Knowing Our Neighbors (2016)

By Jean Kirgiss

Many of us have ancestors who made a difficult decision to leave their home country and immigrate to America. Whether they were escaping terrible circumstances, or seeking new opportunities, they all arrived filled with hope for a new life. These ancestors have much in common with today’s immigrants who are escaping dire circumstances.

A group of SOTV members ventured to Lutheran Social Services (LSS) in late May with the goal of knowing more about these people who have become our neighbors. The day included a visit to the Somali Mall and a Somali dinner at a local restaurant. It was truly a holy experience!

We learned there are 20 million new refugees every year throughout the world, numbering more than the immigrants following World War II. A refugee is a person who has had to leave their homeland because of dire threats to their life and has requested resettlement in a new country. The immigration screening and vetting process takes at least two years, and a person with refugee status is the most thoroughly investigated of all immigrants. We currently expect 85,000 people to arrive in America during 2016. 2,291 people alone came to Minnesota in 2015, mostly from Somalia and Burma. These groups come to Minnesota because of already established communities, much like European immigrants from over 100 years ago.

LSS is primarily involved with family reunification, and in 2015 offered assistance to 645 refugees. LSS is an affiliate of Lutheran Immigrant and Refugee Services, which is a federally approved resettlement agency. LSS provides assistance to new refugees upon arrival, finding them housing, securing health insurance, setting up English language classes, enrolling children in school, and assisting with immigration fees, work permits, visas, and green card applications. Job placement is a goal within 90 days of arrival. Preparing people to live and work in a new culture within this short time is a daunting task, but if done well, can provide refugees with
a great start to their new lives.

“We can quickly and easily respond to a need of our neighbor if we know what the need is.”

We were impressed how refugees without any English or job skills are trained by LSS for cleaning and maid service employment in a hotel, office or hospital. Julie Opheim took this information home to her husband, who shared it with his contacts in the hotel industry. As a result, several new partnerships have been formed between LSS and hotels. As of June 20, five people have already been placed in employment, with four more in progress. What a miracle! This is an example of how quickly and easily we can respond to a need of our neighbors if we know what the need is.

Financial assistance is provided for families upon arrival, along with food assistance. This is gradually reduced as families get on their feet. Did you know every refugee must repay their plane fare before they are granted citizenship? LSS relies on volunteers to assist and care for our new neighbors assimilating into our culture and becoming a part of the fabric of our society.

We look forward to greater involvement between SOTV and LSS in helping our new neighbors in the south metro. Here are several ways you can get involved:

  • †My Neighbor is a Muslim is a free booklet available from LSS to help learn the basic tenets of Islam and understand our new neighbors. Download a free copy.
  • †Donate items for “Refugee Welcome Kits”
  • †Volunteer to be a mentor and care for refugees through simple tasks (trips to the doctor, errands, and helping the family have fun and get to know the Twin Cities). Contact Cate Anderson at 612-226-9589 or for details.
  • We will have future trips to visit LSS. Contact Jean Kirgiss at 651-452-2279 if you are interested.

Jean Kirgiss will host a “Knowing Our Neighbors” spotlight table in the narthex the weekend of June 25 & 26. Come with your questions!

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