Welcoming sojourners: exodus refugee immigration

You’re hundreds of physical miles and thousands of cultural miles away from the only home you’ve ever known.

You can’t understand your landlord, your kids’ teachers, the clerk at the grocery store, or your neighbor.

There’s a small contraption on the wall of your new apartment that controls whether hot or cold air blows from a grate on the floor -- oh, and you can’t decipher the writing on that either.

Your food comes from an enormous, artificially lit building stuffed with enough to feed your family for years.

You don’t have a car, a job, a doctor or any idea how to secure those things.

What you DO have is Exodus Refugee Immigration, Inc.

So the story goes for the hundreds of immigrants and immigrant families -- refugees, those seeking asylum, or victims emerging from human trafficking -- who find themselves in Indiana each year.

Exodus Refugee Immigration works with “worldwide victims of persecution, injustice and war -- to establish self-sufficient lives in freedom and sanctuary for themselves and their families in Indiana.” In particular, ethnic minority refugees from Burma make up more than 90 percent of the people Exodus Refugee has helped resettle in Indy.

Helping from Day One

Megan Hochbein is the director of outreach and immigration services at the organization. She said Exodus Refugee’s work begins when the new family or individuals first step foot in Indiana.

“We meet them at the airport and take them to their apartment, which has been set up through donations,” Hochbein explained. “We come back the next day to spend a few hours with them -- we make sure they’re still comfortable, that they got some sleep, we work with them on taking the bus.”

She explained that organizations like Exodus Refugee exist throughout the country, each one affiliated with the federal government and specifically funded to help resettle immigrants who fall into a number of specific U.S. State Department-designated categories (refugee, asylum-seeker, etc.)

Exodus assists families as they acclimate to their new homes; that can involve everything from teaching newcomers how to wash clothes or run a dishwasher to helping them navigate a large grocery store. In addition, Exodus works with families and individuals to get children enrolled in school, register for English classes, find and apply for employment, and more.

The need: community support

Keep in mind, these families are learning to live in this startlingly different environment: in many cases, without the comfort of extended family or a tightly knit community. Community, in fact, is one thing that Megan said immigrants often say they struggle to find in their new home.

So, creating community for Exodus Refugee Immigration families is one of the primary ways local congregations and volunteers can have a significant impact.

Last year, the organization assisted nearly 900 refugees as they transitioned to their new Indiana homes. As you might expect, that kind of commitment requires an army of volunteers. Besides people to assist with transportation needs and teachers for one of the 19 English classes the organization offers each week, Megan said mentors are in high demand.

What's more, due to the high volume of needs they meet and the limited resources they have, Exodus can only provide major support to families for their first 90 days in-country.

Churches and families can partner with Exodus Refugee to “co-sponsor” a new family or individual, which involves everything from setting up an apartment to providing transportation to getting together with the family in social situations. The organization looks for a group of six to eight people to adopt a family, because their needs can be so great.

Getting involved with Exodus Refugee begins with filling out an online volunteer form. Volunteers have a multitude of options when it comes to pitching in; and Exodus Refugee provides training and direction for anyone interested.

More information is available on the organization’s website and Facebook page.

Photo credit: Fort Worth Star-Telegram