Our Stories – Opportunity
After war and conflict broke out in my home country, due to deep rooted tribe conflicts, I fled the country. After many years of waiting for peace in Tanzania, I boarded a flight to USA in 2015. I am happy to join with the American community to work powerfully to assist my family and to rebuild in our new country. I am learning to make my future and to perform a great work for my country. Even with all the changes for a new comer, I have been asked to join this Knoxville Refugee Leadership Community to work hard, help tell our stories, and help the government and our community understand our struggle so we may have an easy future together. Thank you for taking time to listen.
God’s Call For Me – Cindy Hood
God’s call for me – for my family to minister to the internationals in the Norwood community began back in 2005. Central Baptist Bearden and my Sunday School were approached by Bridge Refugee Services to welcome ONE family to Knoxville as their sponsor. This task included renting and preparing an apartment for the family; meeting them at the airport and transporting them to their new home where a meal waited; driving them to all their necessary appointments; helping them find employment and enrolling the children in school. As I began to prepare for this undertaking, God broke my heart for the plight of refugees around the world and sadly the hardships they then experience in America.
First, we found an apartment in the appropriate price range in the Norwood community off Merchants Road. I could not help but notice the super-diversity of the apartments. It seemed that all the peoples of the world were present on the parking lot and playground. My Turkish friends arrived in March of 2006 and we were instant friends even like family.
Next, I vividly remember taking the 7-year old daughter to her first day of school at Norwood Elementary and then the son to Kindergarten Roundup soon after. I was so concerned as I explained to a school staff member that they spoke NO ENGLISH. I was patted on the back and told that the teachers were used to it and they would be fine. I vowed right then to serve that school someday.
That Fall, my life drastically changed when my daughter, Anna, was born. Central Baptist Bearden continued to help as two more brothers resettled in Knoxville which included 4 adults and 7 children. Then the original family added a new baby boy! I continued to stay in contact with phone calls and visits for the next several years. When Anna started school, the burden for the Norwood community resurfaced in my heart. I experienced the abundance of parent involvement in West Knoxville schools and I remembered Norwood Elementary. The older children were thriving at Northwest Middle School and planning for college while the little boy was eager to start Kindergarten at Norwood Elementary.
What I did NOT know was Knoxville Internationals Network (KIN) had been formed in 2010 with the mission to encourage the Body of Christ to work together to love the internationals in Knoxville. Nor that the KIN office is located in the Central Bearden Ministry Center nor that there was a weekly prayer meeting asking God to call workers to the Norwood community.
In 2014, as soon as I heard about Central Bearden’s VBS in the City, I jumped at the chance to direct a team to go to Norwood Manor’s playground. That VBS was held two consecutive summers. During that first week, I shared my burden for Norwood Elementary with one of the helpers from another church and she promptly gave me the name of the volunteer coordinator at the school.
Starting that Fall, I went one morning a week for the entire school year for the next two years to cut out shapes, staple papers, decorate the classroom door, and love on the teachers and the children in the classroom. I found that many days, I was the only “parent” to come to volunteer that the entire week. Many of the Norwood parents work long hours or multiple jobs to survive. Often the refugee mothers are the last in the family to learn English and do not have the confidence to answer the phone little lone to volunteer at school.
Norwood Elementary has over 100 children from 21 countries speaking 15 languages. You may not have realized the diversity or super diversity of Knoxville with over 30,000 immigrants living here. We need not travel around the globe to experience the peoples of the world. Local Internationals are on our doorstep and eager to make America friends.
In July of 2015, I attended a conference in the Atlanta area to network with others from all over the US that are ministering to refugees. I signed up for a vision tour of Clarkston, GA and my eyes were opened wide to new possibilities. God spoke to me to sell our house in West Knoxville and move to the Norwood area. God also spoke to my husband, Brad, through a patient at UTMC to relocate too. So we put our house on the market and moved to the Norwood community in April of 2016. I am now involved in the schools as a parent and the community as a home owner and neighbor.
In place of a week of VBS, we partnered with Norwood UMC to host Summer English Camp for families for 6 consecutive Wednesday nights over the summer. Fall 2016, Norwood Elementary as a Community School agreed to host an ESL class for Mothers and Preschoolers. The goal is to build community with the women and prepare the children for school. This will empower the moms to be involved at Norwood Elementary and give confidence with English. The children would also be more prepared to leave mom and to succeed in Kindergarten and beyond.
There is also a great need for coed ESL evening classes for parents and afterschool tutoring for the children. In addition to ESL, we would love to schedule workshops on topics such as money management, women’s health, infant care, cooking, gardening, insurance, computer skills, the list can keep growing depending on the interest and the expertise of the volunteers!
If God is speaking to your heart, please respond today!