Image credit: Our Father, Greensboro (seated: Audrey Martin; standing: Ron Nimmer, Donna Hoekstra, Bob Hoekstra, Emily Berry, Pr Scott Berry, Judy Joyner, Ron Joyner, Donna Anthony)
Open hearts have always been in full supply at Greensboro’s Lutheran Church of Our Father, so when the imminent U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan was announced, members were moved to mobilize to assist refugees fleeing danger and persecution. They never dreamed that a sponsorship would be assigned so quickly or that caring connections to this fragile family would be formed so deeply.
On November 4, 2021, the team received word that a family of six would be arriving from the U.S. military base where they had been quarantined since arriving in this country. This gave the volunteers a scant four days to organize and furnish the two-bedroom, one-bath home leased on their behalf by local resettlement agency, African Services Coalition. Luckily, the outreach-oriented congregation could fall back on a wealth of experience, gained in part through the prior sponsorship of Hmong and Vietnamese families.
Late on the evening of November 8, an eager group waited at the Greensboro airport to welcome the mother, three teenagers, and 12- and 9-year-olds. The women of the group were initially shy and uncertain, but the sons greeted their sponsors with hearty “hellos” and enthusiastic waves.
Since that day, the Our Father team has worked to access the healthcare system available to refugees, enrolled four children in Greensboro’s Newcomer School, arranged ESL classes and tutoring, connected to local benevolent agencies to provide clothing and food pantry items, set up and transported to job interviews, and offered many, many hours of time to support and lift up the family. Many lessons about sponsorship have been learned, and the volunteer group happily shares their time and energy.
Pastor Scott Berry shares, “When these strangers from a strange land arrived one year ago, none of us could have imagined the wonderful and eye-opening journey it would be for us and for the new family. While the language barrier made it difficult to communicate, we learned that laughter and sharing a meal could transcend spoken language. For us, what has been happening in Afghanistan has become more real, seeing the sacrifices that our Afghan family has had to make to get here, and our congregation has stepped up to the challenge of starting this family off on the right foot for their new lives. They have been a blessing to us just as much, if not more than we have been a blessing to them.”
Does your congregation have a group of dedicated individuals ready to learn more about and perhaps even participate in refugee resettlement? Is your congregation already working in this ministry? Visit the Bishop’s Challenge page on the synod’s website. Contact Carissa Abraham to learn more!