Education Confronts Injustice

My family is in the middle of packing for our move, so I haven’t been blogging, but I do have a piece that went live on Master Teaching today. Master Teaching is a website run by LEAPAsia “for teachers who follow the Master Teacher” and is currently hosting a series on “Education as Justice.” Through my connections at World Relief, I was asked a couple months ago if I would like to contribute a piece to the series, and, as this is a subject near and dear to me, I said I would love to.

My piece is titled “Education Confronts Injustice” and is specifically about refugee education. Click on the title to read the piece. I also highly suggest another piece in the series titled “Education as a Wealth-building Strategy is Bankrupt.” It’s got great wisdom for everyone, not just those in the education field. Following each piece are questions for reflection and articles for further reading.

Thanks for reading!

Jen

 

 

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Opportunity in West Chicagoland

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I picked up our sign from World Relief DuPage this past week. If you want one of your own, see #2 below.

I’ve written a couple posts in the last month about DuPage/Aurora World Relief’s budget challenges that provided opportunities for letter writing and donation, but if you’re local, I have three other opportunities for you.

I recently received an email from Jamie, the volunteer services manager at World Relief DuPage/Aurora. She highlighted several possibilities for involvement:

  1. Volunteering: “Do you love working with kids between the ages of 3 months and 5 years old? We need dedicated volunteers for our Early Childhood Program who would be willing to come alongside our teachers and provide support for kids who are adjusting to life in the U.S. and learning English. Our program has 3 different classes: 3-18 months, 18 months-2 years, 3-5 years. The classes meet in two sessions: a Monday/Thursday and Tuesday/Friday. We are looking for volunteers who can help at least once a week from 9 a.m. -11:30 a.m. (If you could help twice a week-M/Th or T/Fr-that would be wonderful, but any help is greatly appreciated.) Classes start on 1/25 and run through 5/27 with breaks for holidays and spring break. If you’re interested, please contact me (Jen) at jenunderwood0629@gmail.com, and I’ll direct you to the volunteer coordinators at the Wheaton or Aurora offices.
  2. Advocacy: Post a “We are not afraid” sign in your yard. This includes the address of a website where people can find accurate information regarding refugees and the resettlement process as a whole in the U.S. These signs can be picked up at WR’s Wheaton (1825 College Ave, Suite 230) and Aurora (73 S. LaSalle Street) offices.
  3. Put together a good neighbor kit for a refugee family settling in your area. Email me at jenunderwood0629@gmail.com for the list of items and the contact info of the New Arrivals Volunteer Coordinator.

Lastly, I’m including a prayer for refugees that we’ve been praying at my church. I’m including it here:

Lord Jesus Christ our Refuge and Deliverer, as a child you sought refuge in Egypt while fleeing from those who would persecute and harm you. Remember those today who must flee in the same manner, who find themselves in foreign and strange lands, granting them your Presence, your protection, and your provision. Illuminate us to be a shining light upon a hill amidst the dark evil in our world, that we may do our part with hospitality and resources; and that all who are refugees might be led to the brightness of Your redemptive love made present by your glorious Incarnation; You, who live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

 

The good work of refugee care

World Relief poster“(God) creates each of us by Christ Jesus to join him in the work he does, the good work he has gotten ready for us to do, work we had better be doing.” Ephesian 2:9, The Message

I believe with all my heart that refugee care is good work. A few weeks ago I posted the news that the ESL classes at my local World Relief (WR) office are in jeopardy because they have not received federal funding. Last Tuesday I sat in a meeting with other WR volunteers and listened as the ESL director outlined a plan that will provide as many refugees and immigrants with regular classes while still cutting costs (and staff) dramatically. Despite the great stress she was under, Sue smiled at us and reminded us that God is at work. He will provide. He so clearly cares for the poor, the orphan, the widow, the oppressed, and the foreigner. She said something like this: The decreased government funding gives the church a chance to step up and in with their money and their time. It pushes us to be more generous and creative.

Hear, Hear!

poster backAt the bottom of this post, I have links to both the national and local (western suburbs of Chicago) World Relief websites as well as specific ways to support WR DuPage/Aurora.

But before I get to that, I have links to four articles: the first three specifically related to refugees, the third about cultivating a generous heart toward all those in need.

The first is a Q&A with World Relief DuPage’s Executive Director Emily Gray. PLEASE read this article. Emily is informed and wise and above all, seeking to be likeminded with Christ.

