Brianda Cediel lives and teaches servant leadership

WORLD MISSION SUNDAY IS OCT. 20. The theme for 2019 is “Baptized and Sent: the Church of Christ on Mission in the World.”

“Hands Across the World” integrates newcomers with compassion

“In America, we are champions of teamwork  — everyone supports each other, everyone collaborates. We learn how to work together. This culture is about sharing with others,” said Brianda Cediel, cofounder and executive director of Hands Across the World.

The program based in St. Cloud has welcomed newcomers, immigrants and refugees from Somalia, Ethiopia, South Sudan, Vietnam, Thailand, Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala, Argentina, Brazil and Ukraine.

“At a young age, I learned servant leadership by watching my parents in Quantico, Virginia — my father in the Navy serving in different communities and my mother on public relations committees. They considered the needs of people in a community and ways our family might respond. When we moved to 0Bogotá, Colombia, in South America,  we continued serving others.”

The goals of the program dovetail with Pope Francis’ message for World Mission Sunday, Oct. 20. In his message, “Baptized and Sent: the Church of Christ on Mission in the World,” the pope called on Christians to “give themselves to others and build relationships that are life-giving.”

Brianda Cediel is the co-founder and executive director of Hands Across the World, a program which welcomes newcomers. (Dianne Towalski/The Central Minnesota Catholic)

When Brianda came to St. Cloud in 2001, she sought ways to help people whose needs were not being met. In October 2003, she and the late Franciscan Sister Tonie Rausch co-founded Hands Across the World to integrate newcomers and assist them in acquiring English language and basic living skills.

A parishioner of St. Paul Church in St. Cloud and a Franciscan Associate, her work in the program intertwines her Catholic faith and Franciscan values.

“[Assisting newcomers], this is my ministry. Whatever I do, I do for God. Each day I guide many people and hear their sacred stories. Without prayer, I couldn’t do it,” she said.

“God is my center and I need the grace of the Lord, so I start every single morning with ‘Please, God, guide me today in the best way.’”

The two women incorporated Franciscan values into their program — being present with those most in need, providing a safe space, collaboration, promoting peace with justice and humility.

“We teach that selfishness is not part of American culture,” Brianda said. “People who practice their faith and values see that we are all human beings from the same God. They see how to be compassionate with others.”


Hands Across the World teaches English and basic living skills to newcomers at two locations in the St. Cloud area. (Dianne Towalski/The Central Minnesota Catholic)

Hands Across the World classes meet at Great River Regional Library in St. Cloud and at Bel Clare Estates, a mobile home neighborhood near Waite Park. The free Level 2 and 3 classes, taught by Adult Basic Education teachers, offer literacy skills, mathematics, cultural diversity, new friendships, self-sufficiency and pathways to citizenship.

Because the community has few new refugees, she explained, students at Level 1 work with tutors instead of in classes. And preschool children have their own programming.

“We work shoulder to shoulder with the St. Cloud Police Department, CentraCare and other groups to introduce community resources,” she said. Classes focus on:

JOBS — Brianda contacts companies about their needs and then provides brief training. After a female police officer spoke to classes, one woman became one of the first local police officers of color. Another student became a medical doctor, and others are nurses and civic leaders. She hopes a paramedic can visit.

COMPUTER SKILLS — Students need to write and track job applications on the internet. Besides the basics, they learn about posting with civility on social media and guiding children to good websites.

LEADERSHIP SKILLS — Students who return to their countries — for vacation or if they are deported — will be able to assist their villages or cities.

CARE FOR THE EARTH — “Recycling helps everyone. Not only do we get this benefit now, but in the future they will recycle and teach others in their communities.”

TIME MANAGEMENT — Understanding the calendar helps to foster self-sufficiency and organization.

CIVICS — “Newcomers learn to use their voices the American way. I invite them to city council meetings to see how citizens speak when they have needs. In their countries, they would not have those opportunities. But here, they can have conversations with leaders to talk about their needs.”

VOLUNTEERING — The curriculum encourages students to volunteer. “By serving others at Catholic Charities or Goodwill, for example, they learn teamwork, respect and social responsibility. Volunteering is how they become good citizens.”

FREE TIME — Brianda said families work very hard but also need to entertain themselves. “We want them to enjoy the freedom and safety they have — at parks, the Mall of America, the Twin Cities. They never had that opportunity in their countries.”

“Thanks to grants and private donors, our free program serves 400 adults each year, and 280 children in preschool and afterschool programs,” she said. “Over the years, we have served 4,800 families with 26 languages.”

Hands Across the World emphasizes integration, promotes peace with justice and empowers all for advancement and progress — ways that enable mission in the world, Brianda said.

The Hands Across the World program serves about 400 adults each year, and has worked with 4,800 families with 26 languages. (Dianne Towalski/The Central Minnesota Catholic)

“Refugee parents may be illiterate. In their countries they may have focused on escaping, saving themselves,” she said. “Being in this caring place is a great change for them.

“So that people feel loved and welcomed, we first build self-esteem. Newcomers coming from mistreatment need extra guidance. The more hurt a person [experienced], the longer it takes for them to realize that another person is good. We must be patient with them.”

Due to their deportation fears, Cediel noted, many Hispanic families are very stressed. “So we included parents and children on four summer field trips to the Twin Cities, just to enjoy themselves.

“Seeing their joy enriched me so much,” she said. “On those days, my smile was the smile of God.”

Other ways she suggested of living out our mission in the world and building up the body of Christ: “Be friendly to all. Be open always to the other. Be understanding. Be welcoming to everyone.”


Brianda Cediel seeks volunteers to read with newcomer adults. “It’s very easy — just read with them.” To volunteer, call or text her at 320-260-1072 or email her at

Author: Nikki Rajala

Nikki Rajala is a writer/copy editor for The Central Minnesota Catholic Magazine.

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