ALPHARETTA, Ga. – More than a year after the Taliban reasserted control of Afghanistan following the United States military withdrawal, humanitarian groups are continuing to address the needs of thousands of refugees who are seeking to flee the oppressive government.
While many continue mourning the ongoing tragedy of Afghanistan’s collapse, God has also shown up in increasingly powerful ways because of the overwhelming generosity of Southern Baptists and other Christians.
Send Relief has been able to provide emergency food rations to 1,500 Afghans overseas, as well as temporary housing to nearly 1,000 Afghan refugees. In the stream of that response, more than 600 people got to hear the Gospel message for the first time, and at least 50 people accepted Christ as their Savior.
“People aren’t hearing about it as much in the news lately, but the situation hasn’t gone away,” said Send Relief Vice President Josh Benton. “There are millions of Afghans fleeing violence and persecution, and this is an amazing opportunity for churches in the United States to respond and follow Christ’s call to welcome the stranger. This is also an issue that’s bigger than Afghanistan. With more than 27 million refugees worldwide, it’s clear that God is allowing the nations to be stirred. With compassion, hospitality and Gospel intention, Send Relief will continue partnering with churches who are reaching the nations in their own communities.”
Over the past year, one of the primary ways that Send Relief has partnered with local churches in responding to this particular refugee crisis has been by providing free coaching sessions with Afghan Refugee Response Specialist, Dana Bomar.*
“Unfortunately, the news that many Americans have seen about Afghanistan over the last two decades has been mostly negative,” Bomar said. “This is to be expected, as Afghanistan has experienced conflict and suffering for many years now. But there is another story out there that is told considerably less often. It’s a story of the riches of Afghanistan, found within her people who endure despite their many challenges. They are the story worth telling. They are the part most worthy of our embrace.”
“As Afghans coming to the U.S. face some of their most uncertain moments in life, the Church is called to welcome them, serve them and be salt and light to them,” Bomar said. “It’s true that they come from a different culture than our own and some Christians may wonder, ‘Will I have anything in common with them?’ But in our hearts, we know we are much more alike than different. We know that they too have been made in the image of God and that He longs for them to know Him.”
Bomar continued, “If I could speak to local pastors and church leaders…I would deeply encourage them to step out in faith among their Afghan neighbors and lead others to do the same. And if they need any advice or reassurance on how to start, Send Relief will gladly come alongside them and help them begin. Afghans have a proverb that says, ‘Drop by drop a river is made.’ The same is true here. All we must do is take those first steps, and the rest will follow in faith.”
Send Relief’s ministry centers in Atlanta, Boston and Denver have been committed to caring for refugees by operating ministries that have specifically focused on the Afghanistan crisis over the last year.
In Atlanta, the ministry center’s mission housing became a temporary shelter for 50 Afghan refugees when they first arrived in America and connected them with local churches.
Some families were then gifted with bicycles and bike safety training so that they could get around the city on their own without having to wait for a car or learn how to navigate complicated public transportation routes. Others were shown how to obtain driver’s licenses, apply for home ownership and start job hunting – in fact, more than 150 recently arrived Afghans now have fulltime employment in Atlanta because of Send Relief’s work.
Additionally, a Send Relief partner started a mentoring program in his apartment to provide educational and language assistance for Afghan families. So far, he has had more than 60 families choose to move into the apartment complex as a result.
Meanwhile in Boston, Send Relief’s team hosted a spring event to bring refugee awareness to the community and organized a Refugee Council of Send Network pastors who committed to welcoming 50 refugees over the next year.
As recently as Monday night, Aug. 22, a new family of six arrived from Afghanistan at 1 a.m. after 30 hours of flying, weary but incredibly grateful to have arrived safely.
Send Relief ministry center director John Ames said, “To be around them even at that hour of exhaustion, you would never have guessed that they had lost everything and had been displaced by conflict, living in a refugee camp for a year and a half. They were so warm and joyful.”
The father had been stripped of all he had in his former life. Upon landing, however, he immediately began asking how he could improve his language skills and start working to provide his family with new opportunities. Ames shared that the team would be helping him navigate employment applications and health insurance, as well as school registration, shopping for clothing and food and public transportation.
Thanks to the Send Relief Boston Refugee Care Circle (RCC), he and his family arrived at their apartment to find their furniture already assembled, their fridge fully stocked and their cellphones paid through the end of the year. Brian Owen, pastor of Grace City Boston, was the RCC group leader responsible for serving the family.
“The family is being embraced in a beautiful way,” Owen said. “We all want to follow in the way of Jesus, and this – what we are doing right here, caring for a group of people who have lost it all and been displaced – is at the heart of what it means to love like Christ. As we engage in this, we know that Christ is delighted in what we are doing.”
After helping to organize this initial RCC, Ames is now working to multiply this model in another Boston neighborhood to welcome even more families.
In Denver, Send Relief is partnering with non-profits who donate groceries, diapers and clothing to the Afghan families Send Relief has been working with. Send Relief missionaries are also partnering with a unique school that exists specifically for refugee children, providing them with access to free counseling services, language courses and medical consultations in addition to their normal classes.
In response to many refugee families’ lack of transportation and need for clothing, Send Relief created a portable boutique trailer filled with clothes that are both familiar to Afghan women and professional for upcoming job interviews.
In addition to helping organize these services, Amy Hulst, Send Relief’s Denver development manager, also joined a co-sponsorship team to support an Afghan couple with six children.
“The sheer shock and trauma of what they’ve seen in their lifetime is so jarring,” Hulst said. “It’s such an honor to come alongside them and help them figure out weird Western things like junk mail while also having those deep conversations about cultural identity. They truly are some of my greatest friends here in the city, and it’s such a gift to serve as a bridge and voice of advocacy on their behalf. I’m confident there’s no better group of people to step into the lives of refugees than the local church.”
As Hulst continued assisting this family while mobilizing churches around Denver to do the same, her role in their lives began to expand. During their conversations while drinking tea on the floor, she gained their trust and eventually was asked to help the parents fill out immigration paperwork and register their children for school.
“This is one of the most horrible things we have ever lived through,” they said to Hulst, expressing their gratitude. “We’re trying to rebuild our lives, and we’re so grateful that there are people here who have committed to helping us. We don’t know how we would’ve figured out life here without the help from Send Relief.”
Send Relief has helped Southern Baptist churches meet needs, and even though a year has passed, many Afghan refugees continue resettling in the U.S. Churches still have opportunities to serve and reach out to them with compassion.
To learn more about how to support refugees, please visit Send Relief’s Afghan Refugee Crisis page or email Send Relief’s ambassador for refugees and displaced people, John Barnett, at [email protected].
A collaboration between the International Mission Board and North American Mission Board, Send Relief is the Southern Baptist one-stop shop for compassion ministry at home and abroad. Send Relief responds to crisis and strengthens vulnerable communities around the world by meeting physical and spiritual needs in Jesus’ name.
*Name changed for security.