How to Help Refugees Here

“I was a stranger and you welcomed me… Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.”

portraits-dubuque-iowa-29-of-112I have been working with refugees and migrants for about 5 years now. In the grand scheme of things, that may not sound like much but that’s almost 1/4th of my life. I am excited for the sudden swelling of support for refugees and migrants.

Travelling to a foreign land can be exciting yes, but also terrifying. Even more so when you are forced to flee your home for fear of your life and resettle in a land you may or may not know anything about. God has given me a heart for the international population here in America and I’ve made it my mission to love these strangers in this foreign land. I invite you to do so with me.

Put down your protest signs and open your arms. Open your homes. 

Standing for hours demonstrating how much you dislike something is one thing. You have every right to [peacefully] do this. Spending those same hours mentoring and volunteering to take refugees shopping for basic needs, furniture, and food is another.

Say the protests work. The order is reversed. Refugees come in. Then what? Are those hundreds of thousands of people protesting going to redirect their efforts to resettling the refugees they fought so hard to allow in? Guess what people: THERE ARE REFUGEES HERE RIGHT NOW IN NEED OF HELP. You don’t have to wait for a reversal of the order. You can help right now!! Here’s how:

Teach English.

Become a conversation partner and teach English. You don’t need to be a qualified teacher to help someone with their English. If you can read this and have patience, you are qualified to help people work on their English. Talk with them. Listen to them. Give them a chance to practice their English and make mistakes in an encouraging environment. This does wonders for the language confidence level. Just because they may not be able to communicate right away does not mean they aren’t smart! One of my dear friends, and one of the bravest people I know, came to college in the United States for her second masters degree after teaching finance for years in Korea. You would never know that unless you took the time to string together the sentences of her beautiful broken English. Most of those coming over have been to college and have steady jobs. Those degrees don’t always transfer here and they have to start all over.

Be a friend and a mentor.

Along with taking refugees shopping and helping out with basic needs, volunteer to be a mentor. Once the basic needs are covered, people need a friend. They need someone to show them the ropes: American survival skills.

As someone who has had the pleasure of visiting other countries, I can tell you just how helpless it feels when you can’t even take care of your own basic needs! We fail to properly appreciate living in familiar territory, at least I did. For instance: how to get from Point A to Point B. When fleeing a country, a car isn’t necessarily a top priority of things to bring with you. Money isn’t typically in abundance to afford a new car so one is forced to rely on public transportation. Navigating the [non-existent] public transportation system here in the US is already challenging for me as an American and English is my native language. Just imagine navigating through cities you barely know in a 2nd 3rd or even 4th language. Offer rides to the grocery store. Things as simple as mailing a letter and grocery shopping become daunting tasks.

Show them how to: get insurance, set up a phone plan, get a driver’s license, etc. Help them figure out where to take their kids when they get sick, etc. Explain the difference between what Americans say vs. what they really mean. Ex.: “We should hang out sometime” is more a way of saying we could be friends and doesn’t mean get out your calendar and fix a date right then and there.

Had I not had someone showing me how to navigate the roads and rules of the land, I’d probably still be on a train to nowhere, figuratively and literally.

How do we find refugees already here? 

I’m glad you asked.

Here is a link to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) page. Clicking on your state will bring you to a page with all the main volunteer agency affiliates near you.

Don’t see one within feasible driving distance from your town? Don’t despair. Partner with an organization in your community. Do a little research to find out who heads up resettlement in your community and get in touch: call, email or march over to them. World Relief, an organization dedicated to resettling refugees, is constantly looking for volunteers.

Other ways to help:

Don’t have time to give? Give old clothes or donate money. Go through your closet and donate clothes you don’t wear anymore. Research organizations to make sure your money is actually going to help the refugees.

Still can’t find refugees but want to help the international community and immigrants? Go to a local school or the international department of the local college. Most universities have an English mentor/ conversation partner program for the international students and they won’t turn you away. If they don’t have one, start one. My first college didn’t have one so I found some willing volunteers at a local church and we sat down with the International Student Coordinator to discuss ways the community can get involved with the international students.

