christ church refugee ministry
FOUR AFGHAN REFUGEES –
ONE FAMILY’S STORY and CHRIST CHURCH’S RESPONSE
A note: Because of well-founded fears that identification could seriously compromise the family’s security and safety here in the U.S. but especially for the family remaining in Afghanistan, we refrain from providing certain details about the family.
June, 2023: Nearly 18 months in…
So much progress has been made in the nearly 18 months since this four-member Afghan refugee family arrived in Columbia, under the sponsorship of Christ Church’s interfaith refugee ministry:
Work: All four family members have jobs—home health aide, Lutheran Social Services case worker (assisting newly arriving refugees!), bank teller, grocery store staff.
Education: The youngest of the three sons graduated from high school in May, just got a new job, and plans to start taking classes at Howard Community College in the fall. He is so proud of his United States high school diploma.
Financial independence: The family is steadily progressing toward its goal of fully supporting themselves, paying a gradually increasing portion of their monthly rent and fully paying all their utility and insurance bills. Government assistance continues in the form of Medicaid.
Transportation: The family fully pays the costs for their two cars. Refugee Ministry volunteers across our four partnering faith communities provide 10 rides each week to the mom, to and from her job in Columbia. And, thanks to volunteers, she is learning to drive!
English skills: Everyone’s English skills have skyrocketed. The middle son even works as a translator as part of his job at LSS.
Immigration status: As with nearly all the approximately 77,000 Afghan allies evacuated to the U.S. in late 2021, achieving permanent resident status has been both frustratingly slow and uncertain. Applications for all possible improvements to their status have been filed with the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service and remain pending.
The family still in Afghanistan: The safety and health of the father (husband) and son (brother) who were separated from the family and remain behind remain major and constant sources of worry. Applications for all possible ways to bring them to the U.S., with Christ Church as their sponsor, have been filed with the U.S. State Department and remain pending.
Our “Interfaith-ness”: This extraordinarily important and rewarding ministry is made possible by members of St. John’s Episcopal Church (Ellicott City), the Columbia Jewish Congregation, the Patapsco Friends Meeting (Quakers of Howard County), and Christ Church, all working together. We’ve learned much from each other.
Give, Act, Pray - How You Can Help
Urge passage of the Afghan Adjustment Act (which facilitates applications for permanent residence status in the U.S., and the reunification of families separated in the 2021 evacuation) by contacting Senator Chris Van Hollen, Senator Ben Cardin, or Representative John Sarbanes.
Pray for our family and for all refugees around the world.
How the Refugee Ministry Began: Late Summer 2021
On a dark day in August 2021 in Kabul, Afghanistan, the unimaginable became real. All too real for this Afghani family of six. Even before the U.S. military left the country and the Taliban took control, the family had been receiving written threats. On this day, they received another direct, written threat, posted on the door of their home.
And so, fearing for their safety, they hid from the Taliban, telling no one where they’d gone. Through their employment affiliation with the U.S. government, they were able to obtain approval to board U.S. evacuation planes and passes to board buses to the Kabul Airport. But in a terrible twist of fate, on the day they were finally able to leave, the family became separated. Three of four sons and their mother fled Kabul on an American flight, leaving their world, and two members of their immediate family, behind. The fourth son/brother and their father/husband remain in Afghanistan, in hiding, unable so far to escape.
In late August 2021, in response to the desperate plight of the tens of thousands of Afghan refugees arriving in our country, what began as a loosely formed group of Christ Church parishioners immediately sprang into action — researching how to help, deciding that working with the Lutheran Social Services resettlement agency would be most effective, and prayerfully discerning that we at Christ Church could — and would — volunteer to co-sponsor an Afghan refugee family.
Members of St. John’s Episcopal Church in Ellicott City and of Patapsco Friends Meeting (a Quaker community) soon joined with Christ Church volunteers in this endeavor. The group is led by Christ Church’s Deacon, Rev. Denise Schiavone, under the supervision of Christ Church’s Rector, Rev. Emmanuel Mercer.
The family of four, an Afghan woman in her mid-40s and three of her sons, ranging in age from high school to early 20s, came into our care on December 28, 2021. They arrived with two minimally working cellphones, some clothing, and a few documents from their former life. They also brought a fierce determination to immediately make new lives here in America, with their hearts full of gratitude and with a firm resolve to become self-sufficient as soon as possible and one day be able to help others.
Progress Update: March 2022
This highly motivated, independent, technologically savvy, determined family has made amazing progress in the few short months since their arrival in Howard County.
Housing and living expenses – The family lives in a three-bedroom Ellicott City townhouse, rented, furnished, and completely outfitted through the efforts and donations of Christ Church, St. John’s, and Patapsco Friends parishioners, friends, and family. Christ Church co-signed a one-year lease for the townhouse and currently helps pay rent, utilities, and technology services and to assist with other basic living expenses.
While the family now receives food stamps, has some limited income from all three sons’ jobs, and received minimal, one-time welcome funds from the U.S. government, these sources of income cover only a small portion of the family’s modest living expenses. All the rest must come from donations made by organizations and by individuals like you.