5 Objects to Fuel Your Prayers,” is a great article about concrete ways to remember those in need. It’s specifically about refugees, but you could use the same techniques to remind you to pray for the poor, the persecuted church, victims of sex trafficking, those suffering from mental illness, orphans, etc.)

WR fundraisingGrowing in generosity with the Believing Poor” is by Elizabeth Drury. It challenges our views of generosity that do not extend past our wallets, that don’t impact our comfort levels.

What Refugees in Your Neighborhood Need from You” gives a bit of an inside look at how difficult it is to be uprooted and transplanted (often several times) and how the body of Christ can step into that difficulty.

~~~

For those outside Chicago’s western suburbs: visit the international home page of World Relief and click on the “Get Involved” tab to see if WR has a location in your area.

For those IN Chicago’s western suburbs: The ESL arm of WR DuPage needs volunteers. If you have some morning hours free beginning in January or would like to tutor a refugee one-on-one, email me at jenunderwood0629@gmail.com and I can get you connected with the volunteer coordinator. You don’t need any experience or qualifications other than the ability to speak English, and it is truly a blessing.

If you’ll take a look at the poster I have pictured above, you’ll find information about items needed for Good Neighbor kits. The back side (with items needed) is the second picture. One of WR’s dropoff locations is at K’Tizo–my favorite tea/coffee shop. You can drop off items and get a yummy drink!

The third picture (sorry it’s so small) is a “Quick Guide to Fundraising for World Relief DuPage/Aurora.” If you live in another location but have a WR nearby, I’m sure you could use all the same techniques to fundraise for your area location.

 

 

World Relief ESL classes followup

This is just a simple followup to the entry I posted a couple days ago about World Relief’s ESL classes being in jeopardy. A few minutes ago I wrote a simple letter to the Illinois governor, Bruce Rauner, through the illinois.gov website. If you, too, are an Illinois citizen and would consider doing the same, click on the link above to go directly to the contact page. Then, after filling in your personal information, you can copy and paste all or a portion of the letter below into the comment section. It will take you all of 2 minutes, tops!

Dear Governor Rauner, I am writing on behalf of World Relief DuPage, an organization that serves refugees and immigrants in the DuPage county area. I am asking you to approve the release of federal funds that support Adult Education. I am also asking you to pass a compassionate state budget that keeps in focus the needs of the most vulnerable in our communities, including immigrants and refugees. Thank you for your consideration.

Thank you!

Jen

World Relief ESL classes

IMG_1263Two weeks ago I walked into the Job class of World Relief’s ESL program and was immediately asked a question. “Hi Jen, we’re listing all the different ways people in our class say good morning in their languages. Can you add one?” I looked at the board. “Good Morning” was written there in English, Arabic, Burmese, Nepali, and Massalit.

“Buenos dias!” I said, and the teacher added the Spanish greeting to the list.

Four mornings a week, refugees and immigrants from all over the world gather for ESL classes in the basement of College Church in Wheaton, IL. Their preschool-aged children attend language enrichment classes while their parents study.

During break times a beautiful mix of different languages can be heard in the hallways. Refugees from Asian countries converse in halting English with Africans and Middle Easterners. The older women often huddle together, their clothing carrying the wonderful scents of cooking spices. News of babies born and jobs found is shared. Individual rejoicings turn into communal celebrations. When someone grieves, the others say little but their eyes speak a language of shared suffering.

I LOVE this place. I love what it stands for–a church that is giving of its space to those who need it and an organization, World Relief, that serves the most vulnerable. The teachers at World Relief are some of my heroes.

The students are my heroes.

They face odds I cannot imagine, and they do it with quiet bravery.

These basement classrooms are a sanctuary for them. They find and form community here. They meet Americans who welcome them to their new country, who tell them, “This can be your home. You are safe here.” Their children are nurtured and cared for.

These ESL classes are in jeopardy. Because the state of Illinois has not passed a budget, World Relief has had to operate its ESL classes since July without the federal and state funds it should have received. World Relief cannot continue this indefinitely, and plans are being made to cut the semester short and scale down the classes offered in the future.

If you are a reader in the DuPage area, please visit this link to World Relief DuPage’s Advocacy page and read more about this issue and action steps you can take. Pass it along to anyone else you know who might be interested.

