Life is Sweet for Refugee Family Thanks to Open Table

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The power of relationships helps local Bhutanese family thrive

Written by Ed & Carolyn Watkins, BHITC volunteers

Refugees amaze their American friends, neighbors, co-workers and “Table” members every day with their drive to succeed and joyous outlook on life, regardless of what they’ve experienced.

Many refugees have lived through the unimaginable – things most of the world will only ever catch glimpses of on the news or read about in a headline while browsing the internet.  Their past realities are exactly what make today’s accomplishments all the more sweet!

Through the Open Table ministry, which BHITC helped bring to Cleveland three years ago this winter, one refugee family is officially finding their sweet spot!  Man Dahal and Leela Budhatoki, a Bhutanese refugee husband and wife who lived in a Nepali refugee camp for nearly 20 years, came to Cleveland along with their four-year-old twin boys in 2014.  Six months ago, their family began a year-long experience with 10 members from Cuyahoga Valley Church (CVC) when they formed a “Table,” which meets weekly to help the family achieve their goals and take steps forward in life.

Open Table is a national ministry model for helping individuals and families exit poverty through relationships with Christian volunteers, who become their support network and more like extended family.  “I love the Open Table model because you can have such a great impact on a family’s life by meeting with them regularly, listening to their problems and helping them in any way you can,” says Jessica Shook, current member of the CVC “Table.”

“We have seen life-change take place through the Open Table model,” says Amy Mitchell, BHITC’s Director of Ministry Engagement. “Often, refugee families are here for two or three years and then hit a wall, such as being underemployed, but they are ready and motivated to learn new skills or advance their education.  Through Open Table, our volunteers work with the brother, sister or family to help them realize their full potential and take steps forward.”

This was exactly the case for Man and Leela.  The couple, who connected with BHITC through The Hope Center, is thankful for help in achieving their dreams.  “When we came here, we were lost and had many troubles,” says Man.  “We visited The Hope Center several times and through that, we came to know about Open Table.  It’s made a lot of difference for our family.”

Members of the “Table” are walking alongside Man, who was a principal and educator in Nepal and currently works in maintenance, to take the right next steps in life.  He is now learning computer skills, which allows him to search for a better job, and this spring, they plan to also help him get his drivers’ license and eventually purchase a used car.  Leela is now employed part-time at Common Threads, BHITC’s first-ever thrift store and social enterprise.

The Open Table model typically engages 6-12 volunteers from one congregation to form a “Table,” however, BHITC realizes there are opportunities outside of this approach.  “Some congregations are small and might not have 10-12 people who are ready to commit to this process,” says Mitchell. “They might have four or five and another congregation might have four or five, so we are now pairing them together.”

Since 2014, nine “Tables” have completed or begun the process through BHITC’s leadership of this ministry in Cleveland, but Mitchell cautions there’s much more to it than “fixing a person.”  She says, “It’s about building relationships, support systems, bringing in resources and networking for the benefit of the brothers and sisters.”

Joan Carlson-Miller has been involved in three “Tables” through CVC and BHITC, and says the keys to successful participation in Open Table are patience and flexibility.  There are always delays, so patience is important.”  Kathleen Manfredonia, who also serves on the CVC “Table,” agrees and says, “It takes patience and commitment to trust that God knows the right timing and the right way to accomplish the goals.”

To learn more about Open Table, contact BHITC’s Sharon Schuldt at (216) 281-4673 or or visit our website:

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