Churches host informational events on refugee experience

North Dakota immigrants who fled their home countries and representatives of Lutheran Social Services’ New Americans program will be speaking about the refugee experience at events sponsored by local churches in Minot this weekend.

A worship service will be held at 5 p.m. at Zion Lutheran Church, featuring speaker Jessica Thomasson, chief executive officer for Lutheran Social Services of North Dakota. The service will be followed at 6 p.m. by an ethnic dinner featuring chicken tikka, masala with basmati rice, flatbread and homemade baklava. A free-will offering will be taken for the meal, which is co-sponsored by Thrivent.

Panelists participating in a question-and-answer session at the dinner include Reggie Tarr, a former refugee who now works with refugee services with LSSND in Grand Forks, and youths Aline Uwase and Aziza Kabura, who will share their refugee stories.

Kabura is among refugees featured in the book, “Green Card Youth Voices: Immigration Stories from a Fargo High School.”

Born in Zambia to parents who moved there from Burundi and Congo, she relocated with her family to a refugee camp because of difficulties assimilating into that country. They later returned to their Zambia home while waiting for an opportunity to come to America. They came to Fargo after initially living in Texas.

“My dream is to study hard and go to college,” Kabura says in “Green Card Youth Voices.” “I would like to study science and do something with medicine. After I have accomplished my first dream, I wish to go back to Africa, build a house and a school. It would be a free school, because most schools in Africa cost money and many people can’t pay for school. I want to help kids learn, have a better future, and be happy.”

Usawe contributed to “Journey to America: Narrative Short Stories,” a collection of essays written by refugee students at South and Davies high schools in Fargo. Usawe saw her father shot and burned during a massacre in a refugee camp in Burundi, Africa, in 2004 when she was a young girl. Coming to Fargo in 2015, she wants to go to college to become a lawyer.

The Rev. John Streccius with Zion Lutheran, one of the co-sponsoring churches, said the impetus for the event came from a similar event in Fargo and the release of the Fargo book.

“There’s a lot of people who feel refugees are not welcome in this country. Yet we in the church feel we are all examples of refugees at some point in our history,” he said. “Unless you are a Native American, you are a refugee of some kind. We think it kind of helps to raise up the good work that’s being done through Lutheran Social Services and help people get good information and actually get connected with people who are actual refugees or actual new Americans and hear their stories.”

In addition to the Saturday evening event, visiting speakers will be presenting at Sunday morning services at Bethany, Christ and Bread of Life Lutheran churches in Minot. Thomasson will speak at a forum between services at Zion Lutheran.

Main Street Books will host readings from “Green Card Youth Voices” and a question-and-answer time with Tar and the youth refugees on Sunday from 1 to 3 p.m.

“The purpose of the activity in Minot at the churches is really just to help people have a better understanding of what refugees experience, because it is a legal immigration status,” said Shirley Dykshoorn, vice president of humanitarian services with LSSND. “They are fleeing persecution and situations that are frequently horrific.”

LSSND provides resettlement assistance that includes counseling, enrolling in school and finding employment and housing. The agency assists with immigration paperwork, English language courses and interpretation services.

Refugee status ends after a year, but depending on the needs of the individuals and families, there are instances in which LSSND may continue working with immigrants beyond that time.

Statistics from LSSND show 8,389 refugees from 43 countries were resettled in North Dakota or Moorhead, Minn., during fiscal year 1997 through fiscal year 2017, which ended in September. The agency anticipates serving 252 arrivals in the Fargo-Moorhead metro area, 50 in Grand Forks and 50 in Bismarck during fiscal year 2018, which began last October. So far, there have been 111 refugees from Afghanistan, Bhutan and DR Congo, of whom 49 were age 17 or younger.