The Ebb and Flow of Refugees
The Methodists founded Della Lamb more than 120 years ago to assist the marginalized in Kansas City. Several years ago, programs shifted to being one of five agencies in the state that contract with the federal government to resettle refugees.
The number of refugees coming into the United States peaked during the Obama administration at 110,000. It was reduced each year of the Trump administration, capped at 18,000 for the federal fiscal year 2019-2020 and 15,000 for 2020–2021.
The incoming Biden administration has stated that the number will go up to 125,000 during their first year.
Those wildly fluctuating numbers create chaos when it comes to running an organization to assist the refugees and Della Lamb has new staff at the helm who will be experiencing the recent influx for the first time. Ryan Hudnall started as executive director of Della Lamb in September of 2019.
Refugee Services Coordinator Danilo Aguilar began last August. They are preparing for the wave to come and are looking forward to it.
“My prayer is for Kansas City to become known as the city of hospitality–the city that cares for its neighbors,” Hudnall said.
That means ramping up their partnerships with employers and landlords to meet the immediate needs of the refugees who are to come, considering staffing and strengthening church partnerships so people can live out their calling to help those in need.
“We say to our clients, ‘You are refugees no more. Welcome home,’” Hudnall said.
Hudnall doesn’t talk about his job without talking about the grace of God. He was a CPA who felt called to be a father to the fatherless and went to work for the Global Orphan Project for about four years before coming to Della Lamb.
Aguliar grew up in southern California. The Nazarene seminary brought him to Kansas City. When he describes his career path, he cites multiple scriptures.
- Luke 4:18 The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because He hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor, He hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised.
- James 1:27 Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.
- Isaiah 58: 6-7 Is not this the fast that I have chosen? To lose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free, and that ye break every yoke? Is it not to deal they bread to the hungry, and that hour bring the poor cast out to their house?
He’s been able to follow that calling at Della Lamb, even though the numbers of refugees have been short. In addition to the shifting political climate slowing the refugees coming into the United States, COVID-19 cut off the flow altogether for a while this year. Between March and August, Della Lamb only resettled one family. But the refugees who were present found a much more challenging environment to assimilate into.
Della Lamb had to reallocate resources from initial resettlement services to help refugees who are already in place in the Kansas City area. They also received grants, including $15,000 passed on by the Missouri Conference from the Henry Luce Foundation. Having language barriers and not being familiar with US institutions’ bureaucratic system, makes the pandemic especially difficult for people who are new to the country. How does a refugee family connect to a school that has gone online? How do they access telemedicine?
“We were one of the only resettlement agencies to keep our doors open through the pandemic,” Aguilar said. “We knew a vulnerable population needed our help at this time.”
June to August, they placed 20 refugees in jobs. Most of the jobs are in manufacturing and job demand has remained strong. New employment has been particularly challenging.
“Every employer has different protocols around COVID-19 and we’re trying to help people understand them,” Hudnall said. “Some employers have required multiple negative COVID-19 tests for someone to return to work and delays in testing have made that difficult.
This past summer, a Congolese family of eight journeyed from their initial resettlement in Oregon to Kansas City, because they had been informed of job opportunities in Kansas City. Upon their arrival, Della Lamb was there to welcome them and assist them in acclimating to their new home. In August, Della Lamb resumed resettling new refugees, working with families from Burma, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Iraq. They will continue this work and continue preparing for the increase in the number that is to come in 2021.
To read about Della Lamb’s entry into refugee resettlement, see the August 2017 edition of The Missouri Methodists at https://www.moumethodist.org/missouri-methodists-issue/8734864.