Lastly, love them.

Love them like Christ loves you. Love them like you would love Christ. Love and treat them like you would want your loved ones treated if the situations were reversed. These people are sisters, brothers, mothers, fathers, and children. Maybe not yours, but somebody’s.

Pray for them. Ask God to provide for their needs. Pray for their safety fleeing their home country and travelling. Pray for their spiritual condition. What an amazing opportunity to share the gospel with people who may have never heard it before. What an amazing opportunity to be the hands and feet of Jesus.

Matthew 25: 35-40 says: “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’”

Small Town Skies

Small towns. No skyscrapers or significant skyline, just starry skies.


I grew up in a small town; then I started moving. The time between moves has decreased while the town size has increased. Once I got out of the first one, I never looked back.

Population of 10,000 for 15 years
60,000 for 3 years
150,000 for 2 years
250,000 for 2 years
and now moving back to a town of 11,000

Am I breaking the cycle or is it starting over?

I watched a movie when I was a youngin. It was one of my sister’s favorite movies: The Perfect Man. She played it over and over and over again. In the movie, Heather Locklear (#whereisshenow?!) moves her girls to a new city every time she has a bad breakup. From that movie, I learned moving around a lot isn’t a good thing. It was reinforced going through job interviews and I was asked, “I see here you’ve moved a bit. Military family?”. Nope.

People are friendly in small towns. While walking down to the street, the window cleaners stopped to ask me how I was doing.

On this day in November, it is 60+ degrees. Who would have thought that we would be shedding our coats this far into the year. The postman comes in the coffee shop and jests with the baristas about not being able to figure out his new smartphone.

The internet doesn’t work and people are too friendly to tell the staff. There aren’t many outlets (I have yet to locate one) but that is not the point of this coffee shop. Why would one need to plug in their devices when the goal of this coffee shop is communication?

“Can I get a refill?” –Customer
“Sure! That will be a couple bucks.” –Barista
“How does two sound?” –Customer
“I’ll take it. Both of them.” –Barista


The business man locates the one outlet in this shop halfway across the room. And then he does something you can only do in small towns: he leaves his phone plugged in and walks away. That phone isn’t going anywhere.

College students work part-time at the coffee shop to chip away at some of their debt. They rush in between classes to get their free caffeine fix before jetting off to fill their minds with information that will supposedly help in the real world.

I don’t care for coffee but ironically, coffee shops are among my favorite places on this earth. Perhaps it is the espresso brown paint, the subtle indie music, or the atmosphere when you can be around people but not have to talk to people. The environment lends itself perfectly for people watching. I can escape into my noise cancelling headphones while creating life stories for all the passersby, searching for inspiration for my next essay.

Big cities are vibrant. I feel destined for big cities-cities big enough to have the infrastructure to support a mass transit system I can get lost on, a place where they have trams and accents, a place that has a music scene other than country or dance club music. A place where everyone is different and everyone fits in.

Will this ever be my new home? My place of residence yes, but my home? What makes a house a home? Thanks to a plethora of artists-Michael Buble, Jonnyswim, Phillip Phillips, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, Bon Jovi, to name a few-home is “wherever I’m with you” or the place you can go back to. Most artists can agree that home is not just a physical place but rather a state, feeling, or emotion. It’s what’s waiting for you at the end of the lonesome road. It’s up to you to determine whether that is a person, place, or thing. That is your home.

I don’t know how long I may be here in this small town or how long until it really feels like my home. I may be wandering hopelessly for a bit on that proverbial road but I will make the most of it. And I will learn.

I will learn to love the skies I’m under.


Sojourners and Stairs Part 2

Still hanging on those stairs?

When we finally reached the top of those stairs we saw…


A steeple. But wait, it gets better. We turned around and saw:



We were wowed by the view. But our amazement was premature. Little did we know if we kept walking, we would see one of THE best views.


