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Closure with the Antakli Family

By Mary Ellen Peacock, a participant of the Co-Sponsor Team


On Tuesday afternoon, November 17, members of the resettlement team met with Lee Welch of KRM and the Antakli family to bring our three-month formal commitment for co-sponsorship to a close. It was fun to review all the progress this young family has made on their road to self-sufficiency. The parents, Shadi (father) and Hanadi (mother), are attending ESL classes regularly and are making excellent progress with their English. Ten-year-old Hasan and five-year-old Tuqa are enrolled in school and doing well. The children are very handsome and well mannered, and while Hasan went around and shook hands with everyone, Tuqa shook a couple of hands and then shyly waved!


Shadi completed the process of getting his Kentucky driver’s license. He passed the written exam in Arabic and practiced with church members for the driving test. Through the generosity of a church family, a used car was donated to KRM for the family as well. When asked what the biggest challenge of resettlement was, Hanadi immediately said, “The bus!” Despite the day-to-day difficulties, the family has established their routines and learned their way around the neighborhood. They can do their own grocery shopping and make sure the children get to school. They have made friends in the Syrian community. In November, the Antakli family hosted an evening meal for members of the Highland resettlement team, an event that was greatly enjoyed by all those who attended. In December, Shadi was hired to work at Anderson Wood. As a carpenter, Shadi can use his skill and trade in his first job in the United States.


Lee Welch emphasized that KRM will be available for any services that are still needed for the next five years. However, the family seems to be well on their way to independence and self-sufficiency. Several team members will continue their connections in a more informal way. Judy Stubbs has given invaluable aid with her twice-weekly tutoring sessions with the family, and others have provided transportation, playtime and learning with the children, and information about resources. It has been a joyous experience for all involved, and a welcome antidote to the negative media attention to “dangers” of resettlement of Syrian refugees. The Antaklis are aware of the fear-based messages in the news, and they wanted to assure everyone that “Syrians are good people!” We hope we can ease their way into their new life by continuing to make them feel welcome and secure in their new home.


Editor’s Note: A special thank you goes to the many hands that allowed Highland to support the Antakli’s. Many people offered support, but these individuals provided a high level of commitment during our co-sponsorship: Terry Fontenot, Mary Ellen Peacock, Eric and Julie Hansen, Tracy Morrison, Judy Stubbs, Dean Adams, Kathy Reed, Steven Holmes, Stephanie Letson, and Mary Ellen Harned.

Christmas Greetings from Nicaragua

Highland Presbyterian Church received Christmas greetings from the Sundberg family. Justin and Renee Sundberg are Presbyterian Church (USA) Mission Co-Workers who serve in Nicaragua with CEPAD (The Council of Protestant Church’s in Nicaragua). Our Nicaragua Mission team works with them for communication, support, and mission trips to visit with our partner community in Mirazul del Llano, Nicaragua. 

Much of the wonder of the holiday season is juxtaposition.  A warm thermos of cocoa savored in the frosty chill of a winter night.  The brilliance of tiny twinkling lights against a midnight sky.  A crying child on the lap of a jovial Santa.

During our first Christmas in Nicaragua we were struck by the contrast of the Christmas Eve we were used to and our new southern experience.  In the past we would go to a candlelight service at our church, climaxing in the singing of Silent Night.  In Nicaragua there is no hushed entrance of Christmas morning.  At midnight you hear a solid stream of fireworks that would rival the loudest July 4 in the states.  It is quite a contrast.  And yet the birth of Jesus was not only a quiet and humble event, witnessed by some livestock, but it was celebrated by a raucous and majestic chorus of angels filling a night sky.  Beautiful juxtaposition.

We see beautiful contrasts around us all the time.  A woman sweeping her dirt floor with care.  Torrential rain hitting ground that has been parched for months.  The hands of those who have little in material wealth linked in friendship with those who are almost always able to get not only what they need, but what they want.

We want to offer our deep gratitude for you as we bear witness to and participate in what is happening here.  For your friendship, your prayers, your financial support and all you do that allows us to be in a land of riches and poverty, hope and despair, joy and pain.  Know that you play a key role in bearing light to this part of the world. 