And please pray.

Almighty and most merciful God, we remember before you all poor and neglected persons whom it would be easy for us to forget: the homeless and destitute, the old and the sick, and all who have none to care for them. Help us to heal those who are broken in body or spirit, and to turn their sorrow into joy. Grant this, Father, for the love of your Son, who for our sake became poor, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.                                                                    from The Book of Common Prayer

Mudroom Blog, World Relief, Refuge, and Ink 180

PLEASE read all four parts of this post!

puzzle 2+I have a piece (unpublished here or anywhere else) up today on the Mudroom Blog (a place for the stories emerging in the midst of the mess). It’s titled “The Missing Pieces.” Below is an excerpt from the middle of the piece. Follow the link above to read the entire piece.

I sometimes aim for “tidy and orderly.” But after I get a little ways down that road to craziness/denial/anger/hypocrisy, I realize my missing pieces are actually a gift. They’re good. They check my tendencies toward sterility. They bring me back to need and the deep, true longings of my soul.  

They bring me back to Jesus. 

+World Relief (WR) is an organization that ministers to refugees around the world. I volunteer at local WR ESL classes. These classes are in jeopardy because the state of Illinois has not passed a budget for the state year that began July 1, so the funds that are meant to provide for ESL classes are not released. PLEASE visit the World Relief advocacy page to read more about this and advocate for this very important ministry.

+Refuge for Women ministers to women who have left the adult entertainment industry. The first R for W recovery home was opened in Kentucky, and now funds are being raised for a R for W home here in the Chicagoland area (it’s desperately needed). R for W Chicago is hosting Shoelapalooza, a fundraising event, this Saturday from 1-3 in Crystal Lake, IL. The slogan is “Step into a new pair of shoes and help a woman step into freedom.” You can also learn more about R for W Chicago at the event. Prices are reasonable and every dollar spent goes to Refuge.

+Willow Creek is hosting its quarterly Anti-Trafficking Forum, and the speaker is Chris Baker of Ink 180. If you’re interested in hearing more about the incredible work Chris does and more about anti-trafficking work being done in this area, follow the link above to learn more about the event.

With just 2 clicks, YOU can make a difference for a woman in refuge!

Renew Project

Re:new is one of my favorite non-profits! This small shop in the western suburbs of Chicago employs local refugee women to make beautiful items from cloth and leather. (Visit renewproject.org to learn more of the story and, hmm, maybe do a little give-back shopping!)

Re:new is eligible right now to win a $25,000 award from Wells Fargo Bank through Wells Fargo’s Works Project Contest. Among thousands of qualified entrants, Re:new made it through the first round of the contest. In the second round, supporters vote for the applicants of their choice, and those receiving the highest number of votes will advance to final judging by a private panel from within Wells Fargo.

Public voting closes Sunday, July 19. Follow this LINK to vote for Re:new. You can vote several times a day–please do! Share the link and/or this post with others on social media and through email to drum up more support.

One more time: here’s the LINK so you can vote.

Thank you!

Jen

p.s. The vast majority of refugees being settled in the western suburbs of Chicago are served by World Relief. I’ve worked with our local World Relief ESL program for three years now and think it is a fantastic ministry. Read more about it at the link above. If you think this is something you would like to be involved in, click HERE to check out the locations of their U.S. offices. You may have one near you.

Being “Mom”

*An audio recording of this piece is at the bottom of the post.

Weariness is an unavoidable byproduct of motherhood—no matter how committed you are to it.

A few weeks ago, at the check-in desk for Women’s Bible Study at church, I filled out my nametag next to a young mom with a preschooler perched on her hip. She pressed the tag onto her sweater. “Mommy,” her little girl said, pointing a forefinger at it.

“Well, I’m also ‘Julie,’” her mother told her.

“No, no ‘Julie,’” the preschooler protested. She jabbed the nametag again. “Mommy.”

Her mother smiled, a tired smile.

And I wondered if she felt, in that moment, as if she’d lost any identity other than “Mommy.” But then I thought that perhaps I was projecting my own sometimes fear that my children will lock me into the “mom box” and throw away the key. I remembered a recent conversation with them. Someone had been complaining about having to go to school, and I decided not to say, yet again, “Remember that in many countries, children would jump at the chance to go to school.”

Instead I said, “I would love to go back to school.”

Their looks condemned me to the loony bin. “I would!” I told them. “I keep looking at these two programs of study and thinking about applying.”

