By Lou Baldwin
Special to The CS&T
UPPER UWCHLAN – Jesus never elaborated much about the Good Samaritan, other than that he saw a need and acted when others didn’t. Chances are, he wasn’t coming down that road to purposely do a good deed, and he probably looked around to make certain the robbers who assaulted the injured man weren’t still lurking about before doing what should be done.
Janice Kelsey, a member of St. Elizabeth Parish in Upper Uwchlan, is something like that. She never set out to help Iraqi refugees resettle in the U.S., but when confronted with the issue that’s what she did.
To go back a bit, she’s originally from Troy, N.Y. She and her husband, David, came to the somewhat warmer Philadelphia area 28 years ago, and he took a position as an engineer with Philadelphia Electric (PECO). They have four children ranging in age from 13 to 25 -Elyse, John, Katherine and Kevin.
Kelsey held several part-time positions, including teaching, and in 2005 was working with the Global Youth Exchange, which brings foreign students to the U.S. for studies. Habib Habib, an Iraqi teen, was only 15 and staying nearby as a guest of Janet Spangler and her family. Kelsey was his Global Youth advisor.
Habib, a Chaldean Catholic, kept telling her horror stories of conditions in his home country, especially the persecution of Christians. Teens are known to embellish stories, but after Kelsey made telephone calls to his mother, Manahel, in Baghdad, she discovered everything he said was true. Christians were being killed by Muslim fringe fanatics purely because of their faith. As a matter of fact his father was writing to Habib telling him under no circumstances should he return to Iraq.
Habib’s visa only allowed a year’s stay. As his advisor, Kelsey was not supposed to advise him to try to stay in the U.S., but common sense told her otherwise.
Without telling her employers, she allowed him to visit a relative in California, who put him in touch with an immigration lawyer who set the wheels in motion for him to obtain refugee status. Once the process started, Habib returned to the Spangler family and eventually was granted refugee status.
Kelsey, because of the obvious conflict of interest, resigned from Global Youth, but Habib was only the beginning. Spurred on by the telephone friendship she’d developed with Habib’s mother, she was instrumental in bringing his brother and sister to America too, and ultimately both of his parents.
It was by no means a solo effort; a lot of other good people, especially in St. Elizabeth Parish, helped as well as members of other denominations. In all, it took two years to reunite the entire family, and obtaining visas for the parents was the most difficult. Augustinian Father Francis Chambers, who was doing weekend ministry at St. Elizabeth’s, helped by assuring employment at Villanova University for Habib’s mother.
Now Kelsey is Philadelphia coordinator for the List Project, a nonprofit that works to resettle Iraqis who are endangered because they worked for the Allied Forces. “I’ve worked directly with four families and I interpret as well,” she said.
As to how faith fits into all of this, “It all goes back to the Good Samaritan,” she said. “He really did a small thing but the right thing, the moral thing. He got the man to a place where someone with expertise and time could help him.
“I don’t really know what would have happened to Habib’s family if we didn’t get them out of Iraq, but I do know that God’s hand was in it,” she said. “It’s the most meaningful thing I’ve done in my life.”
Lou Baldwin is a member of St. Leo Parish and a freelance writer.