Posts Tagged ‘New Americans’

  Story by Julie Pierce.

FBC has brought heaven to earth in many ways. One at the top of the list is its recent work with New Americans, led from 2009 to 2013 by Warren and Julie Pierce. This is the story of their involvement with New Americans. Their challenge to you is: How will you bring the KOH2RVA?

Imagine being expelled from your home. You were expelled because of the language you spoke, the way you dressed or your religious beliefs. The simple truth behind this ethnic cleansing was that the ruling party feared the increasing size and influence of your people group.

Your one hope was to be repatriated. Instead, under pressure from the United Nations, the United States invited you and your family to immigrate.

The immigration process required health screenings, completed forms, orientation classes, and an immediate response whenever the opportunity to move came, even without all your possessions or family and friends. You might have arrived in the middle of the night, knowing no one in your new host country.

New Americans

Photo by Steve Blanchard

This is how the New Americans – they no longer see themselves as refugees! – came to Richmond. While they came from many countries around the world, we worked with those from Bhutan.

These early arrivers were the bold, the adventure seekers, the most adaptable, and the most determined to succeed. They charted the course for those yet to arrive.

As these New Americans began to acculturate, we taught them to drive; instructed them on baking a chicken – not directly on the wire rack, but in a baking dish; introduced them to the potato peeler, the can opener and the blender. They learned that a washing machine will drain on its own – the water does not need to be bailed. All this they embraced with delight and appreciation.

An outing to a dairy farm convinced the elderly that the milk they bought at Walmart was in fact the real thing. In Bhutan, the cows were seen walking down the street, but in America they never saw a real cow until they went to the farm.

They have learned to be careful consumers but have been tested. While visiting a family we noticed magazines about cooking, weight lifting, muscle cars, and celebrities. They had received “free” copies that committed them to a year of overpriced subscriptions. They asked for help and the subscriptions were eventually cancelled. Now they help other New Americans avoid this problem.

While the U.S. government requires a great deal of preparation from immigrants, the assistance it provides is for medical, food and housing needs for only one month. Its expectation is that the sponsoring agency will secure adequate employment to cover all needs after that – a difficult task in the current economy.

First Baptist volunteers partnered with two of Richmond’s sponsoring agencies, Church World Services and Commonwealth Catholic Charities, to collect and distribute all items necessary to furnish a modest apartment. Finding employment was another part of our partnership.

Most started in the hospitality industry until their educational credentials were verified. Several are now teaching and doing research at local universities. Many received their GED, Certified Nurse’s Assistant training, or attended community colleges with scholarships from FBC.

Several years ago FBC member Bob Quisenberry suggested one of the New Americans apply for an opening at the Westwood Racquet Club. While it was clear there was only one position to be filled, it was beneficial for two New Americans looking for work at that time to experience the hiring and interview process. To their surprise both were offered jobs and since then several more have been hired.

Dhan Rimal, a salesman and driver for a large company before arriving in the U.S., has used his employment at Westwood to help his brother acquire his Commercial Driver’s License and a full-time position.

Om Prakash Adhikari

Om Prakash Adhikari and family. Photo by Lindy Keast Rodman, Richmond Times-Dispatch

Om Prakash Adhikari has a business degree from a university in Katmandu, Nepal where he was a banker. He is now responsible for maintaining Westwood’s grounds. Om travelled back to Nepal to dispel the negative rumors that America is a dangerous and difficult place to live. He took a DVD with firsthand accounts from those who have established positive, successful lives here in Richmond.

New Americans are smart and motivated and so happy to be here, even with the challenges. They allowed us to see our world, here in Richmond through the lens of their experience. What a gift their friendship has been to us.

Read related stories: A little more like the kingdom of heaven by Steve Blanchard; Radical hospitality meets everyday opportunities by Carrie Larson;
A day at the beach by Franklin Hamilton.


Julie PierceJulie Pierce has been an FBC member for 23 years. She has taught preschool Sunday school and RAs/Mission Force, chaired the Pre-school and Youth teams, worked with the Divorce Recovery Workshop, and led two pastor search committees. Julie and her husband, Warren, work together at the International Mission Board and serve together at FBC showing Christ’s love to our New American friends.

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By Steve Blanchard. Photos by Steve Blanchard and Susan Brown.

