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World Relief’s Spokane office remains open, raises funds, resettles fewer refugees in 2017

The Rally for Refugees on Sunday, Feb. 12, at Gonzaga and the Benefit Concert for World Relief (WR) at the Cathedral of St. John on Friday, Feb. 17, raised $10,000 for World Relief’s work in Spokane with refugees.

Mark Finney is the new World Relief director.

Mark Finney, who was named the new director of World Relief on Feb. 16, said that while World Relief nationally is closing five of its 26 offices, the Spokane office will stay open.

To be viable, he said, they will need to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars to make up for the loss of federal funding and have to do some layoffs.

In other fund raising, World Relief will be the featured nonprofit for Bloomsday in 2017.

Because the President has capped the number of refugees at 50,000 to come from Oct. 1, 2016 to Sept. 31, 2017, with 40,000 received so far, just 10,000 more can be resettled, which will be about 60 for Spokane. In 2017, 110,000 refugees were to have been received nationwide.

Mark said 70 refugees came in January and nearly 60 in February, so that will leave the number for one month to be resettled over the next seven months.

Mark grew up in Coeur d’Alene and graduated from Whitworth University. He spent 10 years in Pasadena, including a year volunteering in Thailand.  He returned to Spokane in December 2015.  He came on the WR board in June.  Mark also teaches a master’s of theology class as adjunct faculty at Whitworth.

Whitworth’s Office of Church Engagement, Gonzaga University, Moody Bible Institute and World Relief partnered to host the “Rally with Refugees.” The rally, attended by about 1,500, was an opportunity to share about refugee resettlement, the vetting process and personal stories of some refugees in Spokane.

Mark said World Relief has resettled refugees in Spokane for 25 years with “no big deal.”

Prior to World Relief resettling refugees in Spokane, there were refugees from Europe and Eastern Europe resettled in the 1950s.

Both Catholic Charities Immigration and Refugee Resettlement and a Spokane office of the Washington Association of Churches working with Church World Service resettled refugees in Spokane, particularly Vietnamese, Hmong and Cambodians after the fall of Saigon in 1975.

By 1979, Spokane’s Hmong community was 300.  The Spokane office closed in the early 1990s as World Relief came in.  It needed to resettle at least 30 refugees a year to be viable.

Greg Cunningham, who was director of the Catholic Charities Spokane (CCS) immigration office, said they also resettled people from the Soviet republics and Bosnia in the 1990s.  After Sept. 11, 2001, the number of refugees dropped, and CCS focused on immigration services.

Currently, Lutheran Community Services (LCS) in Spokane has a foster care program for unaccompanied refugee minors.  The LCS in Tacoma has been resettling Syrian and other refugees.

The Neema Children’s Choir sings in Swahili.

The Rally with Refugees, which opened and closed with the Neema Choir, was designed to unite the community to be in solidarity with refugee neighbors and embody the welcoming and inclusive community Spokane endeavors to be, said Samuel Abbott, of the OCE. 

Before then, The Fig Tree reported that Church World Service and Catholic Charities had resettled refugees since World War II, refugees from Europe, Southeast Asia and Central America in particular.

Mark said Whitworth seeks to educate minds and hearts so people act passionately and live holistically.

“There are people of many opinions.  Some are unsure if it’s safe to have refugees come,” he said.  “We may not agree, but we need to be respectful.  Shouting louder does not make democracy work.”

Caleb Dawson, Gonzaga’s student body president, spoke of respecting diverse opinions and be welcoming.

A representative of Whitworth said followers of Jesus need to reach out and welcome strangers and refugees.  Students signed a sheet with encouraging notes to say, “Whitworth loves you” to refugees.

Caleb Daws, GU - top

Dean Jack Lewis, Moody Bible Institute

Dean Jack Lewis of Moody Bible Institute also affirmed refugees and the responsibility of Christians to reach out, so students have given 1,000 hours to World Relief and teaching English.

“We think that the Bible is about living our faith by loving and serving one another,” he said.

Mark encouraged people to go to a table to write notes of positive support for refugees to elected officials.

Upendra Acharya, Gonzaga law professor, described migration as part of human history.  The United Nations defines refugees as people who flee their countries fearing political and other forms of persecution or torture because of their religion, race or political opinion.

“Refugees have a right to access to food, education, housing and employment,” she said.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted in 1948 by the United Nations General Assembly spells out the rights to asylum and protection for refugees.

