September 29, 2021
Temperatures wildly fluctuating; 3 seasons in 24 hours of time; scents of cinnamon, cider and wood burning; leaves of summer dying in blazes of color just beginning; dark, cold school-bus mornings… and rain! We may course through the first several hours of each day without really giving much thought to all of the above, but for a variety of reasons, the Al Masri family is acutely aware of all of them, ALL THE TIME, as they enter into their first autumn in America with us!
I had the privilege of listening to them share their gratitude for being brought to the United States this week, and their overflowing thanks for all of the help and love from CLC and supporting churches’ volunteers. I was present at a Community Mental Health (CMH)Planning Meeting with Bethany Christian Services (BCS) on Thursday. The CMH meeting resulted in recommendations for Malak to be enrolled in the ISD program SOON, as she is eligible until she turns 26. Additionally, Occupational and Physical therapy referrals have been requested! This should finally result in obtaining the durable medical equipment Malak and the family need to provide her care in safety for herself and them. At the end of this meeting, Kholoud and Ali said “It feels so safe here in Michigan and the people are like family for us!” “A BIG THANK YOU my dear sister and all of your honorable family” was another translation by the Arabic -speaking translator at our meeting. for their praise. Additionally, Ali received good news of a negative test result yesterday. Google Translate interpreted Ali’s response to my prayer and “alhamdulillah” as, “May God prolong your life my dear sister.” They reference God and are searching for his provision, protection and presence in their lives. They practice their Muslim prayers throughout the day with recordings on their phones. It is so exciting to me that every volunteer moment with them is shining more and more of the light of the true gospel into their lives, with the love and forgiveness, acceptance and adoption of them offered through Christ. They LOVE ALL visits and outings and feel so welcomed in this community.
Their weeks are filled with school for Marah and Moayad that goes until 4pm and 6 pm (due to soccer) respectively. Ali, Kholoud and Malak start each morning as early as the others and travel together by Harbor Transit to ESL classes M-Th until noon. They frequently have medical, DHS, or community appointments like banking needs and pharmacies, or shopping outings in the afternoons. These make for long days, but they are embracing all the time investments because they are making them feel settled.
Speaking of feeling welcomed…Ali shared in a different BCS meeting earlier this week of more of the trauma of being refugees for 7 & 1/2 years in Lebanon. After leaving civil war in Syria in 2014, originally their paperwork was to be completed in 2016 and they would have travelled that same year to the U.S.A. Plans changed overnight with the change in our federal government’s administration, and 5 more years of waiting ensued. In that time, Ali describes being treated as “less than human; like we were animals. You could never question the bureaucracy or local authorities. You couldn’t speak out about humanitarian injustices to the refugees and those caught in war in Syria. We are not animals. We are people just like you. Only when we got to America did we start to see what true democracy means. People in America can have conversations about the good and the bad happening in the world. We have felt loved by everyone in Michigan. WE FINALLY NOW FEEL HUMAN AGAIN!” Please let that last sentence sink in… If I am unhappy in a store or feel a receipt has an error, I can just go to customer service and get it corrected. I have so many opportunities for my voice to be counted at the local and national level. I don’t worry about who will be listening if I speak against a policy or an official. I have never known their kind of suffering , fear, or trauma. At both meetings, with the gift of a live translator, I expressed on behalf of all of us that we think they are an incredibly courageous family and they have persevered in the face of much despair and exhaustion with fortitude. In their exhausted sleep, the God of Heaven and Earth never slumbers or sleeps and he has brought them to Spring lake for his great purposes. They LOVED IT when I said we were “just sisters and brothers from another mother!” They truly feel we are family and I hope we all get a chance to meet them soon. I have invited them to the Fall Feast Worship Service and Feast.