Imagine you’re told without warning to leave your home. No time to do more than fill a bag with whatever possessions you can carry. You walk miles, perhaps hundreds of miles, to find a place that will take you in. This new home will likely be in a camp in another country. There will be all sorts of challenges – shortages of food, healthcare, sanitation, and safety. Or, maybe you are fortunate and find a better place but you know few people; you live in fear and worry about what happened to your friends and family back home.

After a while, you are given the chance to uproot again and move to a more permanent home but the problem is the wait can be long, maybe years. Finally, you are accepted by another country you’ve heard about almost all your life, some things positive, others negative. You gather your few belongings, borrow money from your host country to get there, and then land in a place where everything is foreign – the language, the culture, the people – the whole way of life. Now, it’s time to start your life again.

New AmericansThis is the background for most New Americans. Their old lives, professions, culture, and general way of life have been left behind. They find themselves dependent on the kindness and hospitality of a people they don’t know and of a government they don’t understand. Usually they receive three to six months of assistance from the government and resettlement agencies before they are left to fend for themselves. Imagine the worries, fears, obstacles, and isolation these New Americans feel. They have left familiar places, friends and family; they’ve often given up careers or success in school. Starting over is extremely difficult.

Richmond hosts approximately 300 refugees each year. This doesn’t include the hundreds, maybe thousands, of immigrants and international students who also call Richmond home. These immigrants may have been forced to leave home as well, but they journeyed here on their own accord. International students certainly do not have the challenges refugees and many immigrants deal with, but as immigrants, they may face loneliness, culture shock and homesickness.

New AmericansFirst Baptist, through the Ministry of Christian Compassion, reaches out to these refugees, immigrants and students with the love of Jesus Christ by helping them find not only basic necessities to begin their new lives but also support, friendship and guidance. In some cases, our church may be the only lifeline that an individual or family has or trusts. FBC takes this privilege seriously and encourages others to join us as we express our faith in God by loving the stranger in our land (Leviticus 19:33). And we rejoice in knowing that these are no longer strangers but are now our neighbors and friends.

As we celebrate World Refugee Day on June 20, we acknowledge and pray for the more than 10.2 million refugees worldwide. (This figure from the United Nations Refugee Agency does not include a full accounting of those in exile from recent conflicts in Syria and Africa.) At the same time, we give thanks for our new neighbors who bring their rich cultures and diverse backgrounds to our communities, making Richmond look a little more like the Kingdom of Heaven.

Steve BlanchardSteve Blanchard serves as FBC’s Associate Pastor for Compassion. He has a Master of Divinity from Union Theological Seminary and a Master of Arts in Christian Education from the Presbyterian School of Christian Education, and has served churches in Virginia, North Carolina and Georgia. Steve enjoys traveling and watching sports, especially the Duke Blue Devils. Steve and his wife, Susan, have two daughters, Molly and Menley, who are on top of his list of greatest joys and passions.

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Story and photos by Jeannie Dortch.

FBC’s work with Essex Village began in 2010 when FBC member Sandra Millican began tutoring Than Sein, a Burmese refugee (see It takes two to tutor). When Than and his family moved to Essex Village, he started attending Laburnum Elementary where Sandra continued to help him. As other New Americans, originally from Bhutan, moved to Essex Village, more doors opened and FBC’s ministry there grew.

Essex Village afterschool programThe first time I arrived at Essex Village to tutor at-risk children in the newly-formed afterschool program, I noticed that one of the other tutors was wheelchair-bound with no use of her legs and not much of her arms or hands.

I was mesmerized with her command of the children. She radiated joy, sweetness, care, and knowledge, and the children responded to her with respect and obedience. This volunteer, I learned, is Teresa Jackson, a Title 1 math assistant at Laburnum Elementary. She volunteers in Essex Village’s afterschool program as part of the non-profit Seeds of Promise Outreach Ministries, Inc., started by Ernestine Dockery-Roy, recently retired assistant principal at Laburnum Elementary. With the godly leadership of these two women, the tutoring space has been transformed into a place where children can find safe refuge and feel love’s warmth.

calloutGetting to know Teresa better is something I was determined to do to learn what motivates her to work in such a mentally and physically demanding job. Visiting with her at Laburnum Elementary reinforced the concept that humans are only limited by their thoughts. Teresa whizzed through the corridors in her motorized wheelchair and explained her philosophy of teaching. “I’m not handicapped. I’m disabled, meaning I’m not necessarily able to work like you do, but I am able to get the job done. It may take me a little longer, but the results are the same. I love children and I want to see them succeed, and that can be done in or out of a wheelchair.”