With our love,

Justin, Renée, Autumn, Jack, Cassie and Ethan

Christmas 2015


Mission Spotlight: Highlands Community Ministries

By Jim Crowley, Chair of Church in the World


Highlands Community Ministries (HCM) serves residents of zip codes 40204 and 40205 and is a member of the Association of Community Ministries. Supported in part by 24 local churches, including HPC, they deliver a variety of programs to our neighbors including: Individual and Family Assistance Programs (15% funded by local churches and 35% by metro-government), Adult Day Care and Health Center services, Senior Services, Children’s Day Care. HCM’s 2014 expenses were $3.14M.


HCM is the second largest recipient of our benevolences, behind the Mid-Kentucky Presbytery and in 2015 the Session hcm sign highlands community ministriesapproved giving HCM $22,000 (unchanged from the previous year). Highland Pres also collaborates with HCM in a
number of areas in addition to the annual Thanksgiving Basket food drives and the Angel Tree initiatives and many individuals who come to the church seeking assistance are directed to HCM. While many other community ministry programs throughout Louisville have disappeared in recent years, HCM continues to survive and thrive and that perhaps may be due to the ongoing commitment of HPC and other local churches.


Hunger remains a serious issue nationally and right here in Jefferson county and our own neighborhood. Based on a 2013 report by Feeding America, 17.2% of people living in Jefferson County (128,380) were considered “food insecure”. This feeding america logocompares to 15.8% nationally and 16.4% for the state of Kentucky. Feeding America defines “food insecurity” as the “[a] measure of lack of access, at times, to enough food for an active, healthy life for all household members and limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate foods. Food insecure households are not necessarily food insecure all the time. Food insecurity may reflect a household’s need to make trade-offs between important basic needs, such as housing or medical bills, and purchasing nutritionally adequate foods.” While poverty and food insecurity are highly correlated, research has also shown that unemployment, rather than just poverty level, is a better predictor of food scarcity.


Dare-to-Care is the local Feeding America affiliate in Louisville and runs the Portland Avenue Community Trust food bank and to which HPC is a regular contributor. Dare-to-Care provides further statistics around hunger and food scarcity in our immediate community. Of those seeking assistance through community food banks:

  • 75% live in poverty
  • 35% were employed during part of the last year
  • 65% of households have a member with high blood pressure
  • 41% of households have a member with diabetes
  • 64% of households have unpaid medical bills
  • 91% purchased inexpensive unhealthy food in order to feed their family Not surprisingly, this same population tends to have health issues that can be associated with limited access to enough and high quality food


Is there more Highland can be doing? Are their new ways Highland can be involved? Let your Church in the World Committee know if you have suggestions.

Presbyterian congregation creates a home for Syrian refugees

Family finds sanctuary with a Louisville church and the resettlement agency it helped found.

OCTOBER 2, 2015

Newly arrived Syrian refugees, Shadi and Hanadi Antakli with daughter Tuqa and son Hasan, at their Louisville home.

Newly arrived Syrian refugees, Shadi and Hanadi Antakli with daughter Tuqa and son Hasan, at their Louisville home.

Presbyterian News Service – LOUISVILLE

At a time when many countries are closing their borders to refugees fleeing war in Syria, one Presbyterian congregation in Kentucky has opened its doors, offering a home—and a chance at a future—to a Syrian family.


On Aug. 20, members of Highland Presbyterian Church gathered at the Louisville airport to greet the newest refugees to arrive in the area, Shadi and Hanadi Antakli and their five-year-old daughter Tuqa and 10-year-old son Hasan. After piling into cars, the volunteers drove the Antaklis to their new house.


When they arrived, the doors of their new home were open, and the lights were on. Inside, more volunteers waited to greet the Antaklis. The pantries were stocked. Food from their homeland was cooking on the stove. And warm beds were waiting.


“It’s a slightly surreal experience to think that you’re offering this place for a family to live that is entirely unknown to them,” says Matt Nickel, Highland’s associate pastor for congregational life and mission. “They don’t know what it looks like, how it feels. It’s not home yet. But soon it will be.”


At the time, it had been more than two years since the Antaklis fled their home in Aleppo, Syria, in 2013. When Aleppo’s schools closed and medical services became hard to find, the Antaklis decided it was time to leave. “At the moment we felt our children [were] unsafe . . . [we] had to leave the country,” Shadi told a reporter from WAVE 3 News.


For the next few years, the Antaklis shared a small, crowded apartment in Istanbul, Turkey, with three other families. Cost of living was high, and survival was day to day. Finally, after a long process with the United Nations and Church World Service, the Antaklis boarded a plane to the United States to connect with Kentucky Refugee Ministries (KRM).


