Today Presidents Trump and Putin meet for summit, and the New York Times tells of an exiled Jehovah's Witness who proposes Trump ask Putin a simple question: "Why are Russians who pay their taxes, follow the law and embrace the Christian values promoted by the Kremlin being forced to flee their country?"
A simple [and single] question. To propose that Trump do this is exactly the non-confrontational style of Jehovah's Witnesses, and is proof in itself that they are not extremist. Moreover, because the goal is so modest, it is not impossible that it could happen. Persecution of Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia is not everywhere, but where it is, it is draconian, with police dressed in riot gear breaking down doors to arrest them.
Meanwhile (and irrelevant), I did a google search of "New York Times Jehovah's Witnesses." The second hit is an article from 1958, telling of (I think) the largest Christian assembly in history.
Remember, Google is personalized. Your results may vary.
Refugees find a welcoming home in Minnesota: State, federal actions would limit numbers allowed to settle hereBy Guest Nicole
At home in Minnesota
To refugee Sivasundaram, his home in Burnsville feels like paradise.
"I am so happy here," said Sivasundaram, wearing the reflective vest from his job as a forklift operator. On a recent evening, he rested for a few minutes before going to his night job stocking shelves at a Target store.
His wife, Manchuladevy Ravindran, soon walked in, home from her job as a housekeeper in a nearby motel, and started cooking dinner for her three boys.
Some people would call it a stressful life — but not this family. They compare it with the life they had before.
Until 2006, they lived in Sri Lanka, an island south of India. They were part of an ethnic group called Tamils, which the government often treats like terrorists.
Soldiers rampaged through their village in a raid, slaughtered Sivasundaram's mother, and burned her house down. When he complained to the government, his life was threatened.
The family fled to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, where they remained for eight years. "I did house cleaning, plumbing, cutting grass, driving a taxi," recalled Sivasundaram.
The family remembers, above all, the crime.
"You couldn't use a phone in the street. Someone would take it," said Sivasundaram. "Someone would cut off the ears of old ladies for the earrings."
The boys faced a unique danger. "They would have kidnapped me for the military, or sold me to another country," said Kapilas, his 17-year-old son.
The family made a Minnesota contact through their Jehovah's Witnesses church. As soon as they arrived, neighbors knocked on their front door to welcome them.
The boys had been raised as English-speakers and have assimilated rapidly.
They laugh about the quirks of their new homeland. "I like Chick-Fil-A. The food in Malaysia is healthier, but this is tastier," said Simraj, 16.
Apilas, 13, is fascinated by boneless fish, which he never encountered in Malaysia. "I always ask: Is that fish, or is that steak?" he said.
Kapilas marveled at his new, low-stress life. "We have security and peace. Here, all I have to worry about is studying," he said.
They gathered for a meal at a time necessitated by their hectic schedules — 11 p.m.
In three years, they have saved enough to buy a car, then a house. "There is a great future here for all of us," said the father. Their success is shared by others. Simraj named 10 relatives and friends who have since followed them to America.
At the end of the interview, the father was asked whether he had anything else to say.
He is not fluent in English, so when asked a question, he looks pleadingly at his sons for help.
"No," he said. "Just thank you."
By Guest Nicole
From Ugandan camp to Lowell, a Congolese family starts again
HARDSHIP, AND HOPE: Sendegeya Bayavuge joins his family, newly arrived from Africa, on the porch of their apartment in Lowell. With him, from left, are Dusenge Tuyishime, 14, Maria Uwimana, 16, Nyirakabanza Muhawenimana, 20, Sarah Nyiramana Bayavuge, 6, their mother, Vanisi Uzamukunda, 43, and Lea Nyiramahoro, 11. See a slide show at lowellsun.com. (SUN / JOHN LOVE)
LOWELL -- The Congolese family's home in Lowell is sparsely decorated, a sign of their recent arrival.
There's no art on the walls, no photos of smiling faces, no toys cluttering the floors. However, there is furniture and food and the basic necessities for a fresh start in the United States.
The family of seven -- father Sendegeya Bayavuge, 52, mother Vanisi Uzamukunda, 43, and five children ages 6-20 -- arrived in early February with help from a resettlement agency. The family had spent the past two decades at a Ugandan refugee camp after fleeing violent unrest in their native Democratic Republic of Congo, a country located in Central Africa.
