Love, Fear and the War In-between
Indianapolis, IN - Sojourners venture down E. Brookside Ave. seeking long-term placement in Indianapolis. They wander through the doors of Exodus Refugee Services with stories of heartbreak and hope. They are welcomed by a community committed to courage and discipleship for immigrants, despite state government pushback.
Olivia Ortmann’s excitement buzzes through the receiver. She serves as a volunteer English instructor at Exodus. On Monday nights, she drives from her job to Exodus, anxious to hear the stories and see the growth of the students in her class.
Volunteers like Ortmann are provided with lesson plans focusing on life and English skills. Immigrant families are taught how to ask for a bus, how to write an address, fill out paperwork and read labels at a store.
The classes are divided into three levels depending on English proficiency. Ortmann recalls a particular family from Myanmar (Burma) who came to the United States only three to four months prior to attending her English class.
Ortmann spoke with the mother who never received formal education in Myanmar. Beginner classes at Exodus were difficult as she learned to read and write for the first time, learning both skills in a foreign language.
“She was initially pretty quiet and timid,” Ortmann said, “but it was fun to see as our relationship grew, even in simple interactions to see her smile or light up after a while. I saw how education can empower people.”
Recently, she built a friendship with another young refugee woman. The friends laugh over cultural differences and grow through the commonality of empathy. “Immigration is an issue, yes, but immigrants are people” said Ortmann.
Video property of Exodus Refugee Services. I took no part in the creation of this film.
The Rev. Frank Impicciche is priest of St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church, in Indianapolis. Shortly after Impicciche began his service as the priest at St. Matthew’s, the parishes’ interest in Exodus began.
Impicciche heard of Exodus through church parishioner, Sylvia Roibles. During the 1980s, Roibles and several others saw a need for the support of a Cuban immigrant family. The family received aid and Exodus was formed. The organization has held close ties with the Episcopal Church ever since.
As a member of a pastor’s group in Indianapolis, Impicciche met Rev. Robert Heinrich, pastor of Irvington Presbyterian Church. Heinrich told Impicciche about the congregation’s sponsorship of a refugee family of ten, including a grandmother. The family needed a long-term home.
Impicciche turned to a path, winding behind the parish. The path led into a grassy property housing a rectory. The parishioner occupying the property at the time was moving. Impicciche saw the property as an opportunity to help.
He brought the idea to the other parishioners and congregation, unsure of their reaction. They welcomed the idea with overwhelming positivity. Impicciche called Exodus and offered the property to the family.
At that time, the family was already placed elsewhere. However, the vestry is still available for future refugee families.
The Episcopal Diocese of Indianapolis supports the desire of St. Matthew's and other churches in aiding refugees. According to Impicciche, each church that sponsors a refugee family, will receive a $500 grant from an anonymous supporter within the Diocese.
“We can’t do everything,” Impicciche said, “but we can do something.” He began to ask his parish ‘what are the ways?’
As he configured the logistics of making the vestry available for immigrants, he discovered the accountability of Exodus in refugee placement. Warren Township, the location of St. Matthew’s, is an approved location for placement. However, according to Impicciche, refugee families have yet to be placed there. Some conditions for placement include the availability of bus lines and a school corporation with the resources to educate students cross-culturally.
In the long term, Impicciche believes that both the refugee and those giving refuge have something to offer one another. Both have life experiences and share the opportunity for increased diversity and understanding.
“It’s easy to love those we know,” said Impicciche. “It’s harder to love when we know it’s messy. Love doesn't always mean a warm feeling. We are called to care for one another and see with God’s eyes.”
Total Refugees Arriving in Indiana 2012-14
The Rev. Mother Suzanne Willer, priest of All Saint’s Episcopal Church in Indianapolis said, “The refugee crisis, or whatever we’re calling it now is just so terrible and heartbreaking of a situation." The hope for All Saints, according to Willer, is about the question, ‘what can I do’”? The congregation is preparing a welcome team for refugees arriving at the airport.
Exodus continues to evaluate the best solution for long-term refugee placement and community involvement. The organization looks ahead with hope and the determination to speak up and speak out for the voiceless.
"Every day, millions of courageous persons flee their homelands due to unimaginable persecution. They seek refuge and human rights in other places around the world, including Indianapolis, Indiana. Exodus welcomes refugees here to Indiana and offers them a place to call home. We work to arrange housing, food and clothing, case management, as well as education, employment and health services for individuals and families starting out in their new lives." - Statement Property of Exodus Refugee Services