The Hands of God

By: Lisa Casterella
Freelance Writer

During this time of Covid-19, a face mask cannot cover up a warm smile, especially when that smile belongs to Raymond McCammon, a parishioner and volunteer usher at St James Cathedral. When I meet Raymond for the first time at the Pastoral Outreach Center, a plastic partition separates us as we sit across from each other at a long table. A cold breeze flows through the room from the open door as we sit on chilly metal chairs, all part of the protocol to keep everyone safe. Interestingly, as Raymond speaks, the cold dissipates.

I learn that as a boy of five years of age, while still in his native Guyana, Raymond developed cataracts. Surgery rendered him completely blind (dull instruments were to blame). More surgeries would take place with modest gains. His family supported and cared for him but growing up visually impaired offered very few opportunities in Guyana, a country where 40% of the population lives below the poverty level, violent crime is rampant, and the suicide rate is one of the highest in the world. Raymond would spend much of his time alone and isolated, unable to go out without assistance.

When his mother and sister relocated to the U.S., Raymond eventually followed, after going through the necessary legal channels. All in all, this would take seventeen years.

Arriving in Seattle, several doctors told Raymond that nothing could be done to recover his sight, except for one – an ophthalmologist at Harborview. Lens were placed in his eyes and he now can see light and dark, doors, walls, and reads with the help of magnifiers and enlargers. This procedure was nothing short of a miracle for Raymond.

He states, "I felt the hands of God taking control of everything."

While living with his family in Kent and visiting his doctors at Harborview, Raymond felt drawn to St James. Despite the distance, Raymond showed up each Sunday.

"St James felt so different, it felt like Heaven," he says enthusiastically.

Each week, he would come back via Access Transport. One Sunday, a reader introduced herself and gave Raymond information regarding Immigration Assistance through the St James Cathedral Ministry. Over the course of two years, Immigration Assistance would help with the application process for U.S. Citizenship, which includes gathering history and immigration files, preparing and submitting the citizenship applications, tutoring, and practice interviews for his in-person evaluation by U.S. Immigration.

Sayuko Setvik, a Tutor Coordinator, as well as a number of SJ volunteers helped Raymond prepare for his citizenship interview by reviewing the application questions with him, helping strengthen his reading and writing skills, as well as studying the 100 US history and civics questions. Additionally, Legal Services Coordinator, Patrick Suhrbier, assisted Raymond with completing his applications, prepping for his in-person interview, and representing him in front of Immigration.

Raymond considers himself a very fortunate man stating, "The bad times are behind me. God has blessed me."

He continues, "I want to be the best that I can be. The sky is the limit."

Raymond keeps very busy. He now has an apartment near St James and is working at Lighthouse for the Blind. Immigration Assistance is helping him update his Social Security and his application for a US Passport.

In addition, he just registered to vote and says beaming from beneath the mask, "I'm proud to be a United States citizen."



My name is Farid Deberdeev, I came from Russia. I lived in Saint Petersburg and worked in different organizations as a software (design) engineer.

After I retired, my girlfriend (she immigrated to the US earlier) and I decided to get married and live together in the US. I got my fiancé visa and permanent residence and started to look for a job. I really wanted to plan my life in the USA, but I didn’t really hope (expect?) that I could continue my profession.

When I arrived in Seattle in 2015, I found out that despite the fact that I have a Bachelor of science and mathematics degrees from university and a lot of experience in this field, I could not work in my specialty field because of my limited knowledge of English.

I went to the Shoreline Community College where I started to study English as Second Language and was a volunteer in Computer Lab of this college.

My girlfriend was already a US citizen by that time. She participated in the St. James Immigrant Assistance Program, and she invited me to join in the Elder Integration Project. Getting involved in this Project I learned more about American culture, art, community services, and field trips were also offered to provide healthy activities. Most important for me was that through this Project, I found out about the Senior Community Service Employment Program (SCSEP) at National Asian Pacific Center on Aging (NAPCA).

NAPCA serves as the nation's leading advocacy organization committed to the dignity, well-being, and quality of life of Asian American and Pacific Islanders (AAPIs) in their senior years.

Tania Rzhondkovska, who coordinates the Elder Integration Project at St. James cathedral, introduced me to the staff of this organization. After SCSEP interviews and paperwork, I was accepted to participate in their job training program. Later I was assigned as a worker at the St. Mary's church Food Bank. I tried my best to work hard, and as a result, my supervisor gave me more hours and an assistant manager position. I am happy with my job at this Food Bank, because beside the job I have training opportunities and I have improved my English skills.



In her early days in Seattle, Larisa "was feeling very alone among strangers" and searched for a Russian-language church to go to. She decided to attend Nikolai Cathedral on Capitol Hill that conducts services in Russian. Finding a friendly community there, Larisa began searching for English classes, discovering Tania Rzhondkovska, a client liaison at St. James Immigrant Assistance.

