Monday, February 1, 2010

Freedom House

I have an amazing job. I work for a faith based, humanitarian relief organization called Samaritan's Feet International. Basically we provide shoes to children and adults in need all over the world. About 70% of the work that we do is in Africa, which of course is AWESOME. The cool thing about what we do though is that we don't just pass out shoes to people. We wash their feet before we give them their new pair of shoes, and we spend a few minutes praying and talking with each person/child. It truly is one of the most unique experiences to be involved in one of our shoe distributions.
This past weekend I had the opportunity to coordinate a distribution in the Detroit, MI area. Recently we've been working alot with the Detroit Pistons, they have been so great to work with and several times the players have actually even come to wash the feet of those receiving shoes. This time we were doing a distribution at The Palace, which is where the Pistons play. We were going to be distributing shoes to about 100 children, mostly boys who lived in a children's home or were living in foster care. This distribution was actually pretty small compared to what we generally do. So, since we were only taking about 100 pairs of shoes this time. I thought I would try to find another organization that we could distribute to. I started thinking of some different organizations that I could call. I called a few more children's homes to see if they might be able to come to The Palace, I wanted to try to find some younger kids, but we really didn't have much notice that we were even going to be doing this event. So most of the places that I called weren't going to be able to do it, because of such short notice and I also found out that younger children really don't live in group homes, most are out in foster care. Again since this was such late notice we wanted to be able to have a group come all at one time. There was no way we would be able to contact individual families like we usually do. Generally we'll work through an agency and they will help us contact families that are in need, but it wasn't going to work that way this time. So anyway, I knew that Detroit was an area where sometimes, refugees are resettled. I started doing some research and actually found a residential facility for refugees who are seeking asylum in the United States. I did more research and found out that Freedom House was actually the only place like this in the country, and it happened to be in Detroit. So I called and spoke with the Director, told her who I was, and that we would like for them to come to The Palace so that we could give them shoes. She thanked me, but explained that it wouldn't be possible for them to take all of their residents to another location. For many of them, their status here in the US wouldn't not allow for them to even leave their main location. They wouldn't be able to have their pictures taken, and of course the media was going to be there for this distribution. Many are basically in hiding. They have all been persecuted for some reason, for many it's because of their faith, others it's for political reasons. All have been tortured in some way, most of the women AND the men have been raped. It's unthinkable to us what these people have been through. So anyway, she and I talked a little bit more and I told her about what I do as a volunteer for the refugee families here in Indy, and how each one of them are so special to me. I told her that I would see what I could do, and maybe since we were already going to be in the area, we could just come to The Freedom House and do a distribution there with the residents. So, in a sad voice with tearful eyes, I went to my boss and asked him if I could set up another small distribution at Freedom House. He pretty much knows not to say "no" to me when it involves refugees or orphans. He's great by the way, and said to go for it. He said we could plan to go by there before we did the distribution at The Palace. So I called the director again, and told her the plan, and asked if that would be ok. She started crying over the phone. She said it has been so difficult to provide financially for everyone at Freedom House. They are not a government organization, which means they don't receive any type of funding from the government, they rely solely on donations or grants. And because so many of these people are waiting on the proper documentation regarding their status here in the US, they are legal to be here in the US, but they're not legally able to work yet until they receive their I-94. Freedom House provides for them in every way until that happens. Deb, the director, couldn't believe that we were going to be able to come.
So, early Friday morning we headed out of Indy. We got to Detroit around 1 or so. We got everything unloaded and got the foot washing stations set up. All along we thought there were going to be some volunteers from Freedom House that would be able to help us out with the foot washing, but it ended up just being the 4 of us from our organization plus Deb from Freedom House. Anyway, we got to work...I didn't actually get to wash feet this time because we needed someone to run back and forth getting the correct sizes of shoes for every one. All I know though is that there were alot of tears as feet were being washed. Just as many tears from our group as their were from those at Freedom House. One woman in particular who was from Rwanda sat down and one of our people asked what they could pray about with her. She was already in tears and said that she was just so humbled by the fact that we were even there. That she didn't want someone to have to bend down and wash her feet, that she should be the one washing our feet. After a few minutes of praying and talking though, she allowed for her feet to be washed. She has obviously been through something horrible, and I found out later that she has had to leave two young children behind. I don't know for what reason, and I don't know her whole story but my heart ached for her, and I just wanted to comfort her, to make her feel better. She's safe here now, but for these people I still feel so much pain for them.
It took us about two hours to wash the feet of 53 people, but the time went by so fast. I didn't want to leave...I wish I could have stayed all weekend. But when we were finished and everyone had helped us pack up everything. We went back inside because they wanted to tell us thank you, and they had a song they wanted to sing for us. They made the 4 of us stand in a circle, and then they surrounded us in another circle. They gave us the words to the song which talked about Freedom House, and how God has blessed this house and allowed these people to find freedom here in the US. I obviously was in tears, as was everyone else. Then they each wanted to pray for us. So they said a prayer in their own language as they surrounded us in the circle. Then each and every single one of them gave each of us a hug. And you know when you get a hug that is forced, there's not much feeling behind it, and there's wiggly arms and a loose wrap around your back. These hugs were not that way at all, every single one was sincere and they were truly thankful and overjoyed that we were there. OK...they were thankful, but I was the one that should have been thankful. Honestly this was one of the best experiences I've ever had. I couldn't believe that I was there, that I was in the presence of these wonderful people. It was a true honor to be able to serve them, to be there for just the few hours that we were. I've said this before about the families that I serve here in Indy, but I have never felt so welcomed in all my life. And what a strong bond that was developed so quickly...I was in awe! I don't even have the words to describe how I felt, and also just how broken I was all at the same time. I was thankful to be there, and I had been looking forward to going ever since it was planned. If you would have asked me, even two years ago I never could have guessed that I would be in the position that I am now. That God would have chosen me to be at the Freedom House meeting all of these people. He put me in that position and He knew even before He created me that on that day I would be standing in an old church hall, downtown Detroit with 53 people from 12 different countries all praying in different languages praising God for their new freedom. It's such a humbling though, I can't wrap my mind around it fully. My heart was so filled by the time we left that afternoon with such joy and thanksgiving to the people at Freedom House, but mostly to God for giving me such an amazing opportunity. I had and still have so many questions about each of these people, and their lives before they made it to the US, and just exactly what they went through to actually get here. I read an article about Freedom House in some of my research, it was an article from the Detroit Metro Times that was written in September of 09, this is what it said:

