The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America


Welcome home

Refugee families find new life thanks to these ELCA partners

Not so many months ago the Arab Spring visited Heiba’s home in Benghazi, a rebel stronghold in Libya. Heiba (refugee names are changed for safety reasons) recalled how she and her son, Toror, 16; and daughter, Mona, 18, spent many days huddled in their home across the street from a military compound.

“Sounds of machine gun fire and bullets were all around us,” Heiba said. “Explosions would shake our house. … It felt like the whole city was shaking.”

Toror was afraid: “I saw people being killed.”

Heiba’s husband, Hassabo, had already fled to a safer part of Libya. He feared rebels would target him for death, assuming from his African face that he was a mercenary soldier for Libyan ruler Moammar Gadhafi.

By early November 2012, Hassabo, his wife and two children were safe, living at “Welcome Home,” a rented three-story residence next to Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Philadelphia.

On virtually a moment’s notice, Welcome Home gives newly arrived refugee families a safe haven and help overcoming cultural and linguistic barriers for a month or more until more permanent housing can be found.

The program is operated by Prince of Peace and Lutheran Children and Family Service, a division of ELCA-affiliated Liberty Lutheran. The congregation has taken the lead and receives financial and advisory support from LCFS, which resettled more than 170 families in 2012.

Volunteer Helen Tobin (standing at left) and Ben Krey, pastor, pose in the sanctuary with several refugee families that Prince of Peace Lutheran Church, Philadelphia, has helped resettle via "Welcome Home."

The effort also involves a network of supportive area congregations and at least a dozen committed volunteers like Helen Tobin, a 70-something Lutheran who said her life has been profoundly changed by relating to refugees.

It costs about $23,000 a year to run Welcome Home. The initiative has attracted funding from several sources, including the ELCA Deaconess Community, the Wheat Ridge Foundation and other area churches, said Jennifer Phelps Ollikainen, an ELCA pastor and director of ministries for Lutheran Congregational Services, Liberty Lutheran.

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