She took ESL and citizenship classes at St. James, receiving her U.S. citizenship in 2010. She is now a member of an elder integration group, which addresses the needs of elders through speakers and local trips. As a bilingual speaker she can now take advantage of even more than ever before.



Thanks to the citizenship project with St. James, it was possible for me to become a United States citizen. Two years ago I heard about the citizenship project via an announcement posted on my apartments. I decide to give them a call and make an appointment. There I met Jim Hodges who was interested in my case and was willing to help with the process. Jim mentioned that I could be eligible for a waiver on the application fee. After filling all the paper work I was able to receive the waiver. Seven months later I became a citizen of the United States. Becoming a U.S.A citizen was the best thing that could ever happen to me. It opened many doors not only for me but also for my family.

Jim was interested in helping me with my daughter’s citizenship. Once again, Jim walked me through the entire process, because my daughter is a minor, the process was smooth and fast. Thanks to Jim and the citizenship program, my daughter and I now have a better future in our country. I am happy to know that my daughter has better opportunities in this country such as attending college and travel to many parts of the world. My daughter and myself would like to give a special thanks to Jim for all the help he provided us and his patience. Arlette and I could have never done it without his help. We are very proud to be United States citizens.



Chakho, an 84-year-old housebound Meskhetian Turk, became a U.S. citizen in his living room, surrounded by his family, on April 4, 2012. Chakho was 16 years old the night Stalin's soldiers gave him the choice of boarding a cattle car or getting shot to death. Along with 100,000 other Muslims, Chakho was deported from his home in Meskheti at the Georgia-Turkey border, to Central Asia in November 1944. Even when Kruschev lifted their migration restrictions, the Meskhetian Turks had nowhere to go. Repatriation permits were not being issued. The Meskhetian Turks spent decades in the Soviet Union branded "enemies of the people." Many of them were not allowed to get an education, own land or claim citizenship. Until this spring, Chakho had been stateless for 68 years.

In 2006, Chakho and his family were part of the large Meskhetian Turk community resettled in South King County. Chakho’s daughter, Fakhria, contacted Tania Rzhondkovska seeking help for her father to become a U.S. citizen. Chakho was suffering from dementia, arthritis, pulmonary heart disease, could no longer speak, and only sometimes understood Turkish. Staff went to Chakho's home to complete the citizenship application, including a fee waiver and a disability waiver. Tania translated from English to Russian for Fakhria, who spoke to her father in Turkish. But Chakho's condition was so delicate, his daughter wanted to know if her father could take the U.S. citizenship test at home. It was possible but required another lengthy application process. Finally, Chakho was granted an in-home exam.

On the day Chakho became a United States citizen, he was surrounded by his three daughters and one grandchild.



Lupita started tutoring after an interpreter at Harborview Medical Center told her about our program. She knew that one-to-one instruction was better for her than learning English in a class, "I think the personal learn is better for me. My problem is listening to people. People talk quickly and shorten words. My tutor will explain the difference; this is professional talking, this is casual talking. I have questions, my tutors says what questions you have."

Lupita spends her time working and volunteering in the community: with domestic violence victims at Consejo Counseling Service, with parishioners at St. Mary’s, and with Spanish speakers about the city's recycling program. When she first moved to Seattle, her lack of English made it difficult for her to volunteer. Being involved in the community meant participating in meetings and civic forums where everyone spoke English. She could only understand a few words and wasn’t sure how to ask questions. Her tutoring lessons were based on the volunteer workshops and community meetings she attended. "I prefer St. James because it is more personal. More attention. I practice talking, reading and writing. For example, my tutor say, Lupita, take the blackboard and write a discussion on what you did yesterday. She supervises me, she review every homework."

Now, when Lupita attends volunteer meetings or community forums she understands what is being said. Now she raises her hand to ask questions. For Lupita, learning to speak English means being able to connect with more people and become more involved in helping the community.



Shocked, Habiba's mouth drops open as she raises a hand to her cheek, perplexed and disgusted. I've just told her I sweeten my tea with honey. Oh, the horrors! Apparently, she has never put honey in her tea and has no intention of doing so. Later, when she points to ingredients she regularly combines, I make my own horrified expression, half-serious, half-teasing as the other students laugh at my overly-dramatic antics. Most of our lessons are fun and light-hearted like this, though there are certainly moments of frustration and confusion.

None of these women, three Somali refugees and one Ethiopian, have been educated formally. None are able to read or write in their native language. With little more than one year of teaching ESL, I am faced with the challenging task of teaching these amazing, dedicated women how to speak, listen, read, and write in English. The concept of an object or idea represented two-dimensionally on a page is foreign to some of them so I use materials that are real-life, tangible objects they can see, touch, hear, smell and sometimes taste. To practice using "I like . . ." I brought in food items and lined them up neatly along the desk, from pasta to lemons to ginger. For lessons on money, I used kidney beans to teach quantity before bringing in a jar of coins.

Someday, Habiba will be able to describe Somali foods or tell about the time she learned that people in America do things differently, like sweeten their tea with honey.

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