By Heather Higgins (Loyola Freshman)
Devon Oasis Ministry, a Christian charity that works with refugees and immigrants is located in the heart of Little India at 6355 N Western Ave. The ministry has worked to provide free services and tangible assistance to recent immigrants in the area for over 30 years.
The surrounding area is diverse, almost half of residents were born outside of the United States.
Dr. Bob Andrews, a Theology professor at Loyola University Chicago, is an ordained minister who runs the ministry with his wife Lynn. They moved to Devon Ave. in 1986 where he said they felt a calling to serve the community around them.
Dr. Andrews said that after four decades of working in Rogers Park, he still feels overwhelmed by the obvious needs of the people, and a sense of obligation to help people.
The services and assistance that the ministry provides are multifaceted, serving the material, intellectual, and emotional needs of the community.
The ministry is focused on providing based on the needs of the community it serves. From homework help for children to assistance in purchasing items like diapers and necessary home goods such as linens and cooking utensils.
“Physical things matter. Helping people with homework and English matters, but I would say the number one need that all refugees express is friendship,” Andrews said. “We give people a really positive social context in which they can settle their feet in this new world.”
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Higgins: Are there any particular interactions you’ve had or experiences with members of the community which have really helped you crystallize what your mission is?
Andrews: Yeah, one thing we’ve tried to be really sensitive to is allowing the people to tell us what their needs are, and then respond to their dictation. I don’t want to come in as a great savior, you know, patronizing people. Instead from the beginning, we have learned to say, ‘what do you need’ and we allow them to dictate to us how to help.
Higgins: You mentioned that you had a lot of college interns. Are they coming from specific schools? Are you looking at social work majors in particular?
Andrews: We have had social work majors from Northeastern Illinois, but we have also had out-of-state students studying business, from Bethan College University in Indiana. Loyola where I teach adjunct I’ve had a few interns and people from classes come and participate.
Higgins: Are there any misconceptions about this community?
Andrews: Okay, on one side, you know, there’s this fear of all these Muslims moving into America, they’re trying to take over the country, false. These people, sure there’s radicals in every group, so I’d be lying if I said there were not some radicals that have come. That is such a minority though. The men in this community love their wives and their kids just like our parents did.
Higgins: What stories do you have of people who were able to take the help you gave them and really succeed and flourish with it?
Andrews: There are some cultural similarities that certain cultures seem to get out of the rut a little faster than others, but one group that I am just so impressed with is the Bosnians. They are all technicians of some sort, plumbers or should I say, contractors. But the Afghanis, the Hazhar people you know, they suffered under the Taliban and are suffering now, but they come here and very quickly they don’t want handouts. They just want to step up and these people are very industrious—many of them have bettered their lives to the point that they’re buying homes in nearby suburbs, and that’s really encouraging.
The ministry hopes to expand service-oriented organizations to different communities. Bob Andrews is also interested in one day developing a Master’s program that would have students learning through service.
Anybody interested in volunteering with the ministry can learn more at Devonoasis.org