English language skills – All four family members participate in English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) classes — the youngest son at his Howard County high school and the other three at Howard Community College. They arrived with widely varying English language abilities, and thanks to their hard work and intensive one-on-one tutoring by our ministry volunteers, they are all making steady, strong improvements.
Work – Immediately upon arriving, and entirely on their own initiative, the two older sons found jobs and began working full-time — one at a convenience store, the other at the Columbia Mall. The high schooler also works at the Columbia Mall on weekends, even as he works diligently to meet the academic requirements of his schoolwork. While none of these jobs pays much more than minimum wage, the sons are determined to work toward financial self-sufficiency.
Both of the older sons (who were university students in Afghanistan) want very much to find professional-level jobs at an entry-level, but hopefully with better pay and with benefits. We are actively researching possible entry-level work that is medically related for the oldest son and business-related for the middle son, which corresponds with their previous fields of study.
In Afghanistan, the Afghan woman was an experienced medical professional, with education, certification, and work as a midwife and in dentistry. She strives to advance her skills in English and be able to return to some aspect of work in healthcare. There’s still a long way to go for this to be possible, but she is working very hard to make that happen.
An “employment” focus group is actively working on helping the family members find better jobs that will further their professional goals.
Education – Education is a top priority for this family. The three oldest of the four sons each completed several years of college, and the two oldest sons here now are determined to resume their university studies as soon as possible, even if only part-time. With a class or two in summer school, the youngest son is on track to graduate high school in May 2023. He is also determined to enter college upon graduation.
A “higher education” focus group is actively researching sources of financial support (in loans and grants) for which this highly motivated family may be eligible.
Transportation – While our ministry team provides some transportation, principally for the mom, here again, the sons strive to be as independent as possible. They quickly figured out the Howard County public bus system. And thanks to the donation of three men’s bicycles by Wheels of Hope in Anne Arundel County, they travel principally by bicycle to get to work, to the Dar Al-Taqwa Mosque on Route 108, to run errands, and to visit other Afghan families and new friends nearby.
The oldest son is well on his way toward getting his Maryland driver’s license. He is saving money for a car (and insurance and all other related costs) to enable him to commute to any future job where biking to work or public transportation would not be an option. All three sons who are here drove in Afghanistan. As is the case with most Afghan women, the mom did not drive in Afghanistan.
We appreciate your interest.
Immigration status – As with a number of the 76,000 Afghan immigrants who arrived in the United States after the U.S. military left Afghanistan, our family resides here under a “humanitarian parolee” visa, which will expire in approximately two years. This immigration status enables limited eligibility for social services and means limited eligibility for student aid. (The family was unable to obtain the preferred “Special Immigrant Visa” before the American embassy in Kabul closed.) A Christ Church member who is an immigration lawyer is donating her time to address changing their visa status to one which provides a longer stay, more eligibility for short-term social services and aid, and a path to citizenship.
Continued fundraising – Our ministry engages in fundraising in three broad categories: the pursuit of appropriate grants, corporate/business/individual donations, and events and activities to raise money. Our fundraising team continues to research and plan for opportunities to help support this family in their journey toward self-sufficiency.
How You Can Help
Pray. Pray for this family as they work so hard to make new lives in America. Pray for their husband/father and son/brother still in hiding in Afghanistan. Pray for refugees and asylum seekers everywhere. Pray for the people of Afghanistan. Pray for the work of our refugee ministry.
Make a financial contribution. We are in constant, ongoing need of funds to support this family as they work toward being able to support themselves. No amount is too small or too large.
You can donate via Christ Church’s Realm system or by check payable to Christ Church, putting “Afghan Refugee Ministry” on the notation line, mailed to Christ Church, 6800 Oakland Mills Road, Columbia, MD 21045.
Purchase VISA or Mastercard gift cards for the family to use to buy groceries, household items, and clothing. You can easily do this via Christ Church’s SignUp Genius.
Join our Refugee Ministry. To find out specifically how your time and talents can help this family, attend regular (currently bi-weekly) ministry meetings (dates, times, and Zoom link information are in the weekly Christ Church Gatherings email or contact ministry coordinators Jan Deboissiere or Cherryllynn Williams).
Donate special skills. Pashto translators (written and verbal), grant writing, fundraising help (behind-the-scenes research and planning). If you can help in any of these areas, please contact Jan Deboissiere or Cherryllynn Williams.
Help with job development. We are engaging the power of our networks to try to help find an entry-level job that is medically related and one that is business-related. These young men more than makeup for their lack of paid work experience with their intelligence, initiative, drive, and willingness. Whoever hires them will be making a great decision. If you have connections that might be of assistance, please let us know.
Useful Links & Contact Information
Make a financial contribution to Christ Church’s Refugee Ministry
Donate needed items or gift cards for our Afghan family
Lutheran Social Services of the National Capital Area
We are grateful to the organizations/businesses that recently donated to support the ministry’s efforts. If you know of a business or organization that might like to contribute, please email Cherylynn Williams.
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