By Mara Klein
Late on a mid-June evening, the Dayspring United Methodist Church Refugee Focus team waited excitedly at the airport to welcome the Al Naeem family to Arizona. After their long journey that began in Syria years before, Ali and Maisoun, along with their children Ihsan (4), Naseem (13), Mohammad (16) and Waseem (18) walked off the plane looking exhausted and nervous, but happy to be done traveling.
The Al Naeem’s were the first family co-sponsored by Dayspring UMC as a part of Lutheran Social Services of the Southwest’s Refugee Focus program. Refugee Focus has welcomed over 13,000 refugees to Phoenix since 1982. Local churches, like Dayspring, “adopt” a refugee family to support throughout their transition into life in Phoenix. While Syrian refugees are the latest in a long history of displaced persons, they certainly aren’t the only ones. The team at Dayspring felt called to provide stability and friendship to these families in an uncertain new place.
Dayspring’s team spent the weekend before the family’s arrival furnishing an apartment with all of the generous donations from the church community. The team encouraged the entire church to be involved, including the Vacation Bible School kids who donated hundreds of dollars-worth of items still needed the week that the family arrived. It also was important to invite the wider Tempe community to be part of the effort, and the group has received volunteers and support from other churches, synagogues, and mosques around Tempe.
In their first several months in the United States, the Al Naeem’s have attended the fireworks on Fourth of July, hiked in the fall leaves in Flagstaff, swam at a pool party at a church member’s home, and even played volleyball with the Dayspring Youth Volleyball team!
The older boys love to swim, as well as play volleyball and soccer. They are enrolled in school in the local junior high and high school. The younger son, Ihsan, has had some medical issues that have required additional support and has been enrolled in a special education preschool where he is excelling.
While the first few months were a complete whirlwind of driving to appointments, google translating/miming conversations, and trying to make sure the family feels welcomed and loved, things have settled down a bit. The family has become part of our families. We’ve shared dinners, birthdays, holidays, and everything in between. We’ve struggled through communication challenges, and now can (usually!) successfully carry on conversations together.
Moving forward, Dayspring is hoping to get the opportunity to walk with another family in their journey towards self-sufficiency in the United States. The ultimate goal is to support these families in ways that provide the tools to become successful members of American society.
If you or your church is interested in finding out more about ways to be involved with the refugee community, please contact Desert Southwest Conference Refugee Ministries Chair, Mara Klein at email@example.com.