Essex Village has a population of more than 500 children, all living below the poverty level (less than $17,500 for a single parent with two or more children). According to Steve Blanchard, FBC’s Minister of Compassion, “The needs are great, but our partnership with Essex Village is showing promise as a blessing to those who live there, but even more so to the people of FBC.”

Teresa sums it up, “I love to see children brighten up by what they learn. Many of the students in our program come from abusive families, and I want them to know they have teachers who care about them. Some of the kids say, ‘I can’t try no more.’ I tell them, ‘Think can, not can’t. I don’t use the word can’t. Look at me! If I can, you can. I don’t pity you, nor do I want to. I am motivated by you. I want you to find something that motivates you so you too will experience God’s blessing in your lives.’”

Essex Village afterschool programEditor’s note: Seeds of Promise will provide a summer camp from July 8th-August 1st, Monday-Thursday, 9:00-1:00, for elementary school children in Essex Village. The camp will include arts and crafts, outdoor activities, and lunch. In the fall of 2013 a nine week afterschool tutoring session will be held. For information on how to contribute to these opportunities contact Jeannie Dortch or Sandra Millican.

Find a list of ongoing Essex Village Projects at http://fbcrichmond.org/KOH2RVA/projects.htm.

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Story by Franklin Hamilton. Photos by Susan Brown.

Richmond’s First Baptist Church assists in the resettlement of Bhutanese refugees.

calloutI first became involved with Richmond’s Bhutanese American community by helping them with job searches. Their response was always to invite me into their homes for conversation and food, because they so highly value hospitality. That became my impetus to introduce these recent immigrants to more of their new culture.

A Day at the BeachFirst, I invited some of the New Americans to a Thanksgiving dinner at my house. Next we had a day of window shopping, pizza and a movie at the Byrd Theatre in Carytown. Other outings included the Metro Richmond Zoo and Halloween “trick or treating” in Carytown.

Then I thought about my childhood time at the ocean and wanted to share that magical experience with the New Americans. In August, Siyano Prach, FBC’s Refugee Outreach Worker, and I organized our second annual trip to Virginia Beach for more than 40 Bhutanese Americans. While they had encountered many facets of American culture, until last year, none of them had been to the beach.

Although most could not swim, the New Americans mA Day at the Beachade a beeline for the surf. Sellina Limby and Smrit Roi said they “liked the taste of salt on the water foam.” With total joy and abandon, the children body surfed, buried each other in the sand, and made sand castles. Deepan Rimal, Shara Mangar and Bibas Gurung declared the trip “was more fun this year because there were more children” and they had learned to swim since the last trip.

A Day at the BeachThe parents did what all American parents do. They enjoyed the water, watched over their children, sat on the sand and chatted, made sure everyone had enough to eat – fragrant rice, curry chicken and homemade humus and pita bread, and thought about next year’s trip to the beach.

Om Adhikari told me about another kind of trip he is planning. He wants to go back to the refugee camp in Nepal where there are family members afraid to come to America because they don’t understand the culture here. Om plans to tell them about his life and that of others on the beach that day. He wants to give these people courage. Maybe he should tell them about Sangay and Thinley Dorji who thought “we saw a whale and were scared but then they showed us that it was a porpoise and we laughed.” These New Americans have learned that fears are more easily overcome when they’re faced in a community of family and friends.

A Day at the Beach

Editor’s note: If you want to introduce New Americans to a cultural experience, call Franklin to help you get started (938 4264). Find more information on the Bhutanese at http://www.bhutaneserefugees.com/.

See related story: Green, Not Concrete

Franklin Hamilton

Franklin Hamilton is a third-generation member of First Baptist. As a father of five children and grandfather to three he is always active in their lives. He has a passion for the active and contemplative dimension of spiritual development in everyday life. He enjoys reading, and all outdoor activities including sailing on his new “old” sail boat. Franklin is a real estate broker with Hamilton Realty and Development. He and his wife, Linda, live in Carytown in a 110-year-old house with their two teenage daughters and a menagerie of pets.

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