by Sylvia Garcia Urrutia
This article originally appeared in the May 2018 Visitor and was re-published with permission.
Hannah Koilpillai fondly remembers when, as a child, she came to the U.S. as an immigrant and treasures the woman who helped her family adjust to living here. “She acclimated us to our new environment [and] treated us as one of her family members,” she says. “Because of the positive experience I had and the love my family was shown, it made it so much easier to live in a new country.”
Koilpillai, a member of the Potomac Conference’s Sligo church in Takoma Park, Md., says she understands what refugees go through when coming to a new country, and wants to pay forward the help her family received when they arrived. When a friend told her about a group that was helping to resettle refugees, she immediately wanted to get involved.
Several Mondays a month, Koilpillai joins a volunteer group from the National Community church in Washington, D.C., as they help set up apartments for incoming refugees. Prior to a refugee family’s arrival, she goes to their empty apartment and transforms it into a welcoming home. “We make sure that the apartments are fully furnished and ready for the refugees to move in,” she says. “In order to do this, we, the volunteers, collect or donate items that are necessary to furnish the apartment.”
Koilpillai realizes that this refugee ministry goes beyond the convenience of having furniture to sit on and plates to eat from. “They feel welcomed. They see the love and care that has been put into making it a warm and comfortable place they can call home. We even hang pictures on the walls and try to make it personal. When you are leaving your roots and coming to a new country, especially when you are not sure if you are welcomed because of the country you are coming from, [you might have] reservations on how people will perceive your presence in their country. [But] then seeing how inviting and warm the home has been set up just for them removes all those thoughts.”