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Sister Louise Alff and Sister Beth Neiderpruem minister with refugees at VIVE, Inc. in Buffalo, N.Y.

A Modern Day Biblical Journey

Sister Louise Alff says she is on a modern day biblical journey as she ministers with immigrants at VIVE in Buffalo, N.Y., the largest refugee shelter in the U.S. “I meet people who have lost so much. They are forced to leave all, like Abraham, and go to a foreign land.They face so many obstacles,” she explains. I feel like I’m journeying through the Bible with them.”

Sister Louise gives talks in the community to create awareness of the plight of immigrants. “There is such a lack of understanding and a closed mindedness people have about refugees. It’s when they meet them that they get a better understanding,” she explains.

She also coordinates volunteers and strives to meet the spiritual needs of residents, some of whom call VIVE home for an average of two to 12 months while seeking asylum. Individuals seeking refugee status in Canada or the U.S. are in need of help and direction when they come to VIVE. “We help them to find freedom,” she says.

“I’ve always worked in the area of evangelization,” she notes. “It’s more than just bringing people to a deeper faith level. It’s about how we can change the world we live in.” Sister Louise invites VIVE residents to prayer services she offers in the prayer chapel. All are welcome. For those of the Muslin religion, she says that the direction of Mecca is noted in the prayer chapel so they know where to place their prayer rugs.

“There is such an interconnectedness of cultures here,” she says. “There could be 15 different countries represented in the building at any given time. They respect, delight in each other’s success and support one another in pain. This is such an example of the whole Body of Christ.” At the time of this writing, countries represented at VIVE were Kazakhstan, El Salvador, Colombia, Turkey, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.

Language is always a challenge, Sister Louise explains, but most seem to be able to speak some English. However, language doesn’t seem to be a barrier for the children. All the different cultures play together. They don’t understand each other’s words, but that doesn’t seem to hinder them from playing in the doll house, building forts and enjoying each other. “They seem to get the idea of harmony. There is such joy in the children’s faces.
It teaches me a lot.”

Sister Louise easily quotes Chapter 4, Verse 18 of St. Luke’s Gospel which illustrates why that illustrates why she and the staff at VIVE do what they do. “The spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free those who are oppressed.”

Definitions

Often the use of the terms immigrant and refugee are used interchangeably. The following definitions give a clear distinction between the two.

 

Who is an immigrant?
An immigrant is a person who has citizenship in one country but who enters a different country to set up a permanent residence. In order to be an immigrant you must have citizenship in one country, and you must have gone to a different country with the specific intention of living there.

 

What is refugee status?
Refugee status is a form of protection that may be granted to people who have been persecuted or fear they will be persecuted in their own country by the government or a group the government cannot control because of race, religion, nationality, gender, and/or membership in a particular social group or political opinion, and who have fled for safety to another country and are awaiting settlement through the United Nations.

 

What is asylum?
Briefly, asylum is a form of protection that may be granted to people who have been persecuted or fear they will be persecuted by a government agency or an agency that the government cannot control in their own country on account of their race, religion, nationality, gender, and/or membership in a particular social group or political opinion, and who have entered the United States requesting that protection.