“I was a stranger and you welcomed me in...” This quote from Jesus from the gospel of Matthew is a driving force for World Relief and for many others who choose to help make our communities welcoming places for refugees and immigrants. But what does “welcome” really look like?

Some things are easy to see as “welcome” - volunteering to be a friend to a refugee family, becoming an English or Citizenship tutor, or helping to stock a new apartment with items family needs. But there is so much more. As refugees and immigrants have been more in the news, we have seen neighbors using their creativity and the opportunities they have right in front of them to support and love refugees in special ways; ways that are also a part of what “welcome” looks like. 

Judy Duncan, owner of Café K’Tizo in Wheaton, has used her business to host events in partnership with WRDA where refugees are invited to tell their own stories in their own words. Judy has helped WRDA develop our “Spotlight” series and has, so far, opened K’Tizo for events focused on Syria and on the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Each event has drawn over 100 neighbors together to listen and to learn, and these folks go home with a greater understanding and appreciation of immigrants. Judy has also donated a portion of the sale of the cafe's delicious teas and coffees to WRDA on Spotlight days. Because of the success at K’Tizo, Spotlight events are also starting up in Aurora, reaching even more people and creating even more understanding. That’s what “welcome” looks like.

Roxanne Engstrom is the talented photographer behind Hawa Images.  Roxanne has used her love of people, photography, art and kids in multiple ways.  First, some of the beautiful images in WRDA media are gifts from Roxanne.  But this month Roxanne coordinated the second “Share the Love” event.  This event celebrates Valentine’s Day by showing love to the refugee kids in the Hawthorne Elementary after school club.  In anticipation of Valentine’s, Roxanne gathers kids and parents she knows for a day of creating hand-made Valentine’s cards.  Then, the group brings the gifts plus some sweet treats to the Hawthorne club and shares this tradition of love with kids who are adjusting to life in the U.S.    This year they also collected school supplies as part of the Back to School in February drive.  That’s what “welcome” looks like.

A group of students at Glenbard West High School had a school project in entrepreneurship to see how much money they could make with $100.  And for the last three years this enterprising group of students has used this money, and solicited other donations to do a movie marathon of holiday movies called “Triple Play for World Relief.”  This year these teenagers turned $100 into just under $3,000 and are helping to underwrite the costs of summer activities for refugee students.  And, since this year the students who started “Triple Play” are going to be graduating, they have recruited younger students to whom they are passing the baton to keep the service going.  That’s what “welcome” looks like.

A group of women who love sewing and quilting work together at the First Baptist Church of Wheaton.  They talk, stitch and share life together.  They take scraps and pieces of cloth and put them together in interesting and complex patters to create beautiful, functional art.  But they also are aware that refugee families need blankets as they adjust to the cold of a winter in the Midwest.  These ladies could have collected store-bought blankets to meet the need, but they chose to use their gift of quilting and their time together to bless their neighbors.  Earlier this month this group gave 23 beautiful quilts for the beds that will welcome refugees.  That’s what “welcome” looks like.

We are so thankful not only for the gifts of these volunteers, but also for the challenge they give to each of us.  They challenge us to continue to look for creative ways to meet needs big and small in the lives of our immigrant neighbors.  They challenge us to look to our own passions, skills, abilities and opportunities.  So, where will your creativity take you?  How can you be a part of what “welcome” looks like?  To learn more about volunteering through World Relief, or to share your creative ideas for creating a welcome, go to the WRDA involvement page.