The steeple turned into a church.




The Matthias Church to be exact.


What we didn’t know at the time was what the Matthias Church was. We found out later that this church, along with the Fisherman’s Bastion, are #7 and #2 on TripAdvisor’s Top 10 in Budapest list.  The Matthias Church (in Hungarian: Mátyás-templom) is a Gothic style Roman Catholic church that was built in the 1015, rebuilt in the 14th century, and later restored in the 19th century.


This church is located in front of the Fisherman’s Bastion:


This Bastion (Halászbástya) has 7 towers, 4 of which are pictured, that represent the 7 Magyar tribes that settled in the late eight hundreds. It is located on Castle Hill on the Buda side and overlooks the Danube.



And what a view it was.


We were just out for a stroll and had NO IDEA all those steps would lead to this breathtaking view. It was cloudy so our view was hindered, but I can only imagine how far you could see on a clear day!


The Bastion and and the church weren’t the only things to explore on Castle Hill.. with a name like that there must be a castle here somewhere. So we set out exploring to find the castle.

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We soon grew hungray (pun intended) and changed our course: food first, castle later. We came across one of my new favorite places in all of Budapest – Tárnok Cafe & Bier.


The food was delicious, the service was marvelous, and the prices were exceptional. But more on the at later. Keep your eyes peeled for a Hungry in Hungary post.


How I Ended Up In Russia and Other Travel Mishaps

I was in London preparing to leave the next morning – my flight was scheduled to depart at 6:40am. From the place I was staying, I needed to leave the house 4 hours before my flight time to make it via public transportation. That put me leaving at 2am but the transportation system doesn’t operate after 12:30-1am. So the plan was to leave around 11pm to catch the last train and just spend the night at the airport.

We were out sightseeing all day, ate the famous “fish n’ chips” and went to a local amateur production of Singing in the Rain. By the time we got back to the house it was 11:15ish. It takes just under 2 hours to get from our host’s house to the airport. I was leaving for Stockholm solo at 11:30 and my route was: walk to train station, ride above ground train to Canning Town, switch the the underground Victoria line, switch again to the Piccadilly line, and ride that into the airport. That would put me there around 1am.  I had to make it to my last connection by 12:30am or it was a no go because the trains would stop running. This left little room for error.


I had packed earlier, anticipating a late arrival from the play and a fast turnaround time. When we got back, I grabbed my hiking backpack – all 33 pounds of it- and ran out the door. Thankfully we had just switched to Swedish SIM cards so I could get data on my phone and I figured I’d just check into my flight on the train ride.

At this point, things were starting to get stressful. I’m on the London tube by myself at midnight on a Saturday night.. Nothing good ever happens after midnight on a Saturday night, especially in a city of 8.5 million people, 4 million of which ride the tube everyday. Oh, and I hadn’t charged my phone yet that day and I didn’t have a charger adapter for the UK. I figured I wasn’t going to need my phone very much anyway- I’d be back in Sweden in less than 12 hours.

Or so I thought.

There were some not-so-nice looking characters on the above ground train (midnight on a Saturday) so I did what everyone else does – pulled out my phone to look busy. I decided to use this time to check into my flight. I was met with “technical difficulties” and was told to go to airport to resolve. I still needed to know what terminal I was flying out of so I did a quick flight search. What I encountered was one measly word that had the power to outrage the masses:


Wait a minute. WHAT?! My mind started whirling: “Maybe I read that wrong. Maybe I got the flight number wrong. It can’t be cancelled. My phone is going to die. I don’t have time to turn back now. The trains are going to stop running. I’m going to get stranded. Or kidnapped. And die.”

Okay, deep breath.

First things first: I called up my dear hubby just to double check it was really cancelled (and to tell him where I was, how I most likely died, and how to avenge my death). Just kidding 😉 As he was confirming it was in fact cancelled, the line cut out.

The line cut out before I could tell my hubby that I was switching to the underground tube and wouldn’t have any service. I had decided to continue on to the airport and didn’t have a moment to spare between connections if I wanted to make it.

