Suleiman was a highly-educated man. Aa a college professor, he taught classes on Iraqi history in Baghdad, Libya, and even England. Now in his early 70s, a stroke left him confined to a wheelchair. After he and his wife fled the bombing in Baghdad, they ended up in a small apartment in Beaverton, which they shared with their son, his wife, and their two young children. Suleiman spent his days inside the apartment, either watching TV or staring at the rain outside.

In Suleiman’s own words, taking ESL classes through Friends of Refugees changed his life. A volunteer would pick up Suleiman and his wife and take them to ESL classes three times a week, helping them to the car and putting Suleiman’s wheelchair in the trunk. When he’d arrive, one of his new friends would come out and greet him, help him into his wheelchair, and wheel him to the classroom. Although he could already speak English, ESL classes met several of Suleiman’s needs. His English needed updating and refreshing. The classes gave him interaction with people and got him out of the apartment. Most importantly, they gave him a community of friends. Suleiman went from struggling with depression to being an active class participant. Retired Christian men have become his friends, visit him in his home, and take him out for coffee.

Haneen didn’t think she could take English classes. She was pregnant when she arrived in Oregon with her husband and three young children. She settled in as best she could, and the five of them shared a two-bedroom apartment where she spent her days. Haneen spent three years in that small apartment, cooking and cleaning, relying entirely on her husband’s limited English to translate her confusing, new world. She couldn’t help her children with homework or talk to their teachers.

When Haneen learned about the Friends of Refugees ESL classes, and how they offer childcare, she begged to join even though it was mid-term. She was so excited to leave her baby and toddler in the nursery and have a few hours to concentrate on learning English. And she has proven to be a faithful and hard-working student!

Friends of Refugees is a faith-based non-profit that reaches out to the Middle Eastern refugee community in the Portland area, primarily Iraqis and Syrians. Their volunteers serve in a variety of ways, providing ESL classes, childcare, homework help, driving lessons, and most importantly, genuine friendships. These opportunities allow Christians to share Jesus’ love with their Muslim neighbors in practical ways.