A veteran World Relief staff member who developed models for church partnerships and expanded the ministry’s programming abroad will take over this year as its new president and CEO.
The appointment of Myal Greene follows a challenging season for the organization, the humanitarian arm of the National Association of Evangelicals and a leading refugee resettlement agency.
“We’re certainly going through a season of challenges related to the refugee resettlement program and the COVID crisis that have put strains on the organization—on our operations, resources, and opportunities to carry out our programs and our ministry,” Greene said, “but I’m really encouraged by the resilience and commitment of our staff and volunteers, who faithfully serve no matter the circumstances.”
World Relief had shut down eight of its 27 national offices due to yearly cuts in refugee admissions and resettlement funding under the Trump administration’s restrictive policies. In the past few months, World Relief began ramping up their resources and rebuilding infrastructure under President Biden. Ministry leaders were also among the advocates holding the Biden administration accountable to his promise to raise the refugee ceiling after the move was delayed by months.
Greene is scheduled to take on his new role shortly before the next fiscal year begins in September. His predecessors, Scott Arbeiter and Tim Breene, announced their retirement in February.
Beyond resettling refugees domestically, World Relief also runs a number of international initiatives which continue to serve vulnerable populations in underserved countries in the midst of the worldwide COVID-19 crisis. In his previous role as senior vice president of international programs, Greene increased their funding and more than doubled their global reach in the past two years. He had also previously directed ministry operations in Rwanda and Africa.
Earlier this year, Greene was also involved in a large-scale initiative at World Relief called Forward Together, which developed a strategic plan to increase a focus on fostering greater diversity, equity and inclusion within the organization and across its programs.
“Myal’s deep understanding of our work, his engagement in this strategic refresh and his team-based leadership style uniquely position him for effectiveness at this moment in our journey,” said Steve Moore, chair of World Relief’s board of directors.
Both here and abroad, a key feature of World Relief’s humanitarian work is its reliance on partnerships with local churches and ministries in addition to public or government grants. Since 1944, the Christian nonprofit has focused on engaging with church networks to raise support, advocate, and mobilize volunteers to join their mission.
CT interviewed Greene about his new role and what’s ahead for the ministry.
What has World Relief learned in these first six months under President Biden, and what do you think the upcoming fiscal year will look like in terms of refugee resettlement?
We believe there’s going to be strong support for refugee resettlement from the Biden administration. We’ve learned that they were open to listening to the opinions of stakeholders and we’re really encouraged by their responsiveness, their concern and the seriousness with which they’re taking these issues. We’re encouraged by the ceiling raising to 62,500 for this fiscal year, and we’re optimistic that the ceiling will be raised to 125,000 next year. We’re excited about that. And while this comes with a need for resourcing and organizational capacity building after years of reduced numbers, we know there are many churches and community organizations eager to participate in the process and ready to respond to the opportunity to welcome more refugees into this country.
In terms of future plans for expansion, where was World Relief five years ago, where is it today, and where do you hope it will be five years from now?
We felt very strongly at that time that we wanted to be able to increase the number of resettlement sites that we operated in. And going forward, we see that as a very healthy way to conduct this work—to have more opportunities and locations for resettlement to take place. An increased number of resettlement cases really necessitates a larger footprint. As far as the dream vision, I would say we want to be at a place where we’re able to meet and respond to our full share of those being resettled among the other implementing partners. This means we’re looking at a variety of options to rapidly increase our scale, consider partnership opportunities, as well as open new offices or reopen locations that have previously been closed. I’m very grateful for the leadership of Tim and Scott, who helped World Relief through a very tumultuous season and put the organization in a financial place that we haven’t been at in many years. I’m excited about the momentum that we have to go forward.
How has World Relief grown in the midst of or in spite of the recent challenges it has faced?
The season of ministry where we were less engaged in refugee resettlement allowed us to focus on working with churches and other community activists to offer broader services to the larger immigrant community, not just refugees—to consider how we engage local churches in being part of an environment of welcome for immigrants of all backgrounds. We think about advocacy in terms of relationship to public policy and to public opinion, and what we’ve learned is there are a lot of different messages in churches across the country. So as this has become a very polarizing issue, we see the role World Relief can play in advocating on behalf of immigrants and refugees to churches and faith communities.
How are you preparing to lead World Relief in the midst of the changing landscape?
I’ve worked with World Relief for 14 years, and one of the great things about the longevity of that experience is I’ve seen kind of the ups and downs and how different external crises and events have impacted the organization. That long-term vision helps me ensure that we remain focused on the priorities despite the crises we face.
Most people who know about World Relief think of their domestic work with refugees, but given your background, can you share about the organization’s international side?
Our work overseas is quite robust and dates back to the origins of our organization. We have three major areas of emphasis: The first is humanitarian or emergency response, which is serving people in refugee camps or internally displaced people (IDP) camps, and those returning to their home community—so there’s a lot of synergy and connectedness to the work that we do in the US. The second area of our work is in community and public health, where we’ve found great support from donors and collaboration with USAID and UNICEF. And then the third is a church-based community development initiative, an integrated model where we engage churches in meeting the needs of their neighbors—from economic and social to strengthening marriages and working with children.
What initially led you to join the mission of World Relief back in 2007?
Since I became a Christ follower, I really developed a strong appreciation for God’s love and heart for the poor and the vulnerable. And as I came to learn about World Relief, it motivated me to step out of the work that I was doing before on Capitol Hill to take a two-year assignment—raising support, not even a staff position—to serve in our Rwanda office. Through that, I saw how my life was shaped in ways of seeing and understanding the world. It was very formative for me in drawing my commitment to understanding the role of the church and community development, the importance of engaging churches, and in meeting the needs of the neighbors themselves. It’s kind of been an amazing journey to see God grow and equip me with new skills, helping the organization in different expressions of providing service to the most vulnerable, whether they’re in the US or around the world.
What is one of the most impactful experiences from your long history with the ministry?
Very early in my time at World Relief, I arrived in Rwanda when it was still at the height of navigating the HIV pandemic. We had a very large grant from PEPFAR to do HIV work, and much of it was focused on prevention and the youth. But there was also a palliative care component for people with AIDS. Through those interactions, I spent a lot of time in the home with the women, especially widows with children, who could see the end of their lives in full view. Seeing the hope that they had in Christ and the way that churches could come around them—but also their concerns for the futures of their children—just stuck with me and touched me emotionally. It made me see why our work is so important, so valuable.
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