"I see America as good and I can live in America," said Sendegeya through an
interpreter on a recent Monday afternoon, his hands clasped together as he sat in the corner of the living room. "I see here they have security. The way I was (living in Uganda), I was always in fear ... with security, I find everything good."
Maria Uwimana, 16, sat on a carpet beside her father in the family's second-floor apartment. Three of her siblings, sisters Nyirakabanza Muhawenimana, 20, and Lea Nyiramahoro, 11, and brother Dusenge Tuyishime, 14, sat across the room on a worn, cream-colored couch. The family's "princess," 6-year-old Sarah Nyiramana Bayavuge, nestled onto her mother's lap.
The family was spared in late January from President Donald Trump's executive order on immigration, which in part suspended the refugee admissions program for 120 days. Vanisi recalled hearing about the order as she waited with her family in a hotel for their flight to the United States.
"He said he don't want the guests. We lost the hope to come," Vanisi said through the interpreter. "After the situation changed and we came here, we were happy.
"I'm really grateful that they were not immediately impacted by the proposed suspension of the resettlement program," said Cheryl Hamilton, director of the Lowell site of the International Institute of New England, the agency assigned to resettle the family in partnership with the State Department.
A refugee is someone who has fled from his or her country and cannot return due to fears of persecution based on religion, race, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular group and, according to the State Department. Since 1975 the U.S. has welcomed over 3 million refugees from all over the world. The city of Lowell has received 508 Iraqis, 220 Somalis, 31 Syrians, and 7 Sudanese during the 10-year period from 2007 through January 2017, according to federal data analyzed by the Associated Press.
Hamilton said about half of her staff's cases are refugees from the Congo since the U.S. government committed to accepting 25,000 of them across the country. According to 2009-2013 data on Massachusetts refugee arrivals from the Massachusetts Office for Refugees and Immigrants, 25 percent of 11,155 refugees admitted in the state hailed from the Congo.
Journey to a new life
It took over 24 hours for Sendegeya, Vanisi and their family to arrive in Lowell. They first stopped in Manchester, N.H. before being brought by resettlement workers to the light yellow multi-family house they now call home.
"In the beginning, we had a fear to fly because it was our first time to go on the airplane," Sendegeya said.
daughters, Maria Uwimana, 16. (SUN / JOHN LOVE)
"After that, we realized we are with other people."
He and Vanisi are bracing for the long road ahead. The children are still waiting to be enrolled in school, and the family as a whole is still struggling with having left their eldest child behind in Uganda. They don't have immediate family here and don't speak English. The language barrier, both parents admit, is a big obstacle they hope to overcome so they can have a better chance at finding jobs to support their family. Back in Uganda, Sendegeya worked as a farmer.
"I think that anybody moving into a new community, you're having to rebuild your entire social network and, with that, obviously being less familiar with employment opportunities or navigating transportation," Hamilton said. "Essentially, you are rebuilding every area of your life."
The United States allocates $925 per individual for the first three months in the country, according to Hamilton. Like with other refugee families the International Institute of New England helps resettle, Sendegeya and Vanisi's family will have access to integration services for the first year and be eligible to come back to the organization for employment services for up to a year and benefit from citizenship services for five years. Hamilton said her staff also offers other programs, such as after-school homework help.
"Obviously, the federal financial assistance is lean and it's remarkable the resiliency and the ability of families to navigate and overcome these challenges," Hamilton said.
Vanisi said her greatest fear involves protecting her children. Recently, while the children played outside, the mother said a neighbor warned them to be quiet and threatened to call the police.
"We saw our neighbor just coming to give us a warning without saying 'Good morning' or 'Welcome,'" Vanisi recalled. "It was just a warning -- 'Kids, shut up!'"
The incident was traumatic for Vanisi, who said her family now spends most of their time inside their home.
"In Uganda, it's different because in Uganda you can play and dance," she said. "Not that kind of warning."
There have been tiny victories through the murkiness. The family found a market with familiar foods and established a friendship with fellow Jehovah's Witnesses in nearby Chelmsford. Twice a week, members of the Kingdom Hall of Jehovah's Witnesses pick up the family for meetings.