So here’s where I am:
walk to train station: CHECK
ride above ground train to Canning Town: CHECK
switch the the underground Victoria line: CHECK
switch again to the Piccadilly line
continue on Piccadilly line into the airport

There I was, halfway there, sitting on the overcrowded underground with my 33lb backpack, for what felt like hours. No connection to the outside world or more importantly: my husband. At this point, there was nothing I could really do so I people- watched and prayed to get there safely.

Fast forward half an hour and I’m sitting on my last train that will take me to the airport. I saw the girl next to me had a suitcase and figured I was in the right place. But part of me was a little apprehensive so I asked if this train went to Heathrow, just to ease my worries. Her response went a little like this:


Excuse me?

“This line, yes. This train, no.”

Over the loud speaker I hear: “Our next stop is blahblahblah. This train will terminate. Mind the gap.” Um, “blahblahblah” did not sound like the airport.  My objective now was to get off the current train and hope the next one went to the airport…

Thanks to a series of unfortunate events, I FINALLY arrived at the airport around 1am. After updating my husband and trying to contact the airline custom service (to no avail) it was 2am so I settled into a comfy spot on the floor with my fellow like-minded travelers and dozed off for approx. 2 hours. For being one of the world’s busiest airports (#6th to be exact – thanks wikipedia) it sure is pretty dark and seemingly uninhabited in the wee hours of the morning.


After waiting, waiting in the wrong line, and then waiting some more, 6am rolled around and I waited in line again to reschedule my flight. Upon further investigation (that came in the form of 4+ handouts I received) I learned the flight cancellation was due to the SAS pilot strike. I was told I had 2 options: book another flight at my expense or fly to Copenhagen, and take the 5 hour train to Stockholm *seat on train not guaranteed, also at my expense. The only flight options available for same day travel were routing through Istanbul with layovers of 36 hours. Turkey.. political unrest, attempted coup, bombings.. not really my thing. Not to mention Turkey is on the USA travel warning list. Neither of these options were appealing so I pushed a little harder and she was able to find one more option: London to Stockholm via Moscow.

My mind started whirling again: “Moscow.. Russia – I’ve never been there! Wait, am I even allowed in the country?” Call it sleep deprivation or what have you, but the latter found itself escaping from my mouth. To which the agent responded, “Yes. Wait, what passport do you have? American? I think you should be fine.” How reassuring. She handed me my ticket, a meal voucher (score!), and sent me on my way. 5 hours to take-off.


I treated myself to traditional English breakfast.

I switched terminals, ate, went through security, charged my phone, took a nap, shopped for souvenirs, and made it to my gate. After swiping my passport for the final check in to the flight they paused and said, “Miss, can you please step over here.”

WHAT NOW?! There I was, detained in a line all by myself, in a foreign country with no sleep while everyone else waltzed right onto the plane. Was my bag too big? I’m not on the no fly list. Maybe I really wasn’t allowed into Russia.. All that suspense to tell me that since I was a late add-on to the flight, I wouldn’t receive any meals. Okay, I could live with that.

The flight to Moscow was pretty uneventful so I took a nap only to be woken by the flight attendant asking if I wanted curry or noodles – double score! I was on the plane and I got a meal! It didn’t really bother me that I was traveling 1794.3 miles out of the way of my final destination. It was a new adventure.

When going through border and customs in Russia, they stamped my boarding pass. I asked pleaded that they stamp my passport. If I was going all the way to Moscow, by golly I was going to get a stamp to show for it. But my several attempts proved unsuccessful. She didn’t speak English, I didn’t speak Russian. Although I’m pretty sure she understood me, she just didn’t want to. I even contemplated reaching for the stamper (I blame sleep deprivation) but quickly came to my senses: the goal was to leave Russia, not to be detained indefinitely.



