Our congregation has been preparing since June to host a refugee family. We heard last week that we have finally been matched with a family from Afghanistan with two parents and four children. We planned a meeting for this past Wednesday to celebrate and to hear reports from every team that has been working on the project.
The Housing Team went first. After touring a number of affordable rental communities in the area, an off-hand comment led us to a local church that owns a town home nearby. We negotiated an agreement to rent this home for our family.
The Furnishings Team has been at work for a couple of months now, cleaning, repairing and fully furnishing the home. Dozens of people donated beautiful furniture as well as every other possible supply a house might need: sheets and pillows and towels and cleaning supplies and paper goods and toothbrushes and children's books and more. When we found out that one of the children is 14 months old, the Furnishings Team went into overdrive finding a crib, a high chair, car seats and various supplies to child-proof the house. The team reached out to friends from the local mosque and invited them to tour the house and make suggestions. With their help, our team added a Koran and prayer rugs to the furnishings.
The Food and Clothing Team kicked into action once we knew the country of origin of the family and the ages of the kids. They shopped for pajamas and winter coats. Anxious to stock the pantry with food our family will recognize and enjoy, the team visited some Afghan restaurants and spoke to the cooks and staff. They made notes on the brands of rice to buy and the stores where they could take the family to shop.
The Transportation Team has gone way beyond collecting a list of people who would be willing to drive our family to appointments. They've met with staff from our Regional Transportation office and learned about every local bus line. They have made contact with someone who set them up with scheduling software and have run trainings for their volunteers on how to use it.
The Employment Team got to work way before we knew what skills our family might have when they arrive. They learned about local employers who might hire someone with limited skills in English. They reached out to restaurant owners and others who employ recent immigrants from the Middle East. They networked and strategized.
The Welcome Team (include the remarkable Rebecca Dietz, pictured above) has been meeting regularly for months to learn about Middle Eastern culture and Islam. They reached out to our local mosque and made deep connections there with a group who is also working to aid refugees. They sponsored a worship exchange between our congregation and the mosque and hosted two evenings of conversation with our Muslim neighbors about Muslim beliefs and practices. Once we learned that our family speaks Dari, the Welcome Team went on a quest to find Dari speakers in the community. They talked to people at Afghan restaurants and reached out to friends of friends. When someone at the local kabab place shared that her mother speaks Dari, the team reached out and made a personal visit. They set up an evening for everyone involved with the project to learn more about Afghan culture.
And so on. There are 14 people on the steering committee for this project but there have been over 50 people actively involved with these six teams. While our congregation said "YES" to God's call to do this and signed the contract with the resettlement agency, at least five other congregations have donated funds, supplies and time to the project. We raised over $22,000 towards rent, utilities and other expenses.
But more than time, more than money, people have given their hearts to this project. We depend on volunteers to do a lot of things at our church, and a little bit of pleading and cajoling goes with the territory. Not in this case. People have offered things before we asked for them. People have shown up without being invited and have thanked us for giving them an opportunity to respond to the world-wide refugee crisis in some positive way.
On Wednesday, we got together to celebrate all of this. But that day, a draft of an executive order was leaked to the press which would halt all refugee resettlement in the U.S. for 120 days and significantly reshape it after that. So along with our prayers of thanksgiving, we held hands and prayed that somehow God would make a way for our family to arrive. We prayed that executive order would be modified or delayed until after February 8th. We held hands--Christians, Jews and Muslims together--and cried for our family, for the parents and each of their four children.
President Trump's executive order became official Friday afternoon. We will not be welcoming our family in February. No one can tell us if they will ever arrive. The crib and the car seat. The bunk beds and prayer rugs. The special rice and the rocking chairs. Each one of these things has been prepared for this family. Each one is a gift from someone in this community whose heart is overflowing with concern and care for the most vulnerable people in the world.
On Wednesday, I cried, but today I'm organizing. This work, after all, wasn't just a good deed, a project that I was hoping to accomplish. This is God's call--to me, to my congregation, and clearly to many other people in this community. Our work over the past six months has been an expression of our faith that directs each of us and all of us to welcome strangers and to care for those who are without homes.
This work has been an expression as well of who we are as Americans. Many of us (my family included) have ancestors who came to this country as refugees. We love the Statue of Liberty as much as we love the American flag. This executive order is not just an attack on refugees across the world--it is an affront to the thousands and thousands of people like me and families like mine and churches like mine across this country who have given their heart to welcoming refugees into their community, mentoring and loving them and encouraging them to become a part of what makes this country great.
We are not going away. We have 120 days to tell our story and make our case for restoring our country's commitment to refugee resettlement. We welcome you to help us do that.