The four daughters later walked up a flight of stairs to proudly show off their rooms -- Nyirakabanza and Maria in one, and Lea and Sarah in the other. Both rooms are bare except for neatly made twin-sized beds. In Lea and Sarah's closet, there are clothes and several pairs of shoes. The family's only son, Dusenge, has his own room. He remained quiet for the duration of the family's interview and smiled shyly when asked about his thoughts on his new home.
"Right now, what I like and what I have desired, I have found it," he said through the interpreter, his hands fiddling with a pale pink throw. "Everything is OK for me."
Ask the eldest, Nyirakabanza and Maria, what they dream of becoming someday and their eyes light up. Both said they hope to become nurses to help others.
"I'm happy here, but not yet," Nyirakabanza said, later clarifying that she is still sorting out her feelings about the family's new life in America. "I will be happy and confirm the happiness when I see my achievement. My goal is to go to school to continue my education -- to become someone self-sufficient. If I achieve that, I will be very very happy."
SWEET HOME: Sarah Nyiramana Bayavuge, 6, and her sister Lea Nyiramahoro, 11, in their new bedroom. The family was spared in late January from President Donald Trump's executive order on immigration. (SUN / JOHN LOVE)
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By Guest Nicole
How do you explain proselytizers to a friendly newcomer?
Our hands were covered in cookie dough and crushed dates when the knock on the door startled us. Safa was not expecting anyone but she seemed happy to see two women in the doorway. The pretty blonde extended a hand and told Safa how happy she was to meet face-to-face after their phone conversation. The perky brunette behind her nodded enthusiastically. I assumed they were parents from the nearby school, dropping in to say hello.
It was smiles all around as I introduced myself, but there was no context given as the blonde handed Safa an iPad and pressed play. And that is when it hit me: these nice women who were heading over to the couch to chat had come with a mission in mind. They were Jehovah’s Witnesses, replete with Arabic literature and videos, who were hoping to “educate” Syrian refugees about the afterlife perks of conversion.
Safa arrived in Canada from Syria by way of Jordan nine months ago. She came with her husband, two sons, and a baby on the way. I am part of a sponsorship group that pooled financial and emotional resources to bring her family to Toronto and support them for a year.
In Syria, Safa was married in her teens, quickly had her two boys, and lived with her parents-in-law. Now she lives in downtown Toronto with her husband, Ziad, and their two boys, now four and two. She piles her kids into a stroller that needs an engineering degree to understand, and traipses around a city with temperatures she doesn’t even have a word for—all in a language she barely knows. On a weekly basis, she is bombarded with texts and visits from a group of Canadian do-gooders who breeze in and out of her life bearing gifts, paperwork, and kindly suggestions.
Safa and I were spending the morning making ma’amoul cookies, a traditional date-filled butter variety. My suggestion of using a measuring cup was met with disdain that I didn’t need help translating. Her system of using an empty labnah (yogurt) container worked just fine. We sat on the floor—a bit awkward for this middle-aged Canadian—rolling out cookies while chatting and gossiping with Google Translate as our invisible third. Her toddler ran around causing trouble, while the baby slept in a swing. The experience of baking together was so natural and familiar to Safa; it was the most relaxed I had seen her in months. That is, until the knock on the door.
The two women who sat on the couch didn’t seem to care about Safa’s lack of English, or that she was wearing a hijab and is an observant Muslim. They prattled on about Jesus, never pausing to see if she understood. But with pamphlets and video in Arabic, it was clear this wasn’t their first stop on their conversion crusade—likely a coordinated effort targeting the Syrian newcomers. They then began telling me about the connections between Christianity and Islam, as if all I needed was a little enlightenment and I too would join forces.
I can only imagine what Safa was thinking as I chastised the women for going after a vulnerable population that has an ample sense of hospitality. I kept smiling, as did they, but you wouldn’t need one word of English to understand that we were having a disagreement. When I told them they couldn’t come back, they dropped the facade of generic pleasantness. The blonde practically snarled at me saying that since Safa invited them, they could return as often as they like.
