Church communities come together to wrap the arriving Afghan refugee family in a warm embrace

At Spokane International Airport one night last week, a welcoming committee waited for the arrival of American Airlines Flight 303 from Dallas, scheduled for 8:56 p.m.

On board was a family from Afghanistan, who left their country of origin eight months after the fall of the government and the seizure of power by the Taliban. The committee, a hodgepodge of Spokane citizens, was led by Lisa Church, the senior liaison for St. Charles Catholic Church and Bill Osbourne, the Reverend of St. Stephens Episcopal Church. A woman brought a hand-drawn poster with “Welcome!” in English and Persian.

Church members, former World Relief support workers, fellow Afghans and anxious high school students gathered to offer a warm welcome. A group of children discussed how best to accommodate the arriving children, who range in age from 20 to 2 years old. They held a welcome banner of hand-drawn children holding hands and smiling together, illustrated with stick figures in apricot and beige colors. .

“Jesus is talking about who our neighbor is… but the neighbor is also the person on the other side of the world. Whoever is in need is our neighbour,” Osbourne said. “And, certainly, refugees and people fleeing war and oppression are our neighbours.”

After the US State Department announced the creation of a community resettlement program called Sponsor Circle, Osbourne and Church both scheduled webinars on the program. The first family the Church Sponsorship Circle has helped is a family of nine, raising at least $21,000 in fundraising to support the family. Osbourne noted the generosity of donors, including a check for $2,000, hours after the housing initiative was announced.

“I have emailed all congregations in our Eastern Washington and Idaho Panhandle dioceses,” Osbourne said. “People were so eager to help, the first check I got was from Grangeville, Idaho, and someone sent one, two thousand right off the bat. People have been really generous. »

Sponsorship circles have received mandatory training and undergone background checks. They also had to commit to supporting a family for their first 90 days in the United States, with housing, basic necessities, help accessing government services and benefits, and help with new orientation. newcomers to their community, according to the State Department’s website.

From former refugee settlement counselors to Spokane real estate agents, the lateral community support effort has made sponsorship successful. Discussions during Lent and Sunday School readings, such as “Finding Refuge: Stories of Immigration Experienced by Young People” by Victorya Rouse, prepared the circle to welcome people from another world.

“We read that in our Sunday school we talked weekly about what was happening in Ukraine…with the Afghan people,” Church said. “We spent all Lent talking about it. So things went quickly with the accommodation, but we had a lot of time to talk about it.

This includes a thorough understanding of the cultural practices of the family’s country, which is helpful, especially since Muslims are central to Ramadan, the holy holiday that includes fasting, charity and pilgrimage.

Kabeer Derwoosh attended the welcome party, acting as a community ambassador on behalf of the family. He is a displaced Afghan who emigrated to America in November. Her passion is to help refugees as a volunteer for international refugee programs, including the reception process.

“I think it will make them feel like they’re not alienated and welcome here,” Derwoosh said. “Especially with people of the same culture and language, they will feel more comfortable and welcomed in their life here.”

The volunteers received donated furniture from the estate of a former church member, in what the church calls “grief becomes a new beginning.” Citing their first donation as “50 lamps everywhere,” the church groups also created an online inventory to purchase household items. The children will share four twin beds. Members of the Godfathers Circle also filled the house with food, especially ingredients found in Afghan culture while keeping Ramadan in mind.

“We had these huge SignUpGenius and it was the best way to get everyone to help out in tiny little ways,” Church said of the app that coordinates dates and responsibilities for big community events. “Stocking a refrigerator for someone you’ve never met is not easy. These are all ways of loving our neighbour.

The sponsorship group prepared to house the family in additional office space in St. John’s Cathedral, but Spokane owners Carrie and David Lockhert realized they had a three-bedroom unit available. – the Afghan family would come home to a fully furnished and stocked three-bedroom house. in the South Hill.

“But the house just isn’t big enough for them with multiple kids in one room, but we’re used as Americans to kids having their own room, but that’s not the time yet. cases worldwide…it works,” Carrie said. “It was that moment to say ‘Wow, OK – we have to overcome our own mentalities. “”

The family arrived just at 8:56 p.m., which is 5:26 a.m. in Afghanistan. Derwoosh acted as a translator, introducing the mother to Osbourne, church members, and Saw Gary. Gary, a former World Relief program manager, assisted the circle, including the next steps for the resettlement program. He himself is a refugee who escaped the genocide of the Karen people in Myanmar.

“It’s been so fulfilling, I’m so grateful that the community has come out and shown us their support, letting them know that yes, there are people who love and care about us,” Gary said. “These are some of the most vulnerable people we see today. It’s really encouraging.

From proposing the housing idea to seizing the family’s belongings during baggage claim, Osbourne praised Spokane’s successful community approach for reflecting the value of “supporting another neighbor.” For now, the family will focus on settling in and understanding the essentials of the city such as the bus line, cultural grocery stores and local refugee entities that will support them such as World Relief, Refugee Connections and Feast WorldKitchen. The rent is covered until the end of June. The four teenagers in the family will attend Ferris High School for the remainder of the school year. The high school is home to the Newcomer Center where students new to the United States learn English.

While the Sponsor Circle program states that circles support families for 90 days, the Episcopal Migration Ministries, under which both churches operate, go further, requiring 180 days of support.

“Our goal is to help them become independent. said Osbourne.

The Sponsors’ Circle is asking for more donations, including clothing, books, and other items. However, housing is the top priority as the family will only be in their three-bedroom family home until July 1.

Donations can be made directly to St. Johns and St. Stephens Churches.

Jerry B. Hatch