Soccer continues to be the joy in Moayad’s life and the whole family loves going to his home games. Both Marah and Moayad are in need of WARM CLOTHES and outerwear, as are Malak, Kholoud and Ali. Jackets, hats, scarves, gloves, boots, polar fleece, hoodies, raincoats and umbrellas, etc.! One CLC small group has gifted some money towards purchasing some of these items, and the family receives some cash assistance for personal needs such as these items, but they need willing persons to take them shopping. The family members have their own personal tastes and just like your family members, love picking out some of their own clothes. The Seventh Day Adventist Community Center (FREE_in GH), Love in Action Stores (GH and SL), Goodwill (GH Muskegon), and Hope’s Outlet (GH) are good places to shop with them as well as if CLC families have items in good condition to donate to the family. I have added shopping trips to Meal Train website:
Please reconsider signing up SOON to help them acquire these needed items now. The children have stood at the bus stop twice without umbrellas in the rain!! And remember not to just drop off clothes without them trying them on and giving their approval. I have had many trips to take drop off bags of items to the thrift stores because they didn’t fit.
For all who have driven the Al Masri’s or helped to arrange Harbor Transit, THANK YOU. They go on and on about how excited Malak gets when she goes on the bus or a car ride- she LOVES these outings. She’s never been left with anyone but extended family members before and so they are all greatly appreciative for the efforts that have been made for them to experience their new life here as a family unit! The outings have included many soccer games now (befriended by awesome teammate families and Coach, in addition to volunteer families)), Craig’s Cruisers as part of a Young Life outing ( Kholoud’s dream of driving came true- in a go-cart! And Ali had 3 hole-in-one’s!), shopping in the Mediterranean Island store for comfort and halal foods, and many home visits. Ali has opened a bank account and we have met with the local Ferrysburg Fifth/Third bank Manager and teller (Denise) twice. This branch is 5 minutes by car from home. Ali has deposited and also withdrawn money now and the bank staff embraced the opportunity to be their neighborhood branch and learn how to communicate with him. His account will become 2 different accounts when Kholoud and Malak receive their final required paperwork from the government. One will be the family joint account with Kholoud and one will be for Malak’s direct deposits from SSI.
Lastly, Ali has been learning how to pick up prescriptions at Wal-Mart, the home pharmacy for the family. It is not the closest to their home, but pharmacy errands can be combined with grocery shopping. Furthermore, CMH and Bethany Christian Services, as a result of our combined Planning Meeting, are going to request of the Grand Haven WalMart that they begin to carry halal meats and some Middle Eastern breads and yogurt. The pharmacy staff have all been very patient, helpful, and willing to learn the process of using dial-in Arabic interpreters for reviewing the different medications, ways to take them and for what condition they are prescribed. in Lebanon, the medicines came in blister packs in all different cardboard boxes. Here, they come in identical amber plastic bottles with identical appearing labels. When one doesn’t read English, it’s hard to know what medicine is what!
Every little thing we take for granted is new for the Al Masri’s, but they are learning quickly, with God’s marvelous, abundant grace and the befriending and encouragement of each of you!
Partners in Kingdom work,
September 15, 2021
Leaves are turning slightly, the nights are cooling down, schools are all in-person and schedules are becoming a familiar pattern once again after the unstructured weeks of summer vacation. But let us not forget that what is familiar and routine to us and our families is anything but familiar for the Al Masri family!
Ali and Kholoud are veteran Harbor Transit (HT) riders now, most recently using HT for transport to and from ESL classes in Grand Haven. Originally it was thought that they could take Malak with them to ESL class and thus be able to learn in person and meet new friends together. The logistics of the technology required to move the classes to a main floor room that is handicap accessible have proved to be more complex than originally thought: for now they will take turns doing ESL in-person and by ZOOM.
More and more of Bethany Christian Services Refugee Resettlement specialists have been “on-boarded” with the family recently. They received tech training and have a home laptop and wifi now, they’ve initiated communication with the Healing Center for refugee trauma, and bonds have been strengthened between the Refugee Education Center (in Grand Rapids) and the children’s teachers and principals in the Spring Lake school system. They have all but one received Social Security cards and therefore should be able to obtain photo ID cards shortly, as well as open their joint bank account! They are anxious to have these first evidences of identity, belonging and independence. Not a day goes by that Ali doesn’t ask about getting a job. Please be praying for jobs for Ali and Kholoud. The expectation of Bethany and the Matching Grant Program which funds their living expenses at this time, is that by mid-October they should each have a job! As you hear of any leads on work for either of them, please forward these to Ginger Downey with specifics of name, contact information, etc.