Safa stood there with teacups in hand looking bewildered. Google Translate and I tried to explain about Jehovah’s Witnesses, but a round of charades couldn’t quite get the message across that those nice white women wanted her to abandon her religion—one of the last remaining constants from her life in Syria. I told her that they were selling Christian Bibles.
She nodded at me, smiling, but I recognized the perplexed shrug she gave me. It is the look of resignation when confronted with another ridiculous Canadian habit, such as tobogganing in sub-zero snowstorms, strapping screaming children into car seats, or using measuring cups while baking. She has been in Toronto for nine months and a couple of pretty, white women in her apartment telling her what to do no longer surprises her. Sometimes, I am amazed that she lets any of us past her doorstep.
We went back to our dough, and Safa schooled me for my clumsy rolling technique.
Emma Waverman (@emmawaverman) writes for Reader’s Digest, Today’s Parent, Canadian Living.
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By Guest Nicole
LOWELL — The Congolese refugees huddled rapt around a stove in the early morning darkness. They had never used one before, and they watched in their new home Friday as a resettlement worker flipped the burners off and on.
They had never used a refrigerator, either. Or seen water pass through a faucet. Or been told how to lock a door. Or adjust a thermostat. Or even how to squeeze shampoo from a tube.
Twenty years in a refugee camp in Uganda will insulate a family from everyday conveniences that Americans take for granted. But here they were, bewildered and grateful — a mother, father, and five children who received a waiver from President Trump’s ban on new arrivals.
“We heard no more refugees could come to America. So, for us to come to America, we are very happy,” the 43-year-old matriarch, Vanisi Uzamukunda, said through an interpreter as she held a sleepy 7-year-old.
After Trump’s executive order last week barred new refugees for 120 days, the family worried whether this day would ever happen. But they were allowed entry because government officials determined that a delay in their scheduled journey would have caused significant hardship, resettlement officials said.
Hardship has been a constant. Their lives were shattered two decades ago when the parents fled unending violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo. But here was a fresh start only a 28-hour, continent-hopping odyssey away from their home in Uganda.
The family landed late Thursday night in Manchester, N.H., and then were ferried by resettlement workers to a two-floor apartment in Lowell. But even that simple drive showed the chasm between their former life and the one unfolding before them.
They did not know how to open the car doors, or how to fasten a seat belt. And when they finally stepped out of the cars into 20-degree temperatures, they saw snow for the first time.
“Now that we are in Lowell, this is our destination. We are finished,” said the oldest child, 20-year-old Nyirakabanza Muhawenimana, who took the lead in questioning workers from the International Institute of New England, the resettlement agency.
She asked whether the family could wash clothes in the tub. No, take them to a laundromat, replied case manager Sabyne Denaud, who emigrated from Haiti.
And so it went: Here is where the trash goes, make sure you lock the doors at night, do not let the children out alone, and call 911 on the apartment phone if there is an emergency.
“This is the first time they have lived in a house,” said Suad Mansour, a Lowell High School teacher who was one of four people to greet the family at the airport.
Suad Mansour explained shampoo to Nyirakabanza, 20, and her family at their new home in Lowell.
Mansour, who immigrated to the United States from Jordan, led the family on an initial tour of the apartment about 1 a.m. Friday. After they slept for a few hours, Denaud arrived later in the morning and refreshed their memories.
“You don’t have to worry about the new president,” Denaud said. “You don’t have to worry about anything. You are safe here.”
The family will receive a one-time $925 stipend per person from the federal government to help pay for rent and other basic necessities, but they are expected to become self-sufficient within six months.
“You have to keep your house nice and clean,” Denaud said. “You never know who’s going to come to the apartment.”
The International Institute, which last fiscal year resettled 623 refugees who had fled war and persecution in several countries, will help the family find work, enroll in school, register for Social Security, and learn English.
The challenges are daunting — the family does not speak English, for one. But regular follow-up will ease the transition to a strange country, said Tea Psorn, a program manager from the institute who came to the United States as a Bosnian refugee in the 1990s.
“These people only want safety,” Psorn said.
Their vetting process took nearly three years, the family said. A total of 684 Congolese refugees arrived in Massachusetts from 2011 to 2015, according to the state Department of Public Health.
In Lowell on Friday, after hours of explanation and advice from Mansour and Denaud, 16-year-old Maria Uwimana floated a final question: Where can we find a church?
