Noe Eh laughs at herself so readily, “You keep trying to teach us stuff but we forget it all!” Her husband Say Htoo adds with bashful laughter, “Every day we go to English class but when we come home we can’t remember anything we learned!” Their New Neighbor volunteer, David, whom Say Htoo referred to as “the one who taught us how to go outside” attests that they remember at least one English word—the trees in the parks they visit together are, as Noe Eh repeats, “beautiful!”
Soon after introducing David to this family—a Karenni mom, dad, and two young adult sons recently arrived from a camp in Thailand—I took on the role as their resettlement case manager from a social work intern finishing out her time at Arrive. I had only about a month and a half left to continue helping this family adjust to life in Minnesota, and they admittedly weren’t retaining a lot. I tried to encourage them by reminding them of all they’d accomplished so far and that they are surrounded by supportive extended family that can continue to teach them about their new home.
Throughout the rest of their case period, I was personally encouraged to see how the broader community came around them, from strangers on the bus who speak their language explaining things like “pull the yellow cord to let the driver know you need to get off” as we learned to ride the bus together, to an organization founded by and for the Hmong population now serving predominantly Karen and Karenni refugees who followed in the footsteps of many Hmong from Thailand to Minnesota a generation or so later, to organizations of Karen forerunners devoted to easing the transition of their people who come after them.
In the book titled The New Minnesotans (2006) documenting stories of refugees and immigrants in Minnesota, a resettlement expert says “It takes a community to welcome people into the community.” Arrive Ministries is committed to empowering local churches and individual followers of Jesus to be on the front lines of fostering a welcoming community. We believe that we can offer much to those joining our communities, but we also believe that we can gain much from them. We are woven together as people who belong to each other, who are changed by each other.
When the time came to close this family’s case, it was more emotional than I expected for working with them for a shorter period than usual. They expressed their gratitude for what I’ve realized is a very small part in their making Minnesota home, and asked that God would bless me. I in turn mused at how far God has brought them and affirmed that America is better for having them here. Say Htoo solemnly nodded in agreement to both. Noe Eh lamented having nothing to give me in return for all I’ve given them, to which I replied “You’ve welcomed me into your lives, which is more than I’ve done for you.” Nonetheless, shortly before leaving, Noe Eh pulled a small gift bag out of her purse and handed it to me. In it was a beautiful traditional woven Karen shirt. I excitedly put it on and explained that wearing this to the future airport arrivals would help me to welcome other Karen families with a familiar sight. That precious shirt tells me that we are woven together, that my life is better for having known them. *names have been changed
– Jenny Klem is the New Neighbor & Church Team Coordinator for Refugee Life Ministries. Jenny also does case management for the Reception and Placement program.