Malak is in the midst of numerous lengthy assessment appointments by Community Mental Health to determine what program(s) will be most appropriate for her needs. There is hope that she can go to “school” since she is only 22 and is eligible until 26 years old. Her assessments have been 3 hrs. long each time, but the CMH staff in Grand Haven have been very welcoming of the family. The assessments will also determine when occupational and physical therapy can evaluate her needs and make recommendations for assistive equipment for the family to use with her in her daily care.
Moayad is a full-fledged member of the Spring Laker JV Soccer team, and loving it. His coach, Jeremy Thelen has been instrumental, along with player moms, Jim and Becky Baker and Amy Sheele to make this a reality for him. Moayad also had his first experience of missing his morning school bus. The adventure that ensued included using Google Maps to ride his bike to school, but the map took him via the highway!! Moayad is safe, school personnel went and got him when someone mentioned they saw him on the road, and his coach drove the bike home later that night! As I said earlier, nothing is familiar or routine for this family!
Marah bursts through the door at 4pm after a full day of school, tired but with her huge smile… and hungry!It is a very long day for her and she still gets rest periods during the day. Covenant Life Church volunteers have been playing beginner language skill and numbers games with her also. She loves to accompany her mother on any shopping trips.
The family continues to take advantage of the biweekly Feed America Food Trucks sponsored by Love In Action and the biweekly Ferrysburg Community Church Food Pantry. These both help them stretch their Bridge Card allotment! A picture included is of Emma VanderSlik, daughter of volunteer Keija VanderSlik on Kholoud’s lap after the food truck outing together.
The opportunities to get to know this family and share the love of God with them are as varied as your creativity. Team up with a friend and take a walk or have tea together. They can’t wait to meet all of you!
September 1, 2021
“Alhamdulillah:” The Al Masri family begins their 8Th week in America
“Alhamdulillah means "Praise be to Allah" and expresses gratitude for his goodness. The Islamic phrase "alhamdulillah" can be used in several different ways. In each case, the speaker is thanking Allah:
Alhamdulillah can be used as a secular exclamation of pleasure, much as Americans might use the expression "Thank God." For example: "Alhamdulillah! I got an A in chemistry!"
Alhamdulillah may be a statement of gratitude to God for any gift, whether it be simply the gift of life or the gift of success, health, or strength.
Alhamdulillah may be used in prayer. By thanking Allah, the creator of all things, one is lifting prayers to God.
Alhamdulillah may be used as a term of acceptance for trials and difficulties placed before us. In other words, one can say "Alhamdulillah" in all situations because all situations have been created by God.”-Islamic Phrase 'Alhamdulillah'." Learn Religions, Aug. 27, 2020, learnreligions.com/islamic-phrases-alhamdulillah-2004284.
The last 2 weeks have been jam-packed with learning bus and school schedules, rules and expectations in classrooms, as well as unusual styles of greetings and communication which are foreign to Marah and Malak. The Spring Lake H.S. JV Soccer Coach has moved mountains to include Moayad in soccer this season, including arranging every detail of transportation for him to games and practices. Both Marah and Moayad have their own school chrome books and pocket translators, but Google Translate is not perfect and there have been big and small miscommunications due to its interpretation of the children’s Arabic accents. Marah is exhausted in school and has had her schedule altered to include a rest period during the day. She has the curiosity of a child in a toy store or candy store for the very first time, but is unfamiliar with the prolonged sitting and 5th grade level of work. Marah was deeply involved in childcare for her young nieces and nephews in Lebanon and was the “older one.” She has lost that identity, at least temporarily, and is flooded by new responsibilities and expectations in school. This is the first Marah has ever been in school! Becky Baker is working as our volunteer school liaison between Marah, Spring Lake Intermediate School and Refugee Education Center (in Grand Rapids, affiliated with Bethany Christian Services) to help insure that as many “helps” as are available for Marah are utilized. Moayad has started to make friends, is on social media with some, and wonders why school can’t be in session on Saturdays and Sundays also, “since the buildings are available!”-
Kholoud has become more and more comfortable with visiting the food pantry at Ferrysburg Community Church every other week with volunteer drivers from CLC. The family has a sweet tooth, and she loves to treat them to baked goods when they are available. She is discovering she can obtain toiletry items and paper goods at the pantry as well, and these are items not covered by her Bridge card. She has been so appreciative of the adult diapers she has been issued for free from Love In Action and the food trucks volunteers take her to twice per month. The family receives cash on a monthly basis now from the Matching Grant Program (affiliated with Bethany and Church World Services), as well as a Bridge Card with @ $220/week for food. She would like to be taken to the Mediterranean Island grocery store in Grand Rapids whenever possible to get their halal meats and familiar breads and snacks.