The family members are Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Maria’s query was answered a short time later when a small group of well-wishers suddenly entered the living room and welcomed the new arrivals with hugs and conversation in Swahili.
They, too, are Jehovah’s Witnesses and had been at a gas station only a block away when the day’s interpreter, former Congolese refugee Kafila Bulimwengu, called to tell them about the newcomers.
Approximately a dozen Congolese have already joined Kingdom Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses in nearby Chelmsford, said Markus Lewis, who is part of a church group that has learned Swahili to communicate with African worshipers.
Lewis shook hands with Sendegeya Bayavuge, the family’s 52-year-old father, who gradually began to relax as the day wore on. At the airport, sitting with his children after the grueling trip, he appeared exhausted and apprehensive.
But in the apartment, as each new wonder was demonstrated, the creases in Sendegeya’s face began to soften.
“There will be safety here. There will be a difference,” said Sendegeya, who had been a farmer in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Some worries remain, however: One daughter still lives in a Ugandan camp.
“Life was very bad in the camp; there were many problems,” including food shortages, Sendegeya said. “We pray to God to help those who are still in the camps to come here.”
Still, Friday was a glorious day for this close-knit family, which seemed humbled into silence by its introduction to the United States.
Nyirakabanza, the oldest child, was the outgoing exception: asking questions and trying each new knob and handle for herself.
She even practiced putting a trash bag in place.
“It’s a new life,” she said, breaking into a broad, beaming smile. “I feel happy to be in America.”
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"Most of the field service presentations she learned growing up will not work in their new territory, Brittany told me. They are considered rude. You can’t just launch into what you’ve come to talk about. First you must inquire about their family, and tell about yours. You have to tell about your children, for family is very important. When she tells them she doesn’t have children, they are concerned. Of course, part of hospitality is to find out why. They smile. ‘You married late in life;’ that is the reason. When they find that it is not, they realize you are on your second marriage. When that conclusion, too, proves false, they are very saddened: you lost your children in some tragic accident. Then they grow very still when you tell them you did not. They have finally discerned the true reason, but it is almost too delicate to bring up, though they do anyway - something is wrong with your equipment. Brittany’s student has drawn her a chart to help her understand how many children she should have at her age."
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By Guest Nicole
Dorking residents inspired to life-changing response to migration crisis
Kristin and Peter Nevins came to Dorking from the US and piled their four children into two bedrooms so they could begin hosting refugees © Anna Gordon
“If they ask, say you’re my nephew,” Constance Nash advised the young Syrian man staying with her, in case he encountered an unfriendly neighbour.
Ms Nash has a lot of foreign guests this year at her home in Dorking, a leafy town in the Surrey hills about an hour’s train ride south of London.
First came the Eritrean woman who was 28 weeks pregnant and then the wounded Syrian soldier and his Congolese friend, who had been sleeping rough.
Then there were the Syrian and Sudanese teenagers. “They said they came on the train,” Ms Nash said. “Not in the train, on the train.”
There was George from Ghana and Jean from the Congo and the Zimbabwean and Sudanese, and Ahmad, a soft-spoken pharmacist from Aleppo who stayed for five months.
Ms Nash refers to them not as refugees but “guests”. She and a motley group of nearby residents have been hosting them during the past year to make their modest response to the global migration crisis and fill the sizeable gaps left by the British government.
Constance Nash: 'It’s not charity. At all. It’s human solidarity.' © Anna Gordon
“It’s not charity. At all. It’s human solidarity,” said Ms Nash, who — like her guests — is a foreigner who never expected to land in Dorking. A frenetic Parisian, she moved to the town 17 years ago after marrying an Englishman and then ended up staying after the marriage ended.
She hates the idea of spinning her experience into a feel-good story, insisting: “We don’t do cute in Dorking.”
“Actually, we do,” corrected her friend Carmel O’Shea, who was seated in Ms Nash’s kitchen-cum-salon on a recent afternoon. Also passing through were Syrian and Congolese refugees, a gaggle of schoolchildren and neighbours, a tattooed Anglican curate and his wife, a pair of cats and an unusually active turtle.
