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Michigan welcomes Afghan refugees

Williamston UMC marches for Afghan refugees

Afghan refugees are arriving in the state. Agencies estimate that it will cost approximately $2,000 a month to keep a family of four alive. United Methodists are called to act, learn, and give.

ALICE FLEMING TOWNLEY
Ministry Consultant — Courage, Compassion, Resiliency — Michigan Conference

The stranger who sojourns with you shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God. (Leviticus 19:34) 

I first learned about the call to welcome refugees from the Chapel Hill United Methodist Church in Sodus, MI. I remember being about five years old and smoothing pink gingham sheets on bunk beds.  Our congregation had collected household items, rented a house, and sponsored a family from Vietnam. We drove in the night to the South Bend airport, my one-year-old sister in her footed pajamas. The president of Notre Dame met us there because he was from Vietnam and could greet our guests in their language.   

Word of the newcomers from Vietnam spread. Another family in the community who were Roman Catholic, read the story in the newspaper and called to see if they could sponsor a family. As we learned more fully of the newcomers’ stories, they became our friends, teachers, and heroes. My faith community taught me about welcoming the stranger, protecting the vulnerable, and learning from the ‘other’ as holy practices.  

Marching for Afghan refugees
Members of the Williamston UMC witnessed during a prayer vigil for Afghans held at the State Capitol in Lansing, MI, on August 21, 2021. The banner read, “Made in God’s image.” Signs proclaimed, “United Methodists love Afghans,” “Methodist Supporting Afghans,” “We welcome refugees,” “In prayer with Afghanistan.” ~ photo courtesy Sari Brown & Raj Weiner

United Methodists have long partnered with Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, and Muslim neighbors to welcome refugees. Our sacred texts give us this call, and our shared histories lead us to work together in refugee resettlement. The United Methodist Church is one of 37 member communions of Church World Service. Church World Service is one of nine main U.S. resettlement agencies that work to coordinate across the country. 

In Michigan, those resettlement agencies include St. Vincent Catholic Charities (STVCC), Samaritas, Bethany Christian Services, Jewish Family Services, and the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants (USCRI). In refugee resettlement, we of many faiths come together to protect those fleeing war, persecution, and death. 

Around 100,000 Afghans have recently been evacuated from Afghanistan, many arriving with just the clothes on their back. Because the Afghans came so quickly, they do not have the same immigration status as refugees or Special Immigrant Visa holders (SIVs).  This means they are not eligible for the same benefits and services, such as cash, food assistance, and Medicaid. Refugee resettlement agencies are raising funds for initial rent, clothing, and food as they apply for jobs and enroll in school. In Lansing, St. Vincent Catholic Charities (STVCC) has calculated that it will cost about $2,000 to keep a family of four alive for one month.  

Here’s what we know so far about where several hundred Afghans will settle in Michigan and the refugee resettlement agency helping them: 

Give 

Financial gifts are needed for food, clothing, healthcare, rent, and other basic needs. Afghan evacuees are unable to receive benefits, and the transition takes time to find housing, start work, and enroll children in school. St. Vincent Catholic Charities (STVCC) estimates that to keep a family of four alive for one month will cost $2,000. STVCC is also fundraising to help with immigration legal feels. All resettlement agencies in Michigan are raising funds for this life-saving work. Consider giving generously, sharing the need, and inviting others to help as well.     

Act 

  • Pray for all involved 
  • Share positive messages of welcome 
  • Volunteer to help with resettlement agencies, fundraise, or organize support in your area 
  • Advocate with elected officials for refugee resettlement funding 
  • Help find affordable housing in resettlement communities 
  • Sign up to learn more, share what you are doing, and/or network with others in the newly forming Michigan Conference Refugee Resettlement Network by filling out this google doc. Contact Sonya Luna for more information. 
Afghan woman
Zahra, a refugee from Afghanistan, shares during a ‘Night of Stories’ held September 20, 2021, at All Saints Episcopal Church in East Lansing. The event was sponsored by the All Faith Alliance for Refugees (AFAR). Zahra awaits the arrival of her husband who was evacuated from Afghanistan. She is networking with other young Afghans to organize the Afghan Association of Michigan to provide hospitality and support to new arrivals. ~ photo courtesy Alice Townley

Learn  

 Together we can give, learn, and act. Together with our neighbors, United Methodists can welcome newly arriving Afghans in Michigan.