In Russia, no one smiles. As I made my way to my gate, my smiley face was met with glares. The gate was a little elusive. It kept changing every couple of minutes. All the airport gates I have been at are usually quiet with lots of seating. This was the opposite. It was a big room filled with 4 gates worth of people – standing room only. Announcements were going off all the time in Russian. Every non-Russian person was completely lost so we found solace in each other. I was standing next to an older gentleman and his wife and he asked – in English – if I was from Russia, to which I responded no. He said he could tell because I smile. 🙂 Further confirming that people don’t smile there! He was an Ethiopian refugee who lived in Sweden for the past 60+ years. The wife didn’t speak much English. We got to exchanging life stories and phone numbers. They were a really sweet couple!

Take-off time was fast approaching so they checked us in and took my boarding pass with my Russian stamp :(. They loaded us on to the bus and drove us out to our aircraft. I was almost home to Sweden.



I happily took my window seat and before I knew it we were landing.

At that moment, Sweden had never felt more like home.



*when in Britain, spell like the Brits

Sojourners and Stairs

I was faced with the option of taking another 2 week intensive Swedish class or spending that money on a mini vacation… and that’s how we ended up in HUNGARY!!

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We did some research for inexpensive places in Europe to travel to.. and Eastern European cities were among the cheapest. Budapest, turns out, is nicknamed the “Paris of the East” because of the beautiful architecture.

We found cheap flights on Lufthansa (now one of my new fav airlines btw) and booked an AirBnb for $35/night! Plus I was recommended by a “friend” (a.k.a. my husband) to “try AirBnb” (a.k.a. $30 off your first time staying somewhere).. which pretty much equals a free night. #workingthesystem? No way. #travelsavvycollegestudent

(P.S.    <– free $30 off. You’re welcome 😉 )

Now, were were we? Oh right, BUDAPEST! We stayed on the Buda side.


Budapest is/was divided into two – Buda on the west side of the Danube and Pest on the east.

Due to flight delays, boarding the aircraft, deplaning the aircraft, waiting, ect., we got in around 1am. The next morning we went to the grocery store to stock up on goodies.

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It was crazy how inexpensive things were.. fresh baked rolls for $0.06… 6 cents!! And they were a good size, too. This day was mainly a relax day because of the rain downpour. There was no internet so we made food, warm drinks, and I took a nap.. several actually.


Mid afternoon rolled around and the rain was letting up so we figured we should get out and explore. 20160716_183654


We came across these never-ending-can’t-see-the-end lovely stairs. Halfway up the 100+ stairs, you can start to see the end.. it reinforces the cliche “the end is in sight”. No wonder it’s made cliche status.. it’s still motivating.


Once we finally reached the top of the stairs we saw.. 20160716_184452.jpg

More stairs. Wait, an elevator! But why ever would we want to take it because we are so young and full of energy.. -_-

When we finally reached the top of those stairs we saw…


*Hint: It was well worth all those stairs.


Brussels, Belgium Day 3

Goodbye Germany, Hello Belgium!


We spent 8 hours via train traveling to Brussels from Hamburg.


We had a 1 hour connection between trains in Köln so we went walking around the station looking for a Starbucks and restroom and found this:


A MASSIVE church at the other end of the station. It was magnificent.




Apparently it’s pretty famous. Who knew.


When we arrived in Brussels, we asked for supper recommendations and went to a cute local pizzeria.


We couldn’t read the menu so we just ordered something and this is what we got:


Eggplant, artichokes, mozzarella, tomatoes, basil leaves, and some unidentifiable meat.. something ground up.. sausage maybe?

Before heading to the pizzeria we walked to a grocery store and that was an interesting experience. Things in Europe are pretty packed and compact. The grocery store aisles are big enough for one or two and maybe a basket. Forget about a cart. And the concept of personal space is different in Brussels. If you are standing in the aisle with even just a hint of confusion on your face, you will get run over. 15 minutes to closing time they turn off the lights.




We had a relaxing night in eating pizza and watching a movie.


