Wheaton magazine

Volume 20 // Issue 2
Wheaton magazine // Spring 2017
(l to r): Denis Iradukunda and Matthew Soerens '06 at Denis' home in Glen Ellyn, Ill. photo by Sally O'Donnell

Matthew Soerens '06 and Denis Iradukunda

As a student at Wheaton, Matthew Soerens '06 was introduced to World Relief by a friend who was connected with a refugee family. Now Soerens works with churches across the country to help them understand refugee issues and how to respond in ways guided by biblical values. As World Relief's current U.S. Director of Church Mobilization, here is the story of how Matthew first connected with Denis Iradukunda and how that relationship shaped his vocational goals.

Human Needs and Global Resources (HNGR)

HNGR is an academic certificate program at Wheaton that integrates multidisciplinary coursework, a six-month internship, and whole-person formation through experiential learning.

Q: How and why did you meet Denis and his family initially? 

A (Soerens): Early in the spring semester of 2006, just after returning from a six-month internship with World Relief Nicaragua through Wheaton's Human Needs and Global Resources (HNGR) program, a classmate in one of my classes, Anna Ruth Merritt ’06, announced in our class that she was volunteering through World Relief DuPage with a Rwandan refugee family. They had five daughters and one teenage son, and Anna Ruth felt that the son, Denis, might benefit from a male mentor. Anna Ruth asked if any guys in our class might be willing to join her in visiting this family on a regular basis, so I volunteered. 

Q: Describe how your relationship with Denis and his family has developed over the past 12 years. 

From the first time I visited Denis and his family at their apartment complex in Glen Ellyn, we became good friends, and I ended up visiting them regularly throughout my last semester at Wheaton. While Rwanda is obviously a very different country and culture than Nicaragua, their hospitality toward me reminded me of the family I’d become very close to over six months in Nicaragua, and I think that they helped me to get over some of the reverse culture shock I was experiencing as I re-integrated into the Wheaton campus community for one last semester. Then, when I graduated—having accepted a job with World Relief DuPage—I needed a place to live. I decided to move into Denis’ apartment complex, where I ended up living for the next eight years (Denis and his family moved to a house in Glen Ellyn a few years into that time, but we continued to stay in touch). Living intentionally in such a uniquely vibrant and diverse community—I had neighbors from more than 20 different countries of origin—has been my primary classroom for understanding the plight of refugees and also the motivator for me to really dig into what the Bible says that should inform my thinking about immigration issues. 

Q: What has been the most memorable moment that you can recall with Denis and his family? 

The weekend that Anna Ruth and I graduated from Wheaton, with both of our families in town, we all went along with Denis and his family to an Old Country Buffet. It was really fun letting my parents meet Denis and his family. Over the years, he came up a few times to visit my parents in Wisconsin, as well. 

Q: What is something you’d like Wheaton alumni to know about how to connect with refugee families in their local communities? 

Refugees have generally experienced remarkable loss and often horrific trauma—but they’re also people, families, with whom many of us have a lot in common. World Relief and other refugee resettlement agencies have many opportunities for individuals and church groups to connect with newly-arrived refugees, and they’ll also provide training and orientation to refugee issues. 

Visit World Relief's website for ways to get involved with refugee relief in your local community.