They didn’t even consider it.

“You can’t go back to school,” one of them said. “You’re our mom!”

Yet God does something supernatural in our hearts when we become mother to a child.

I was volunteering at a World Relief job class for immediately-arrived refugees. A young woman approached me, a mock application in her hands. She pointed to the question at the bottom of the form. “Children? Yes or No.” I put my hand, palm-down, a couple feet from the floor. “Little ones. Children. Do you have children?” She nodded. “Yes, I have.” She cradled her arms and rocked them back and forth. “A baby?” I asked. She nodded again. Then, “In my country. Baby there.” Her friend, from the same country but even younger, stepped forward. “She is mother there. Not mother here.”

I nodded and kept my face smooth, but my heart cried out in protest. No! I thought. We carry our children in our hearts. She is a mother here and everywhere. It is a gift of God, but when our children are lost or hurt or rebellious, it rips our hearts apart.

We forget at times the greatness of this gift, but moments of ferocious love remind us.

As I made my way down the hall of my children’s elementary school, a first grader walking past said, “Hey, you’re PJ’s step-mom.”

Something flared up, red and hot, in my chest. I blocked it from rising up my throat, from coloring my voice. “No-o-o, I’m not.”

“Oh, yeah,” the little guy continued, “not step-mom, adoption mom, right?”

I was well past him by then, so he didn’t hear my response.

“Just ‘Mom,’” I whispered. “I’m his mom.”

They have given me much

They murmur, “Thank you,” as they leave the classroom. But instead of saying, “You’re welcome,” I tell them, “Thank you,” back.

I mean it. They have given me far more than I have given them.

Mondays I serve as an aide at the local World Relief ESL program, supporting Krista, who teaches the Job Class. The refugees in her class are recently arrived (some as “recently” as a week ago) and have only six weeks of preparation before joining the American workforce. Job Class, therefore, doesn’t mess with non-essentials.

Today we are learning the “doctor appointment” conversation:

A: This is Dr. ________’s office. How can I help you?

B. I need to make an appointment. My ________ hurts.

A. I’m sorry. How about _________ at ____:_____?

B. _______ at ____:_____? Yes. Thank you.

A. See you soon.

B. See you.

I teach the dialogue to the majority of the class while Krista works on travel directions with three students who’ve already learned the conversation. Then she and I switch groups. As Krista leads the large group in a fun practice session, I show the small group how to use Google Maps. I zoom in on the map of the world until northern Illinois covers the entire screen. “Where would you like to go?” I ask them. “The grocery? I can show you how to get directions from your apartment to the closest store.”

One of the women—she’s a “take-charge” gal!—has a different idea. She pulls a flyer out of her folder. “Free Computer and Literacy Classes,” it boldly proclaims. She reads the address to me. I type in her apartment address as the starting point and the other as the end point. “Do you have a car?” I ask her. She shakes her head. The two others, who live in the same apartment building as she, shake theirs, too.

I switch the default icon from “car” to “pedestrian,” and the time jumps from six minutes to forty. They laugh.

Soon it is time to work on applications. We fill out applications galore in this class—since, after all, getting hired is the ultimate point. The app they start with has two blanks: one for “name,” one for “country.” It simply determines if they can actually recognize those words. The final one, number 12, is a standard three-page application, with blanks for items like their social security number, their full address (including zip code), and work history.

Job counselors at World Relief help each refugee create a résumé. We use these to fill in addresses and former jobs on the application templates. I help a gentleman write “Family farmer” in the blank for his earliest job and then, in the space for his latest, we write “Kitchen worker,” the job he was able to get when he had to flee home and find temporary shelter in a neighboring country. It is the same for nearly all the refugees from his home. They began as farmers and now live far, far from their land.

I explain to another man that he does not have a maiden name, but his wife does—or perhaps not—names are cultural things, after all.

Back and forth they come and go from the table where I have organized all the applications. “Excuse me, I need help.” “Excuse me, I am finished.” I check their work. I remind some that Americans write on top of the blank line rather than across the middle of it. I refer to their intake sheets to check birthdates—months and days can be tricky. One man and I have the same birth year. We smile at each other with the commonality of age. Another man has circled “yes” next to “children?” and “no” next to “married?” Beneath the “no,” he has penciled in “widow.” I do not change it to “widower.” Should I have? Surely no one will point that out to him.