We woke up at 7am to the sound of someone throwing concrete bricks into a truck like there was no tomorrow! I guess they start their work day early around here :p


This morning we went around looking for fries because they originated in Belgium and you how much I love fries especially for breakfast. But nothing opened before 10am and my train was scheduled to depart at 11am. So I settled for a cheeseburger from a pop up stand.


The bun alone was half the size of my face!


We were in Brussels for only a short time. None of the store owners spoke English so Kara and Joanna had a grand time communicating with their French.


French Countryside

Time to go, my train is arriving in London at Kings Cross Station!



Sunsets and Stings

When it rains, we play soccer (football). Football is the game of choice here in Sweden, and Europe for that matter. The European Championship is going on in France right now. Sweden lost round 1 to Italy.




We went up north near Uppsala to visit family.



Sweden is so far up north that the sun sets very late here. At 10:30pm the sky turned a brilliant shade of pink.


At 11pm:
The sun sets very late and rises very early- around 2:30-3am.



Allemansrätten is a term in Swedish used to describe land that everyone can use. You can roam pretty much anywhere as long as you’re respectful of the land and don’t stay in one place for more than 1 night.







Simeon found a walking stick and started carving it.. inspired by the Tree of Gondor.



While on our hike through the woods, I got stung by a bee.


That ended our hike pretty quickly.

Visiting Family


Heading off to Europe! I got to go to Iowa this weekend and see ALL of my family!! Mya got baptized this weekend and everyone was able to make it.


The week in photos:
We came back from D.C. to learn that our brakes were shot. Not exactly what we wanted to come back to but it was a miracle that we made it as far as we did. Thankfully, my husband didn’t have to fly out until the next day so he was able to fix them!!

We spent our last evening on a double date with Mom and Lee at Steak & Shake. That place is so good.


The next day we sent Simeon off!


After that, I headed to go see family. And they newest addition to my sister’s family: Winston Ron Swanson. Winston for short. Now I’m not a dog person, but this puppy was cute. When he didn’t think we were paying attention, he would start creeping downstairs where he’s not supposed to be. As soon as his name was called, he’d stop dead in his tracks and just wait, pretending he wasn’t there. We tried to get up quietly to go see what he was doing but he heard us and came running up the stairs, acting like he was there the whole time.

From there, we went to go visit the rest of the fam. We went to a coffee shop and ran into this guy, of all people and places!! This is the second time it’s happened! 😮

We got all dressed up and went out for Carolyn’s birthday but that I will save for the next post.

Short and Sweet

WordPress just told me it’s been 5 months since my last blog post. Whoa. Time sure flies when you are having fun insanely busy with a full time credit load and 2 jobs. But all that is coming to an end now because CLASSES ARE DONE!! I have successfully completed my first year at UWO.

First and last day of school pictures: First and last day of school

Simeon and I have found ourselves with the opportunity to spend the summer in Sweden! He will be helping with his dad’s construction company and I will be taking Swedish language classes and working on my senior research thesis.

Before we head over there, we still have some things to do stateside first, like his brother’s graduation in Washington D.C. and my sister’s 21st birthday celebration in Iowa. More traveling! Oh and one tiny detail.. we are leaving TOMORROW.

And we haven’t packed yet.. but you know what they say:


I think the panic is starting to set in. Time to go pack!


So I’ve been having these thoughts lately. Thoughts that have previously popped into my mind, but were quickly thrown out. But lately, they’ve been taking root, growing like weeds, and sprouting into ideas. I know, I know, I’m supposed to be guarding my mind and the like, but there is something different about these thoughts. These musings, if you will, have caused my nature much calamity yet comfort at the same time.

Once upon a time, a few weeks ago, I worked up the courage to reveal these notions to my husband. He stared at me in bewilderment. Upon recovery, he asked that I repeat myself, just to make sure he had heard me correctly.

He had. Because I, ladies and gentleman (Mom, you better sit down for this one), have decided that I have too much stuff.

That’s right. I’m uncovering a new me while uncovering the floor at the same time. Continue reading