KRM, which houses its Louisville office at Highland Presbyterian, helps resettle refugees who have been legally admitted to the United States as victims of warfare or persecution. Though now a fully independent non-profit organization, KRM is supported with volunteers and funding from Highland Presbyterian, as well as from many other faith communities and organizations in the area. KRM traces its founding back to Highland when, in 1990, congregation member Donna Craig felt a call—after traveling to Nicaragua and witnessing the partly U.S.-sponsored violence there—to help people escaping dangerous places.


Now, 25 years later, KRM is resettling more than 1,000 people each year, says Cynthia Campbell, a board member of KRM and the pastor of Highland Presbyterian. “The main work is done by KRM staff as social workers, lawyers, and others help families register for school and government benefits, figure out vaccinations and medical care, enroll in ESL, and find employment,” she says. “What the church does is build a team of volunteers to help in the early days of a family’s resettlement, which includes putting together the initial household items such as furniture, cleaning supplies, food . . . really, everything needed so that a family walks into a house that is ready to go.”


Highland sponsors a family each year, and this year they wanted to support a Syrian family. They heard about the violence that began sweeping Syria in 2011, eventually leaving more than 200,000 people dead and 7.6 million displaced from their homes.


After spending two months preparing for the Antaklis’ arrival, the team of more than 15 volunteers is now helping the family adjust and access resources, such as the local community center and a class at Highland that teaches refugee women how to use an electric sewing machine. They take the parents to a halal grocery store and job interviews while others walk their kids to the school bus. The goal is eventual independence. “We don’t do anything they won’t be able to sustain on their own,” says Nickel.


Volunteers also drop by regularly throughout the week. “I don’t know much Arabic, but I do know shukran, ‘thank you,’ and the family is constantly saying that,” says Nickel. “They’re always bringing us water, juice or coffee when we visit. There’s a real kind of hospitality when you go over to their house.”


It’s those relationships that sustain the volunteers over many years, Nickel says. “Here’s a family who has lived through extraordinary circumstances and come to the United States with open hearts and so much to contribute to our community. . . . I guess they change us in a way too.”


“Hospitality is at the heart of the Gospel,” Campbell says, and apparently it’s at the heart of refugee ministry too. “We are all welcomed by the love of God, each one of us. And the obvious response to the gift we have been given is to share that same gift with others.”


That theology of hospitality rings true for Nickel. “There’s of course the call in Scripture to support and welcome the stranger. That’s the ‘head’ part of it, knowing it’s a good thing to do,” he says. “But for my personal faith, it’s knowing that I have received amazing gifts of safety, well-being, and support from my church communities my whole life, and sharing that with others is a way I can proffer my own gratitude for the life that God has given me.”

The bigger picture

Members of Highland Presbyterian know there are millions of other families in need of help. “To help just one seems like so little,” says Campbell. “But it’s something.” And that “something” is part of a much larger effort orchestrated not only by KRM but also by Presbyterian World Mission.


“The work we do is similar in that it is meeting the needs of God’s precious children,” says Greg Allen-Pickett, World Mission’s general manager. World Mission, he adds, though, has a different focus than KRM. “Our desire is to change the conditions so that people don’t have to become refugees, so that families never have to separate or leave their home.”


That’s why World Mission is partnering with the National Evangelical Synod of Syria and Lebanon to create a safe and thriving Syria. With the help of the newly formed Syria-Lebanon Partnership Network, U.S. Presbyterians are teaming up with Christian partners in the area to rebuild houses and schools, organize major relief appeals, and advocate for change through the Presbyterian Ministry at the United Nations.


All of these efforts, from creating a home for the Antaklis to putting pressure on Congress, are part of one “faithful continuum,” says Allen-Pickett. “Our call as Christians is to work along that spectrum, whether it means filling a fridge with groceries or empowering partners to change conditions or advocating for policy changes.”


Every action, no matter its scope, matters, says Nickel, as long we as Christians remember the One who is the true author of this generosity and don’t give up when the media coverage dies down. “My hope is that we will be inspired to live our faith by welcoming refugees and that this won’t end when the Syrian crisis ends,” he says. “KRM has been doing this a long time and will be doing this long after.”


Click here to read Stated Clerk Gradye Parsons’s letter urging prayer and recommitment to refugees.


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