I find myself noticing their shoes—actually, their socks. It’s been a cold winter, and Monday after Monday I’ve shivered when I noticed women in plastic slides—no socks—and men in dress shoes—no socks. It’s not that World Relief doesn’t provide them with socks. They have them, but many come from homelands where they never before had to wear anything but sandals on their feet.

It must feel strange.

This day, though, I see lots of socks, and, oddly, it makes me glad.

Near the end of class, Krista assigns the homework. A few still linger at my table, wanting me to check their corrections, wanting—ultimately—to learn, to understand, to “make it” in this new, strange country.

Please, God, smooth their paths, I pray. They’ve already traveled such hard, treacherous roads. Bring kind people to them when they need aid. Protect them from prejudice and hate. Let them meet You in gentle eyes, in helping hands, in mouths that share Your Name gracefully, truthfully.

I slide the blank applications into the correct folders, ready for another day of practice, and leave with a strange mix of sorrow and joy and great gratitude.

“Thank you,” I say again to a few who are still waiting in the vestibule for their ride to arrive.

For they have given me much.

A purpose in being overwhelmed

I write so often about feeling overwhelmed, I wonder if people think it’s my constant condition.

Well, it’s not 24/7, at least not most days.

But daily, at some point, by one thing or another?

Yes.

Last Monday I was overwhelmed by my schedule, by the keeping up with this and that. As I drove the kids to school that morning, I couldn’t stop thinking about the teetering tower of papers on the corner of my desk at home. These were “school papers”–all the ones my kids kept bringing home from school and others I’d been handed during back-to-school night two weeks before. I’d put off dealing with “the tower” because I knew I would discover several forms I needed to fill out, many new dates to put in my calendar, and–at this point–a couple of deadlines I’d already missed.

Though “the tower” was on my mind, I couldn’t do anything about it right then, because from 10:30-12:30 on Mondays, I help out in an ESL class run by World Relief (worldrelief.org). I started doing this last year, but I was in the “bridge” class then, which “bridged the gap” for refugees whose English was almost proficient enough for them to take college courses. This year I’m pretty much at the opposite end of the spectrum, helping with the lower section of the “Job Class.” Students in this class are the primary breadwinners for their families. They need jobs quickly, and this class is a crash course in conversational English and American work culture. Last week we worked on giving/receiving firm handshakes and pronouncing numbers, particularly dollar amounts. After a student completes 60 hours of training, a World Relief job counselor begins working with him/her to find a job.

I often ask these students, “When did you come to the U.S.?” and the answers range from “last week” to “six weeks ago.” After only 60 hours of class, they will enter a work environment with bosses and coworkers who speak a language they are not proficient in, in a culture very, very different from their own.

I panic for them just thinking about all that.

So back to last Monday morning. Since the World Relief class is closer to my kids’ school than it is my house, I go to a Dunkin Donuts after I drop them off and write from there until it’s time for me to go to World Relief. So there I sat, feeling overwhelmed with my own life and wondering how on earth I was going to be of any use in the job class when I was such a wreck myself. I opened BibleGateway.com to look at the “verse of the day,” trying to change my focus.

It was James 3:13 in the New Living Translation, and the second part jumped out at me: “…doing good works with the humility that comes from wisdom.”

Now, I don’t claim to have wisdom (being regularly overwhelmed quickly cures me of feeling I do), but this morning I was certainly feeling humble. I was amazed by the refugees’ pluck and determination.

Suddenly my overwhelmed-ness didn’t seem so negative. God had put me in exactly the right frame of mind to honor the people I would work with that morning. My humility sure didn’t come from my own wisdom but from God’s. He had put a task in front of me and then equipped me to do it in the way He wanted me to.

I stopped thinking of the leaning Tower of Papers on my desk and settled into work, and then I went off to class where I shook the hands of men who have never encountered a female boss before and need to be prepared to do just that. I helped a woman say the breathy form of “th” and we laughed and laughed together at all my antics (because it can be really funny when you stick the tip of your tongue between your teeth and hold a piece of paper in front of your mouth so it moves when you say “think” and “three.”) I listened to a man practice the difference between $3,146 and $31.46.

Maybe being overwhelmed isn’t a bad thing. Maybe it simply makes us aware we’re human.

Just like everybody else.