According to the United Nations, there are 65 million displaced persons and 21.3 million refugees worldwide.  Since 1975, the U.S. has resettled 3.2 million refugees, and more before then.  In 1990s, the U.S. received refugees from the former Soviet republics, Kosova and Myanmar.  From 2000 to 2015, refugees have come from the Middle East, Africa, Cuba, Laos, Myanmar and Bhutan.

Whitworth messages

There has been no U.S. terrorist attack by people from the travel ban countries, she said, adding that vetting takes 18 months to five years, while refugees wait in camps.

The State Department works with contractors to do multiple layers of background checks and screening.

“It’s hard for refugees to get in,” said Mark.  “There are 20 steps through five agencies for screening.  They come because they want to be U.S. citizens.”

World Relief Spokane has resettled 9,835 refugees since 1992, he said.

Several refugees shared their stories.


Sooraya, a Muslim Afghan who came two years ago with her husband and sons, 13 and seven, is able to study for the first time since fleeing the Taliban and spending 10 years in a refugee camp in Iran, followed by three years in Turkey. She is studying at Spokane Community College.

“I know what it is to wait and wait every day to see what country would accept us. Now we have a place to call home,” she said, discouraged now that the U.S. is closing the door to Muslim refugees.  “The terrorists are not Muslims.  Islam is about love and respect.”


Nasreen and Nadira

Nasreen Achmood from Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, lived in Mauritia for six years before coming to the United States.  “I thank the U.S. government for giving my people the opportunity to be part of the American dream.”

City Council President Ben Stuckart affirmed that the “city values all people.  Our city will stand with and fight for refugees and immigrants.”

He said “we value your dreams because they are our dreams.  We are not to build walls, but to tear them down.”

Gloria Ochoa Bruck

Ben Stuckart

Gloria Ochoa Bruck, director of multicultural affairs for the City of Spokane, spoke of Spokane being a City of Refuge, a compassionate welcoming city, aware that the country was founded by immigrants. Her heritage is Mexican.

“We need to join as one community with one voice to be there for one another,” she said.

Sargent Glen Bartlett said the Spokane Police Department will protect everyone’s rights and will not ask anyone for their immigration papers. 

Mark said landlords say refugees are good tenants; employers say they are good employees, and schools say adults and children are good students.

In 2001, Jinan came from in Iraq with her youngest child after her husband, who had worked with Americans, was killed.  Before she could bring her other four children, her oldest son was killed. She studies and works hard in four jobs. 

Amina Fields, immigration attorney and president of the Refugee Connections board, said her family came with boat people from Vietnam in the early 1980s.  She appreciates the opportunities America has given her. 



She advised immigrants since the ban to carry their documents and have phone trees in place if they are detained by ICE or the Border Patrol.  She said people do not need to open their doors to ICE and have the right to ask for an interpreter, ask to see a warrant, remain silent and ask for an attorney.

Mark reminded people to donate, volunteer, pray and advocate.  He said World Relief had a flood of volunteers.

Jewish, Christian, Muslim and Native American clergy offered prayers.

Rabbi Elizabeth Goldstein

The Rev. John Sower

Pastor Alibad Clement

Mamdouh El Aarag and Imam

Rabbi Elizabeth Goldstein, a Gonzaga professor, said Deuteronomy “calls us to love the stranger.  Jews know what it means to be refugees. We need to hold in our hearts people betrayed by their governments.”

The Rev. John Sowers of First Presbyterian said, “We are all created in God’s image and need to be God to one another, to love one another.”

Fr. Brandt Reynolds, SJ, assistant director of GU’s University Ministry, said no one is a stranger:  “For those who left home because of persecution or war, we are to fill our lives with compassion and love so we welcome refugees with open arms and share our abundance as a witness to God’s love.”

Pastor Shon Davis of Jesus Is the Answer called for people to celebrate differences and see them as rich resources.  “We are to build bridges, not walls.  We are to connect, cross over, meet people and unite as one.”

Pastor Alibad Clement of the Seeking Jesus Marshallese Church, prayed in Marshallese.

Mamdouh El Aarag translated for the Imam, praying:  “Guide us to help one another.”

Mark said, “In a time like this we need all leaders to rise up.  This is just the beginning.  Make a difference that will ripple through the city, state, nation and world.”

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