Stepping up to help
The Hashemi family was among 76,000 Afghans evacuated to America because their work with the U.S. and its allies — as translators, interpreters and partners — put them at risk under Taliban rule.
“These 76,000 Afghans have become friends, neighbors and coworkers, yet fewer than 10 percent of them have secured permanent protection as most evacuees were brought to the U.S. using temporary status,” said Dan Kosten with the National Immigration Forum.
That immigration advocacy organization, based in Washington, D.C., is pushing for passage of the Afghan Adjustment Act. The measure in Congress would let evacuees seek permanent residency like those from Vietnam, Cuba and Iraq.
Here in the Sooner State, Catholic Charities resettled more than 1,000 Afghan refugees in Oklahoma City and 800 in Tulsa, spokeswoman Carly Akard said.
The Memorial Road church — which has a post-pandemic membership of about 1,800 — “was one of the first faith-based organizations to step in to assist with the needs of our new neighbors,” Akard told The Christian Chronicle.
“We sought community partners who could help sponsor and host families as they came into Oklahoma,” she explained. “Memorial Road took on the largest number of families by helping furnish and set up apartments, provide transportation, connect with ESL (English as a second language) classes and so much more than what was asked or expected of the congregation.”
Just a few months after the refugees arrived in 2021, Memorial Road church members hosted a large Thanksgiving dinner for their new neighbors, most of them Muslims.
Akard characterized that halal turkey dinner as “momentous” for the refugees.
“They took careful consideration,” she said of the church, “to make sure the meals were culturally appropriate, and despite religious differences, they provided a private space for those accustomed to evening prayer.”
Since the refugees arrived, about 350 Memorial Road members have interacted directly with 40 Afghan families, community outreach minister Terry Fischer said.
Many more have contributed money or furniture, Fischer said.
A ministry developed by member Susan Smith collects used sewing machines and repairs them for the Afghans. Other members teach English classes at the church building three times per week. Still others help fill out forms for jobs, housing, utilities, internet service and other needs.
“These forms can be hard,” Fischer noted, “even if your English is reasonably good.”
Welcoming the foreigner
Memorial Road members Rob and Jo Harmon “adopted” the Darmaan family — an Afghan father, mother and six children.
Other members, Al and Judy Branch, bought a three-bedroom home to rent to the Afghan family.
Karen Harmon, Rob’s mother, gave the refugees a swingset.
“God tells us to reach out to the foreigner,” Jo Harmon said of her motivation.
The children, she believes, will remember that Christians helped in their time of need.
“They just light up when we come to visit,” she said. “We just play with the kids, and they love it.”
The Muslim father doesn’t know his exact birth date, but he’s about 40. He asked that his first name not be published because he fears for relatives still in Afghanistan.
Life in America is good, he said, but the situation in Afghanistan makes him sad.
His brother has had run-ins with the Taliban, and his elderly father is extremely ill.
“And he doesn’t know me,” the refugee said of his father, who is showing signs of dementia. “He’s asking, ‘Who am I?’ That’s, like, very, very hard. I miss my parents.”
In Oklahoma, the father works full time as a translator for a public school system that has enrolled lots of refugee children. He has two part-time jobs, including one detailing cars.
He voices gratitude for the Christians who have helped his family adjust.
“She helps me with everything,” he said of Jo Harmon. “When I had gallbladder surgery, she took me to the hospital. She helped me get a driver’s license.”
A long road
The Memorial Road church has built its Afghan refugee ministry on prayer, international minister Clay Hart said.
Specifically, church leaders and volunteers ask God for opportunities to share Jesus, said Hart, a former missionary to South Africa.
“Not all are open to that,” he said, “but we do have some good conversations with some folks.”
Kluver, the Vietnamese American, said she’d love for the Hashemis to join her in following Christ.
But given her own story, she’s willing to be patient in sharing the hope she has.
When Kluver arrived from Vietnam, she appreciated the help Christians provided. But her whole family was Buddhist. She had no desire to convert.
“It’s going to be a huge hurdle to teach the Afghans,” Kluver said. “I had so many people who reached out to me to get to know Jesus. And I rejected it, rejected it, rejected it.”
After 13 years in America, she finally visited a church, studied the Bible and decided to be baptized.
“So with our Afghans … it’s going to be difficult,” she said. “But through our love, and through the church’s love and helping them with English, hopefully we can reach some of them.”
This piece is republished from The Christian Chronicle.