United Methodist congregations across the state continue to raise funds and collect household goods to welcome Afghan arrivals to Michigan.
BILLIE R. DALTON
Michigan Conference Communications
The United States government evacuated over 70,000 Afghan citizens as the U.S. military withdrew from the war in Afghanistan in August of 2021. By March 1, 2022, Homeland Security announced that over 68,000 Afghan Arrivals (Humanitarian Parolees is the legal term) had arrived in the United States.
On behalf of the Michigan Area United Methodist Church, Alice Fleming Townley sent an alert to all the United Methodist churches in November 2021 about the status of Afghan Arrivals in Michigan, estimated to number 1,300. Alice serves as the Mission and Justice Coordinator for the conference. That article talked about Afghan Refugee Resettlement grants available through UMCOR and Church World Service. Congregations were encouraged to contact agencies in their area that administered these funds, including Bethany Christian Services.
A number of United Methodist Churches have responded to the call for support of the Afghan arrivals.
Adrian First United Methodist responded by connecting with the Jewish Family Services of Washtenaw County. Adrian First collected a truck load of personal family items and raised funds through their “Missions Project 52,” which does ministry over and above their regular giving. These activities support three Afghan arrival families currently resettling in the Ann Arbor-Ypsilanti area. Sherry Stone has organized and continues to involve church volunteers in this effort.
Pastor Chris Lane at Traverse City Central UMC has been inspired by the ecumenical connections being made as they get prepared to welcome their first Afghan family. A dinner with all Afghan arrivals in the Traverse City area became a media event as those families were welcomed. A house has been readied in collaboration with the Habitat for Humanity volunteers. Funds were raised at the dinner, and personal items are still being collected.
Other churches like Big Beaver UMC in Troy, Muskegon Central UMC, and University UMC in East Lansing have raised thousands of dollars to support Afghan families arriving in their communities.
Some are taking political action, contacting members of Congress regarding the Resettlement Adjustment Act. This legislation would change the status of Afghan arrivals so that they might get asylum and make decisions about where they can relocate in the world.
Joelle Ibanes and Carolyn Pesatch, co-chairs of the Resettlement Committee for Portage Chapel Hill United Methodist Church, welcomed an Afghan arrival family of seven on December 1, 2021. Chapel Hill UMC had resettled other refugee families through Bethany Christian Services, which facilitates resettlement on the west side of Michigan.
Joelle is herself a member of a resettled family. She said, “It is very rewarding for me to be living my faith. I have been where these families are. We had to house them in an Air B&B when they arrived until we got them into a rented apartment. Their legal status was more difficult because they were not classified as refugees. We also had to help the family father get a job, and finally did. Now, he supports the family. We got the children in Immersion In English as a Second Language class at the public schools. There they met others like themselves.”
Joelle concludes, “Resettlement totally impacts their lives.”
World Refugee Day is June 20, 2022. This is an excellent opportunity for United Methodist churches in Michigan to get involved by engaging a special speaker, connecting with a helping agency, or raising funds in support of displaced persons and families. A Welcome our Neighbors webpage provides many helpful resources.
The United Nations estimates there are 85 million forcibly displaced people on earth today, 35 million of whom are children. The need is great. God’s love is greater.
Editor’s Note: Meet Billie R. Dalton, a new writer for Michigan Conference Communications …
Billie Dalton is an elder of the Michigan Conference. He served churches in the West Michigan Conference from 1965 through his retirement from Battle Creek First UMC in 2013. Billie describes his service this way. “The relocation and resettlement of farm working migrants was a significant part of my over 50 years in ministry. My passion is to minister with marginalized peoples due to God’s call on my life.” Today, Billie and Georgia live in the woods at the edge of the Kalamazoo Valley Community College Campus.