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christ church refugee ministry

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PROVIDING THE LONG WELCOME OF HELP, SUPPORT, AND HOPE TO LOCALLY SETTLED REFUGEES –

EXPANDING CONNECTIONS AND OUR CURRENT FAMILIES

A note: Because of continuing, well-founded fears that identification could seriously compromise our families' security and safety here in the U.S. but especially for their families that are not here, we refrain from providing certain details about them.

Latest News:

February 2024: 

Our "First Family"

In August 2021, members of Christ Church watched in horror the devastating news reports of Afghans desperately trying to flee their country as the Taliban took control when American forces left. As some 77,000 Afghan allies evacuated to the U.S., the Christ Church Refugee Ministry was born.

 

We began with four of the six immediate family members of an Afghan medic supporting the U.S. military. When this brave doctor defied the Taliban’s instructions to stop working with the Americans, the Taliban threatened to kill her and every member of her family. In the chaos of the evacuation, the family was separated, with the doctor and three of her four sons airlifted to the U.S. but her husband and a son left behind. This family has accomplished so much since arriving to our care in December 2021: everyone works (including one son as a case worker for Lutheran Social Services helping immigrant and refugee families!), everyone’s English has dramatically improved, the youngest son graduated from high school, and the family has worked steadily to become fully financially self-sufficient by the end of 2024.

 

And in truly wonderful news, the father and fourth son are currently in the final stages of obtaining the U.S. State and Homeland Security Departments’ approval to come to the United States!

Our "Second Family"

In September 2023, the Ministry answered a call for help from a local couple (current members of Beth Shalom) then provided the sole assistance for three members of a nine-member Afghan family living in Elkridge. This family, whose father was a high-ranking civilian in the Afghan Ministry of Defense and survived an assassination attempt, was not evacuated by the U.S. They’ve endured 2 ½ harrowing years of danger and separation. Six family members now live in Japan, with the father and two teenage children in the U.S. just since May 2023. While legally in the U.S., their applications for work authorization and Special Immigrant Visa status remain pending, so no one can work yet. While the Ministry does not have sufficient funds for an ongoing financial commitment to this family, we have helped, and continue to help, in many ways, including one-off contributions of financial support, winter clothes, food resource information and groceries, and high school enrollment. Luckily, this family speaks excellent English.

 

The International Rescue Committee is currently helping the mother and other five children go through the long, uncertain process of obtaining approval to be reunited with their family here. When that happens, and especially if work authorizations still have not been issued, this family will need significantly more assistance. 

 

A "Third Family" sponsored by Wesley Freedom United Methodist Church

In January 2024, the Ministry answered another call for help, this time from members of Wesley Freedom United Methodist Church, sponsor of a four-member Afghan refugee family living in Elkridge. This family was evacuated in 2021, so fortunately arrived with work authorizations. We help by sharing all we’ve learned and with technology, visits, coordinating early childhood resources through the Howard County Public School System, and Dari-English interpretation (thanks to our “second” family).

We are grateful to be able to share all the knowledge we’ve gained in these past 2 ½ years, and our broad network of human and organizational resources, to provide help of all kinds to more refugees here in Howard County. What a blessing.

 

What's Next:

  • Family Reunification – fervently hoped for in 2024 for our first and second families.

  • Immigration Status – nothing is permanently settled for any of the members of our three families, a continuing source of serious worry and anxiety.  SIV (“Special Immigrant Visa”) applications are still pending approval for each family.  The current humanitarian parole status for the members of our first and second families is temporary and will expire. The asylum application for our second family is pending approval.

  • Work permits for our “second family” still not approved – without the ability to legally work, and with only a small monthly amount in food stamps, this family is wholly reliant on financial gifts from individuals.

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How You Can Help

  • Pray. Pray for these families as they work so hard to make new lives in America. Pray for reunification with their beloved family members. 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 our first family as they work toward being able to support themselves. Ongoing help is needed for our second family until they are allowed to work.  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 our second family to use to buy groceries, gas, 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 these families, attend our monthly 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).

 

  • 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

 

For More Information

Please contact Deacon Denise, Jan Deboissiere, or Cherryllynn Williams.

