability in Burundi and settled in what is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) where the four oldest children were born.
Then as conditions in the DRC became untenable they left that country, eventually living in a Tanzanian refugee camp for about nine years. The youngest two boys were born there.

The churches expected the family to arrive sometime in the next six months, but on Aug. 26 World Relief called Colleen to say the family would arrive Sept. 5. A quick check with the ministry team yielded a positive response to the condensed time frame.

“Plans came together. We picked up the family at the airport and moved them to the home of Phil Harrington, pastor of Central UMC.”

Etienne family
Colleen with Etienne family

The Etienne family stayed with him for 18 days.

After the first two days, the family began preparing their own food. They cook dishes primarily with potatoes, rice, beef, chicken, fish, beans, cabbage, tomatoes and onions. They enjoy fresh fruit.

“As part of our preparation to welcome the refugee family, we received a list from World Relief of essential items required by the U.S. Department of State to set up housekeeping. We added to it,” said Colleen.

Along with household furnishings the family would need bathroom supplies, linens, kitchen utensils and, for a family of eight with three adolescent boys, plenty of food.

Using State Department guidelines to identify needs, the ministry team, with Colleen as project coordinator, began organizing services for churches to provide.

Central UMC provided transportation. Highland Park prepared and delivered meals the first two days. St. Paul’s purchased the first grocery staples and disposables such as light bulbs, toothbrushes and laundry detergent. Manito filled the needs for bed, bath and kitchen linens. Moran collected kitchen furnishings and provided the crew for the family’s move to their own home.

Members of the nine congregations and their neighbors donated clothing, household items, appliances and furniture.

“We are discerning what we will bring into the home,” said Colleen. “We want good quality, not furnishings and appliances that will break down in a year.”

Learning to work as a shared ministry team involving nine congregations and countless volunteers has been a journey of joy sprinkled with lessons.

Colleen identifies the importance of communication in coordinating this project, because communication is one area where problems can easily surface.

“Repeatedly we live into our learning and move forward with the new information. Each night, I share news of the day with our shared ministry team, key volunteer, and World Relief staff by email. My emails report on the family’s progress, thank volunteers and request needed time or items. I often add a story about the family or an inspirational piece,” she said.

Each refugee family is on a journey to a new life. After the initial support in conjunction with World Relief through the process of U.S. immigration and Washington State Department of Social and Health Services paperwork, the UMC Shared Ministry has shifted to the next phase of host responsibilities: helping the Etienne family to create a home that expresses who they are as they choose how to live in this new culture, Colleen said.

“The family needs to begin developing their independence and gaining self-sufficiency.? The role of the many volunteers will be to support and nurture the independence, to be companions for the journey, to be friends who stop by occasionally to see how it’s going,” she said.

Colleen encourages the volunteers to tap their creativity, to shine and not let their light be hidden.
“It’s been fun coming to know people from other congregations and learning from them,” she declared. “One of the hallmarks of this project has been our flexibility. Individuals are stepping forward to assist in new ways as their talents are needed and their time allows.”

Colleen estimates that more than 150 volunteers have contributed time, talent and money to this resettlement effort. She appreciates the hours of work and prayer that go on behind the scenes as well in direct service.?

Each volunteer, especially those who have been with the family, has a story to tell.
“We have been blessed to be a blessing to the Etienne family, to each other, and to our community,” she said.

“This experience is a rewarding piece of my faith journey that will ripple endlessly,” Colleen said. “The reminder to welcome the stranger in Hebrews 13:2 is more real to me now. Jesus’ teachings about loving relationships have been brought to life as I’ve watched the family interact and come to know them.

“My understanding of communion is richer because of the meals I’ve been privileged to share at the Etiennes’ table,” she realizes.

For information, call 232-2818.

Mary Stamp - The Fig Tree - © October 2007