Photo/Abigail Welborn

It was the Syria refugee crisis that led, Abigail Welborn of Redmond, Washington to remember her own family's story of resettlement and prompted her to give to MCC.  Abigail is pictured with her husband, Adam and two sons, James (left) and Philip (right). 

When Carrie Bollacker of Covinton, Washington, gives to MCC, it’s personal. She is not just meeting needs of families across the world – but also giving back in thanks for the help MCC gave her family.

Her paternal great-grandparents fled from Russia to a refugee camp in Germany.  In 1930 MCC provided them with safe passage to Paraguay, along with about 6,000 other Mennonites, and helped them begin to rebuild their lives in a new country.  Her paternal grandmother, Tina Wall, was then born in Colony #3.  Her maternal grandparents, Henry and Frieda Reimer, were also assisted by MCC in 1948. Both of her parents were born in Mennonite colonies in Paraguay.

“I’m here because MCC helped my family,” she says. “Without the protection and provision from MCC, my great-grandparents and grandparents wouldn’t have been given the gift of home and safety. I am so grateful for the role that MCC has played in my family’s story, which drives me to give in turn.”

Tina Wall, right, with the help of MCC, her family was able to have a new home and restart their lives in Paraguay after leaving refugee camp in Germany.  Tina is pictured with her son, Friedert Wall, left, and great-granddaughter, Michaela.Photo/Carrie Bollacker

Signing up for monthly giving made the process automatic on her end, and she utilizes her company's matching gift program to double her impact in helping others.

“It’s a way that I can express my gratitude,” she explains. 

As she reads the stories of MCC’s work around the world, she sees the impact MCC has in the lives of those who are in need, especially through its relief work in times of disaster or crisis. “There is something empowering about investing in an organization that so clearly impacts the lives of people who are in need,” she says.

It was the Syria refugee crisis that led another Seattle-area woman, Abigail Welborn of Redmond, Washington, to reflect on her family’s story.

For Welborn, like others around the world, the heartbreaking photo of the body of 3-year-old Syrian refugee Alan Kurdi beside the Mediterranean Sea in September 2015 was a call to action.

“I was just so moved. I had a 3-year-old boy at the time,” Welborn remembered. She wondered, “What can I do? There’s got to be something I can do.”

The answer came from her own family’s story.

Her Mennonite grandmother, Kaethe Kasdorf Warkentin, had fled from Ukraine to Poland in 1943, eventually receiving help from MCC to resettle in Paraguay. There, she met her husband, John Warkentin, a short-term MCC worker from Hillsboro, Kansas. A teacher in Ukraine, she later taught in Paraguay and then at Tabor College in Hillsboro.

Remembering her grandmother’s journeys, Welborn researched MCC’s response to people fleeing conflict in Syria and Iraq and decided to give. “I really wanted to make a difference,” she said. “We can’t all fly to Syria and I know that. I knew MCC was a good organization.”

And there was that personal tie. “I think we often feel a kinship to organizations we have a personal connection with. That’s part of how God uses our stories to motivate what we do.”

As Welborn, who grew up in Michigan, visited her grandmother in Hillsboro, she treasured listening to stories of life on the farm in Ukraine. “It was so foreign to our experience.” But there were parts of the story her grandmother never touched. “She did not talk about the war at all,” Welborn said.

She was shaped by her experiences, though. Welborn remembers hearing how her grandmother would use soup can labels for paper when she was teaching, likely in Poland.

“She was thrifty. She’d use the back of everything,” Welborn said. “She was just appalled by the waste in America. She never wasted anything.” In fact, in 1977, Warkentin helped to start the Hillsboro Et Cetera Shop, a thrift shop that still raises funds for MCC.

Kaethe Kasdorf Warkentin, fled from Ukraine to Poland in 1943, eventually receiving help from MCC to resettle in Paraguay. There, she met her husband, John Warkentin, a short-term MCC worker from Hillsboro, Kansas.  In 1977, Kaethe also helped open Hillsboro Et Cetera Thrift Shop.  Photo/Abigail Welborn

Decades later in Washington, as Welborn read about MCC and the Syrian crisis, she also began to hear more and more backlash and rhetoric against refugees.

“I was like, ‘Wait a minute, you’re talking about me. My mom is first generation,’” she said.

And her grandmother’s story, a story she had known all her life, took on new meaning.

“I started owning it, not just ‘this is a cool story,’” she said.

She felt keenly the difference it has made for her that her grandmother could go to a safe place. “Because somebody was willing to take in these refugees, here’s a whole family that has three more generations,” she said.

And she began to see telling her story as a way for her to help people relate to newcomers today.

“Once you start becoming aware, you start seeing all the things you can do,” she said. “It’s not just my story. It’s a story that can make a difference.”

Welborn, who has two boys, now ages 3 and 5, continues to look for ways she can share her story to talk about the importance of welcoming refugees and to give to help refugees.

“I think once you start caring, you can’t go back,” she said.