A few updates from Saudi Aurora:
(1) Christele. As you know from our previous post, Christele returned home recently after a month on the run. It was a difficult transition back, involving an extended stay in a lock-down facility until she was permitted to stay with her mom (her step-dad moved out so she could do so). After just one week of school at George Washington High School, Thanksgiving break arrived. Everyone felt it would be for the best if Christele wasn’t sitting home alone all night while her mom was at work or all day while her mom slept. So we invited her to join us for part of her break.
We had a wonderful several days with Christele over her Thanksgiving break. She stayed with us as part of the family and joined in on all the festivities. She smiled, laughed, talked, and played games. She behaved respectfully! Some of us had some concerns about how she might disrupt the family time, but it worked out great. It was a delight to see her in such high spirits as the last several times we’ve seen her, the circumstances (and her attitude) have been less than ideal. We thought maybe she had turned a corner and was getting back to normal again.
To our surprise, Monday at school, the first day back from Thanksgiving break, Christele didn’t attend her final two classes of the day and wasn’t at school when her mom picked her up. No one knew where she was. No one has seen or heard from her since (but she has been on Facebook).
Piecing together information that the school has collected, it sounds like some students saw Christele leaving with a young man who didn’t attend the school. They said that she and this guy boarded the bus that goes to Montbello (N.E. Denver, not the best neighborhood). The school also said she called a phone number from the school telephone, the same one she has called in the past before disappearing.
Christele has been missing all this week. Some of us involved in Christele’s life have been trying to get information as we’re able as well as contacting law enforcement and agency’s that search for young women who are trafficked for prostitution and other purposes. We can’t help but feel helpless, once again. So we press on, and pray on.
That’s about all we know on Christele and we just wanted to pass along the good news along with the bad. Keep her and her family in your thoughts and prayers during yet another difficult period in their lives.
(2) Momma Sahra’s Two Copper Coins. About a week ago, it became clear what we should do with the two copper coins (four crisp $100 bills) that Momma Sahra had given to me as a gift. Our friend Shahab, a single dad of four from Iraq whom we’ve written about before, is in dire straits. He has about $1,400 in reasonable expenses every month. His only income is TANF (social welfare for families with children), but that only amounts to about $650 each month. He has been scraping by with assistance provided by his refugee resettlement agency, some savings, and gifts and loans from community members. He is waiting for an opening with a subsidized housing complex that specializes in single parent households, but he still has a few months to wait most likely. His handicapped son has a pending social security application, but it has a couple months of pending left too. He needed something to help him get through the next couple of months. So there is hope for a better future, but not much hope in the short-term.
Every time we have seen him the past few months, he has expressed his stress and fear for December, his financial deadline of when he would no longer be able to meet his obligations. We’ve been working hard to try to find ways for him to increase his income and decrease his expenses with only marginal success. For instance, we pressed his resettlement agency to place him in forbearance on repaying his travel loan that brought him to America (refugees are given a low-interest loan to pay for their travel to America; so upon landing in America, Shahab was instantly about $6,000 in debt). He will also be receiving federal assistance for his energy bills through a program called LEAP. And we’re continuing to bug the Social Security Administration on his son’s SSI application (because sometimes the loudest complainer is the one who gets dealt with first).
We had also been pleading with his resettlement agency to provide him with some emergency funds to pay his rent (apartment rental prices in Denver are high, he pays about $950 per month for a dingy two bedroom apartment in a low-income neighborhood). They drug their feet and didn’t seem to be giving us much of an answer. So Shahab and his four kids were facing eviction.
If it had been another friend, we wouldn’t have hesitated to give Shahab the money from our own wallets (as many of you showed when you contributed to our friend’s rent last summer), but the resettlement agency that we first volunteered with in meeting Shahab doesn’t want volunteers giving money to the refugees (it’s true, sometimes it can end up hurting more than helping). But this case was different, Shahab needed a stop gap) and we had to do something. So the poor, sick, and practically widowed Momma Sahra stepped in (unbeknownst to her) and made up the difference in Shahab’s rent for December. It was the poor taking care of the poor. Imagine what the world would be like if the rich started taking care of the poor too. I’m not going to get all socialist on you or even Biblical, I’m just saying the resources are there and this world could be a better place. In any case, we had the blessing of getting to walk with another friend from our community through some tough times. There is hope.
The resettlement agency ended up coming through with some emergency funds too, a little too late for his first-of-the-month rent payment, so their funds will go towards helping pay for his January rent. All of a sudden, Shahab can live in peace, knowing his family will have a home for two more months. Now that’s what I call security!
Just a few updates from our community to yours.
Derek & Alicia