Britain has pledged to accept 20,000 Syrian refugees. The government selects families from UN camps and meticulously screens them before offering asylum, housing, English lessons and a living allowance.
But that ignores many others — from Syria and elsewhere — who arrive in the UK on their own. Some come with fake passports, or hidden in the back of trucks using the Channel tunnel.
In theory, these people can claim asylum and, if necessary, receive government lodging. But in practice, many become trapped in a suspicious, slow-moving bureaucracy. In the interim, they may end up sleeping on church floors, in hospital emergency rooms or even on London’s night buses, as Jean sometimes did.
The Nevins talk to Constance Nash in her kitchen. All three are part of the Dorking Group of local hosts © Anna Gordon
“If it’s not deliberate then it’s the least competent government ever,” said Peter Nevins, a curate at the local Anglican church.
He and his wife, Kristin — both from the US Midwest — moved to Dorking in August and piled their four children into two bedrooms so they could begin hosting. First came a Nigerian man, who stayed for a few days, and then a Syrian jeweller and baker, who had become friends in Calais’ infamous “jungle” migrant camp, and stayed for a few weeks.
“The rooms should be filled, as far as I’m concerned,” Kristin shrugged.
The Dorking Group, as the 10 local hosts informally call themselves, take referrals from an Epsom-based charity known as Refugees At Home, which has its own web page and Facebook group. The guests are first screened by the Red Cross and Refugee Council. Refugees At Home visits the hosts to check them, too.
“Everyone just acts as if it’s going to be a friend’s friend [staying],”said Ms Nash, who first contacted Refugees At Home in August last year after reading about Icelanders pledging to house 11,000 refugees. “I got all agitated and said: ‘Let’s do it in England.’”
Still, she recalled fretting after being briefed on her first arrival. “What if we don’t like her? She has nightmares. What if she sleepwalks?” Her son, Raph, 15, also confessed he was “a bit worried” about sharing the house with a stranger.
But those fears melted. “When it clicks, it feels like the most normal thing you’ve ever done,” Ms Nash said. So much so that Raph’s school friend went home one day and asked his mother, Ms O’Shea, why they were not hosting any refugees.
“I was hugely apprehensive. I wouldn’t even do French exchange with my kids,” Ms O’Shea said.
Ahmad, a Syrian pharmacist, spent 10 months in the Calais 'jungle' before making it to the UK © Anna Gordon
But she ended up opening her home to Mohammad, a 22-year-old Iranian builder — and sobbing when he left five months later. “I think we thought we were offering someone a room. It’s much more than that,” she said.
Besides the humanity of it, hosting has wider benefits, the Dorking Group argues. Chief among them is that it speeds refugees’ integration, immersing them in the culture and language and making it easier for them to build their own lives if they win asylum.
“It’s things like: why are the English always talking about the weather?” said David Preedy, a retired project manager. “It’s the kind of thing you don’t get going through the faceless, official scheme.”
For Ahmad, the Syrian pharmacist, Ms Nash’s home was a refuge after a harrowing journey. He fled Aleppo in 2013 as the war intensified, paying a smuggler €1,050 to take him from Turkey to Greece. His nose was broken by bandits in Macedonia, where he was jailed. He also spent 10 months in the Calais “jungle” before making it to Britain.
David Preedy, a retired project manager, has just had his first refugee to stay
“When I stay in Dorking, I feel I am among my family,” he said in halting English.
His asylum request was finally approved last week. But he appeared more focused on the news back home, repeatedly returning to a smartphone with images of bloodied corpses and rubble.
Dorking has not been universally welcoming. When Ms Nash posted leaflets promoting her work around town they were torn down.
Even the best-intentioned hosts admit they can become worn out. The Iranian family of Jehovah’s Witnesses that Mr Preedy and his wife took in ended up staying for nearly nine months.
In addition to expenses for bus and train fares and food, Mr Preedy became drawn into the bureaucratic tangle of jobcentres, immigration law and the challenges of opening a bank account. “We saw them through the whole asylum process, which is mind-blowingly depressing,” he said. Still, he came away uplifted. “It’s given me a completely different perspective on people,” he said.
Ms Nash also sounded transformed. “You really do connect and then it rips you apart when they leave,” she said. “But you know? It’s good sorrow, good sadness.”
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