The welcome that Lincoln residents helped arrange for a Kurdish refugee family helps to keep alive an important local tradition.

Lincoln – and the world – needs more people willing to fill the need.

More than 65 million people around the globe are refugees or displaced in their own countries, the largest number since record-keeping started before World War II, the United Nations said earlier this year.

Around the globe there are an unprecedented number of wars, long-running conflicts and natural disasters.

Every refugee has their own story.

Raad Mhmdah and his family were in peril because for two years and two months he worked as a bus driver on a U.S. military base in Iraq, transporting troops between their barracks and the mess hall.

When the Islamic State seized control in part of northern Iraq, Mhmdah knew that his family was in jeopardy. When he learned that his name was on a list of targets at a mosque frequented by Islamic State fighters, Mhmdah knew it was time for his wife, Fadheela, and their five children to flee. “Iraq wasn’t livable any more,” said Fadheela.

The process of attaining refugee status to travel to the United States took months, while the family produced the necessary documents, answered interviewers’ questions and waited for completion of background checks by counterterrorism units, Homeland Security and the FBI.

All that could have been for naught, however, if not for countries willing to provide a new home and volunteers ready to help. In Lincoln, Sara Gilliam, Laurel Maslowski and Gillian Jenkins filled the need. The trio already had seen the plight of refugees in stints volunteering at refugee camps in Greece. This time they were going to help closer to home.

When they learned that Lutheran Family Services would be helping the Mhmdah family, the trio helped find furniture, housewares and other essential items. They found toys for the kids. When the Mhmdah family stepped off the plane after the 15-hour flight from Jordan, they had a place to live, complete with brand-new bunk beds.

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Coincidentally, Pulitzer Prize winning author Sonia Nazario spoke in Lincoln a day after the Mhmdah family arrived. “If a child is in danger and knocking at our door, I believe we should open that door,” she said.

So credit people in Lincoln for answering the knock on the door.

It’s important to note that they believe the benefits flow two ways. “These people will do nothing but enrich our community,” Gilliam said. “They are so eager to get to work and be productive members of the city. She added, “We’ve had nothing but fun and joy in sponsoring a family.”

In 2013 Lincoln was designated as one of the top 10 most welcoming cities in America by the nonprofit Welcoming America organization. It’s people like Gilliam, Jenkins and Maslowski who keep the local support system strong.


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