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.
Join us as United We Pray
The Refugee Ministry will host an interfaith prayer vigil for refugees on Sunday, November 13, at 7:00 p.m. at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Ellicott City. This community service is open to people of all faiths and traditions, as we gather to show our unified support for those around the globe forced to leave their homes due to war, persecution, or disaster. We will pray particularly for our refugee neighbors who live, work, and attend school in our communities.
The service will be held in historic St. John’s Episcopal Church and will include readings, prayers, music, and reflections from the Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, and Quaker faith traditions.* A light reception will follow in the adjoining All Saints Hall building immediately following the service, with the opportunity for refreshment and fellowship, and the chance to meet some of the refugee families in our area. We welcome all community members to this event, as united we pray for the plight of refugees around the world.
*Sponsored by St. John’s Episcopal Church, Columbia Jewish Congregation, Dar Al-Taqwa Mosque, Hindu American Seva Communities, Patapsco Friends Meeting (Quakers of Howard County), and Christ Episcopal Church.
Late August, 2022
One Year Later – Keeping Our Promise
One year ago this month, the United States pulled out of Afghanistan and the Taliban took control of that country and its people. It is one year since our interfaith Refugee Ministry sponsor family received direct threats from the Taliban and fled for their lives. One year since the family of six was separated, with four evacuated to the U.S. and two left behind. One year of constant dread by this family here that, after their temporary visas expire, they will be deported back to Afghanistan and to the Taliban. One year of constant fear for their husband/father and son/brother who were left behind – fear for their safety, fear for how they will survive, fear that they will not be able to get to the United States, fear that their family will not be reunited.
So, what can we do to help keep the promise made by our country to the Afghan citizens who worked in support of the U.S. military and other operations in Afghanistan?
Here are two concrete steps you can take in less than ten minutes, both by going to Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service’s website (www.lirs.org), selecting the Take Action tab, going to How to Help Afghan Refugees, and scrolling down to Advocate for Afghan Refugees, and:
Support the Afghan Adjustment Act – a bill introduced in Congress which would change the visa status of the family we support and thousands of other Afghan refugees in the United States to a non-temporary, more stable, far better status. By selecting the “contact your legislators” button on the LIRS site, you can have an email automatically sent to both of Maryland’s U.S. Senators, and to your U.S. Representative.
Raise your voice to help the Afghans left behind, including two members of “our” Afghan family – by selecting the “act now” button on the LIRS site, you can have an email automatically sent to President Joe Biden and to DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas asking that they take the necessary steps to provide U.S. visas to the many, many Afghans who helped the United States but were not evacuated one year ago.
On the LIRS homepage (www.lirs.org), you will also find several excellent reflections titled “One Year Later” (and loads of other pertinent information, as well).
On behalf of our Afghan refugee family and the interfaith Refugee Ministry, we thank you for your support.
A NEW INTERFAITH PARTNER JOINS WITH US
Christ Church is pleased to welcome members of the Columbia Jewish Congregation to our multi-faith Afghan refugee ministry work. Located in the Oakland Mills Interfaith Center, CJC has a long history of work as an advocate for, and in providing direct help to, immigrants and refugees here in Howard County, so it not only brings new hands to help our work but also knowledge gained from their years of experience. CJC joins our congregation, members of St. John’s Episcopal Church in Ellicott City, and members of the Patapsco Friends Quaker community in the “Long Welcome” of our Afghan refugee family.
Welcome aboard, Rabbi Michael Hess Webber and members of the Columbia Jewish Congregation - and thank you!
Early July, 2022
UPDATE AND THANK-YOUS
So much has been accomplished in the six, short months since our Afghan refugee family of four arrived on December 28, 2021 – so much by each member of the family, and by the many volunteers who have given their time, their talents, and their resources to help in a myriad of expected and unexpected ways. Thank you, thank you deeply. This could not be done without you.
In a wonderful coincidence, on the very day of the family’s six-month anniversary here in Columbia, and thanks to the incredible generosity of an anonymous donor, the family became the proud owner of a 2007 Honda Fit automobile. Having this car immediately gave the family independence and self-sufficiency that they weren’t able to have before, and it is already proving to be cost-effective. They are thrilled, and so, so grateful.
In addition to the donor of the car, who, upon hearing our family’s story, said “I have this car….” we want to especially thank:
Eddie Tehrani of Columbia Auto Collision Center – an immigrant, himself, immediately gave us a discount on the cost of replacing a rusted bumper
Josh, who runs the service bays at Hickory Ridge Sunoco, for his reliable and trustworthy assessment of the vehicle and his work to have it meet Maryland inspection requirements
Nathalie Manneville of State Farm insurance (Kum Musser, agent) for her many hours of explanation and help to find the right insurance coverage at the right price
For what you can do to help, please scroll down to the links below – and thank you.
May 27, 2022
Job update: We are so pleased to report that on May 23 the oldest son began his return to medicine (for which he had completed five years of study and clinical work in Afghanistan), starting a full-time job at a major pharmacy chain in which he will be trained and eventually certified as a pharmacy technician. He is thrilled about this new job, as are we.
In other news: The two oldest sons each now have their Maryland driver's license. Intensive English classes will continue over the summer for the family at Howard Community College. Steady progress continues to be made by everyone.
Early May, 2022
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.
Where We Are Today
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.
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
Luminus Network for New Americans - Afghan Alliance of Maryland
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.
FOR MORE INFORMATION, contact Deacon Denise, Jan Deboissiere, or Cherryllynn Williams.
We appreciate your interest.