Ali is VERY anxious to start ESL and find work. ESL hopefully starts September 7th and will be M-Th 9-12 noon at St. John’s Episcopal Church on Washington in Grand Haven. He has had numerous doctor appointments and still has further tests. He and Kholoud carry great worry for their daughters’ families in Lebanon. They communicate several times daily with them and his brother in the U.K. as well as their son in the Netherlands!
Malak is in the midst of numerous required assessment appointments through Community Mental Health to determine what level of assistance and programs she is eligible to receive. These are long appointments and wearying for her and her parents. Harbor Transit has been the best at transporting her with her wheelchair with ease! The reception staff are getting to know them too.
Everyone has received their 2nd Covid 19 vaccine!!! Many praises that none contracted the Delta Variant before they were fully vaccinated.
Alhamdulillah, Alhamdulillah, Alhamdulillah. Praise our triune God from whom ALL blessings flow, and who is with us in the midst of the joyous and difficult hours and days.
“Moayad is on the Spring Lake JV Soccer team , please consider cheering him in person on at some point this season! Here is the schedule. “
August 25, 2021
5 Weeks in America
Love and comfort rain down on the Al Masri family from our CLC family and our broader Refugee Resettlement support community of All Shores Wesleyan and Second Christian Reformed Churches!
Let the list of praises begin!
Doctor appointments; DHS and Community Mental Health evaluations for Malak to open doors for services she’s never had; Spring Lake Intermediate and High School enrollments, orientation, and “meet and greets; ” food pantry and food truck expeditions; glorious treasure hunting in the Seventh Day Adventist Community Center Store (everything is FREE) and at Love In Action Resale Stores; intense grocery shopping training regarding weekly budget for food; lots more FUN Harbor Transit rides (Malak LOVES these and that so thrills the family); Case Management home meetings with Bethany Christian Services Refugee staff; REC (Refugee Education Center) Manager meetings in the home (and REC will manage EVERYTHING to do with school, indefinitely… for as many years as the students need assistance!!); lots of visiting in the home; moving mountains to get Moayad’s MHSAA Sports Physical completed so he can join JV Soccer; first haircut for Moayad in U.S.A.; plumbing installation services for FREE from CLC members; and the list goes on.
Household donations have been amazing and their home looks comfortable and inviting. They have had the opportunity to host for 3 days a Syrian family of 7 whom they knew for 2 years in Lebanon where they were all living!. That family, who lives in Syracuse, NY, was in Dearborn and came 3 hours farther, with their 5 children, to see the Al Masri’s! The palpable grief continues regarding their daughter’s family who was to come to the U.S. at the same time as the Al Masri’s, and still has not received exit papers from Lebanon. Additionally, they now know that their daughter Mervat’s husband has died (he was “missing” before). Remarkable, extraordinary comfort from God has come in the form of a personal friend of our Spain Partner. This friend met the Al Masri’s at a birthday party picnic in Spring Lake and is from the same city the Al Masri’s daughters are in. She knew their neighborhood, shopping district and mosque. She was able to talk to the daughters on What’s App and will connect with them upon her return to the area. This woman was only in Spring Lake for 1 day!!!!
Only our God sees every one of our tears and keeps them and can bring joy in the midst of sorrow. He has led the Al Masri’s to be here, in Spring Lake, immediately surrounded by CLC neighbors, and He has given each of us the opportunity to practice the works which flow out of our faith. What an honor to be his instruments of love, peace, and comfort, building these friendships and radiating Christ. --Ginger