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'Wanting to Welcome the Stranger': Chicago Church Responds to Call to Help Afghans Get Settled in U.S.

10-11-2021
afghanrefugees
Afghan families flee their country (AP Photo/Jafar Khan)

Refugees who were lucky enough to get out of Afghanistan during the Biden administration's botched U.S. evacuation are streaming into cities around the country.  

Resettlement is a huge enterprise, and one church in the Chicago, Illinois area is rising to the occasion to help meet the needs of Afghan refugees.

The Religion News Service (RNS) reports when the evangelical aid group, World Relief, was overwhelmed with donations for the incoming refugees, Immanuel Presbyterian Church in Warrenville rallied its members to help. 

Several church members, including Amy Treier, offered their homes to help store the much-needed supplies for the refugees. Using a guest room in her home, she sorted and packaged a number of basic items a family might need to start life over in a new country.  These "welcome kits" include bedding, hangers, postage stamps, kitchen utensils, and cleaning supplies.

"It just felt like this is a tangible, practical way that we could be a part and that we could just sort of partner and show love for our neighbors who are coming from Afghanistan," Treier told the RNS

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Nathan White, director of External Engagement for World Relief Chicagoland, told the news outlet that the number of Afghans arriving at their office has increased substantially over the past week. Many of the evacuees have already completed security and health screenings at military bases across the U.S. and in countries where they have been waiting since they were airlifted from Afghanistan.

And churches in the area are "wanting to welcome the stranger," White noted.

White said houses of worship across the country will be crucial in the coming weeks and months, as the U.S. government plans to welcome 95,000 Afghans by September 2022. Six of the nine refugee resettlement agencies assisting new arrivals are faith-based, the RNS reported. They include the Church World Service, Episcopal Migration Ministries, HIAS (founded as the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society), Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and World Relief.

"In order to help someone reach that initial stability when they first arrive in the U.S. and then have a place to really grow into having that feeling of belonging, it requires a broader community response, and churches are the key way that World Relief really engages that," White said.

Many of the churches that volunteered in the past have let the agencies know they are willing and eager to help. 

In order to accommodate the 130 refugees that World Relief Chicagoland expects to resettle, the organization turned to Immanuel Presbyterian, a longtime partner in helping refugees and immigrants. 

Caring for refugees is "part of the heartbeat for our church," said Rev. George Garrison, Immanuel Presbyterian's senior pastor.

For Immanuel, Garrison says, that commitment is inspired by God's biblical commands to Israel to "be sensitive to the sojourner and the wanderer among you, because that's who you were when you were in Egypt. That's reiterated later in the New Testament when similar imagery is used to describe the church," he added.

"We recognize we are so blessed. We're in such a position of advantage here. And when people come and don't have anything, we respond out of love and compassion," the pastor explained.

"How could you not, recognizing that we have so many resources that they don't?" Garrison added. 

In addition to helping with supplies for the refugees, some church members have already gone through World Relief training and have offered informational classes at the church building, including teaching English as a second language. Other classes teach everyday life skills, like how to get a driver's license or even cashing a paycheck.  

Other members will befriend newly arrived Afghans and will help them get settled into their new homes.

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