Features

Making new friends

"Making new friends" Continued...

Issue: "GOP idea man," May 22, 2010

The lot of refugees in Chicago is a difficult one. Rent is high. Jobs can be scarce. After three months, resettlement agencies stop direct support, and refugees must take what they can get, which often means a three-hour commute to the slaughterhouses west of Chicago. It's gruesome, low-paying work, but previous generations of immigrants faced similar challenges and made life better for their children and grandchildren.

Relationships can make a difference. Volunteers are encouraged to limit material gifts and avoid telling refugees what to do. Volunteers provide advice, if asked, but they are friends, no more. "You can't go in saying, let's save these people and solve all their problems," Lashley said. "You have to go in saying, let's have some new friends."

The Exodus approach makes it something of an anachronism in a goal-oriented world. Traditional measures of success like income, job level, education, and language skills don't apply. "What defines success for Americans is often standard of living," Julie Carlsen, the director of Exodus' New Neighbors program, said. "We try not to focus on goals like getting a specific job or achieving a specific language level. The goal is always the relationship."

This is an older, more basic form of Christian charity, based on welcoming the stranger in our midst. Without it, refugees may be cut off from society. "I've met refugees who have been here three years, or five years, and have never been in an American's home," Schoedel said.

That, at least, the Sapotkas have avoided. The Kreugers are arranging a barbecue at their house for next week's visit. Meanwhile, Sapotka focuses on his more material desires, his own version of the American dream: "Learn the language, get a job. Get big money, get big apartment. Then go back and visit Bhutan."

The Kreugers listen, smiling, from the corner of the apartment. Sapotka probably won't be making big money any time soon, and he may not ever be able to return to Bhutan. But unlike many of his countrymen, he won't be alone. The Sapotka family might not have much, but they do have friends.
Click here to listen to WORLD editor in chief Marvin Olasky discuss with Alisa Harris the Midwest regional finalists.
To view a video profile of Exodus and of each of the other 2010 regional finalists and to read profiles of finalists and winners from 2006 through 2009, visit WORLDmag.com/compassion.

Exodus Factbox

Location: Chicago, Ill.

Founded: 1988

Size: 2 full-time employees; refugees helped each year through the New Neighbor program: 620

Annual Budget: $300,000

Website: www.e-w-s.org

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