They come from the hellholes of the earth, from the torture cells of the former Yugoslavia, the military prisons of South America and the killing fields of sub-Saharan Africa. Usually tortured, with family members murdered, they show up on the doorstep of the century-old former convent they call Freedom House.

They have risked their lives to get to the address they have carried halfway around the world, scrawled on a sheet of paper or painstakingly memorized.

All of the people that I met were from Sub-Sahara Africa except for one woman from Colombia and one from Guatamala. I found out while we were there that every single person at Freedom House right now has left behind a family, a husband or wife and many had to leave their children without knowing if they will ever see them again. I don't know their situation and why they had to leave, but I'm sure it was a heart wrenching decision for each person. It's something that we will never have to ponder probably during our lifetime. We live in a country where we have the freedom to worship God, and to vote for the President of our country. These people want that freedom and they obviously have expressed their desire for that freedom, only to be tortured or raped and in most circumstances they're killed...the majority of those in situations like this don't even make it to the US. God is begging us though to be his hands and feet and to take care of those that have made it here. And for those of us that feel like we're being called to take it even a step further...if you feel like God is telling you or pulling your heart towards one of these countries...GO, please GO and help these people. Don't dismiss those feelings when your heart breaks hearing about stories like this. Find out more, pursue more ask God to show you what you can do to help.
I almost forgot another really cool part of this story. So, as we were making the plans for Freedom House I asked the director what some of their other needs were. We were bringing the shoes, but were there other specific needs. I get donations all of the time for the families here, and I thought if I had some things I could take them with me. She told me though that their greatest need was for toiletry items, like toothpaste and shampoo, lotion...those kinds of things. So I sent an email to our small group and close friends and family asking for donations to be able to take with us. The response was absolutely overwhelming...I couldn't believe it!! I had countless bags of toiletry items that people dropped off, and on top of that cash donations that I used to be able to purchase even more. By the time we left Friday morning, and thank goodness there was a large truck taking all of the shoes and supplies because my car was absolutely full of toiletry donations...I couldn't have fit anything else inside. AWESOME!! So, I didn't tell them that we had collected all of those donations, I wanted it to be suprise and boy were they suprised. They couldn't believe that people in Indiana had heard about them and actually donated these things to them. The director again was in tears, she couldn't believe it either. She said it was such a huge blessing to them. So thank you so much to everyone who made that possible. I wish you all could have been there so that you could see their faces. It was an honor though to be able to represent everyone who gave, so thank you again and especially thank you to my awesome husband who helped sort all of the donations and allowed me to go on this trip, he supports me in all of my endeavors even when I can get a little wrapped up in them sometimes.
I hope to have some pictures maybe tomorrow. We weren't allowed to take any, but there was a photographer there who volunteers his time to documents things that happen at Freedom House. Because of the status of most of the residents we are not able to receive any pictures that show the faces of the residents, but he did take others that he'll be able to send me, so you'll get a general idea of what happened that day.
If you get a chance, please check out the Freedom House website. They can't share much information, but there is a great article you can read and just some other general information.
I will be back in Detroit the end of this month, and will be staying at Freedom House Feb. 26th-28th. I can't wait to sit down and talk and share a meal with everyone that I met. I have no idea what the agenda will look like, I just can't wait though to spend more time with everyone. I'll hopefully get some of my questions answered and will post more soon!


  1. Whitney, I haven't been to your blog in a while, but I was so blessed and touched by reading it today! It is amazing to see how God continues to use you and your heart to minister to those from other countries right here in America :-) I am so glad you shared this story and I long to also be able to serve the least of these on some capacity! Love you guys and hope you are well!

  2. Your job is AMAZING!! What a great ministry! It was so good to meet you tonight and I can't wait to watch your story unfold! Praying for you!