Business Donors

We are grateful to the organizations/businesses that have donated to support the ministry’s efforts. If you know of a business or organization that might like to contribute, please email Cherryllynn Williams.

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Thank you for your support.

Past News:

October, 2023: The Journey Continues: Nearly 2 Years Sponsoring "Our" Afghan Refugee Family

“Every time I want to talk with you guys, I remember your kindness, blessings, and helpings.”

 

While these words come from a late August email from the eldest son in our Afghan refugee family, each family member has expressed similar gratitude, over and over again, throughout the 21 months they’ve been helped by Christ Church and our three partner congregations. Each member of this family—those here and those still in hiding in Afghanistan—is so deeply, unbelievably grateful for all that our interfaith ministry group of Christians, Jews, and Quakers does for them.

 

There’s much good to report:

  • All four family members work full-time, or nearly full-time, in jobs as varied as home health aide, retail supervisor, social services case worker, and grocery store employee. In his job with Lutheran Social Services (LSS), one son works specifically with immigrants, helping these new arrivals as his family was helped by LSS when they arrived!

 

  • Three family members currently take classes at Howard Community College: conversational English as a second language for the mom, English proficiency for the recent high school graduate (a pre-requisite for enrollment in credit classes), and medical assistant training and an internship for the oldest son (who’d attended medical school in Afghanistan).

 

  • The family has two cars, and all three sons have driver’s licenses. Their mom—who before coming to America had not driven anything with wheels, even a bicycle—is learning to drive, thanks to two very patient Quaker volunteers.

 

  • Steady progress continues toward financial self-sufficiency. The family is solely responsible for all utilities (including Wi-Fi and cell phones), car-related expenses, food (they no longer receive food stamps), and household and personal expenses. The family pays a steadily increasing share of the monthly rent for their modest townhouse (donations to the Refugee Ministry pay the remainder). Volunteers provide transportation for the mom to her job, supplemented by taxis and Uber (which are paid with funds from a generous contribution for this purpose). Tuition and textbook expenses not covered by HCC scholarships/financial aid are paid from a generous grant from our partner congregation, St. John’s Episcopal Church.

 

  • We are grateful to the family’s landlord, who has contributed to the ministry by not raising the rent for 2023 and by increasing it by only a small percentage for 2024. By 2025, the family will assume sole responsibility for their rent.

  • In early October, the family finally received approval of their applications for "re-parole" - a further temporary extension of their legal ability to be in the United States, to work, and be eligible for Medicaid (under which three of the family receive health insurance).  This is an immense relief because, without being granted re-parole, each family member's humanitarian parole immigration status would have expired on October 23, with immediate and very negative consequences.

 

Of continuing concern to the family, and so to us:

  • Being able to remain living and working in the U.S. Unfortunately, and of great concern, their immigration status continues to be uncertain, despite submission nearly a year ago of all possible applications for permanent residence, and despite our government’s promise to the mom of SIV status because of her work for the U.S. military in Afghanistan.​

 

  • Their husband/father and son/brother were left behind in Afghanistan. The fate of these family members, left behind during the turmoil of the August 2021 evacuation, remains extremely uncertain. Still in hiding from the Taliban, they’re unable to work, with very limited finances, and increasingly desperate. Despite our having filed all currently possible applications to bring them to the U.S., all of these applications remain pending (as do those of thousands of other Afghan evacuees).

 

How you can help:

  • Email your U.S. Representative and our U.S. Senators from Maryland in support of the Afghan Adjustment Act (which would help our family, and all our Afghan allies, in multiple, critically important ways). A couple of sentences is all that’s needed.

  • Volunteer to drive the mom in our family to or from her job on Hickory Ridge Road near the community college. To learn more, or to volunteer, please contact Pat DeLorenzo at patrice.delorenzo@gmail.com.

  • Donate. No amount is too small (nor too large!) by check payable to Christ Church and marked Refugee Ministry, or via Realm [insert link].

  • Pray. For our family and for refugees everywhere.

 

On behalf of the Refugee Ministry, and our Afghan family, we thank you for your interest and your support.

 

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

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.

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.

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