The thought of moving from city to city or from state to state brings with it uncertainty for many Americans, but imagine having to move to an entirely different country in order to escape war or persecution. This scenario is playing out across the globe for millions of refugees.
In places like Delaware County, communities and organizations are rallying together to help refugees resettle into their new homes in central Ohio. St. Andrew’s Anglican Church in Lewis Center is one such organization coming to the aid of refugees looking for a safe place to call home.
With assistance from Community Refugee and Immigration Services (CRIS), a Columbus-based organization that has worked with refugees since 1987, the church’s six-member welcome team was connected with a refugee family from Afghanistan.
On April 1, the family – consisting of a husband and wife in their mid-20s and four (soon to be five) children under the age of 10 – was moved into its new home in central Ohio with help from the church.
“The church’s response has been a remarkable example of how faith instills love and love inspires action,” said welcome team member Jim Menke. “As someone once said, if you pass by a gas station, you expect to see people buying gas. If you pass a church, you should expect to see people helping others.”
According to Patrick Schmitz, service team coordinator at St. Andrew’s, the church has roughly 150 members and 40% percent of them have supported the refugee mission through donations, labor or both.
“As St. Andrew’s awaited the Afghan family’s arrival, the church’s welcome team and other volunteers continued preparations,” Schmitz said. “The team raised more than $18,000 and collected enough food and furnishings that it was able to provide support to both the six-member refugee family and a second Afghan family that arrived in central Ohio without a sponsor. In recent weeks, the welcome team has further expanded its outreach to help resettle a single mother from Rwanda and her 6-year-old son.”
As for the Afghan family the church welcomed to central Ohio in early April, in addition to material assistance, Schmitz added the St. Andrew’s welcome team has provided the family with meals and fellowship, driven the pregnant mother to doctor appointments in south Columbus, and texted the head of household support and encouragement using Google Translate to bridge the language barrier between English and Pashto, the official language of Afghanistan.
Having called central Ohio home for nearly two months now, Schmitz said the family is adapting well to life in America.
“The young couple and their children are remarkably resilient, and they have connected with the Afghan community in central Ohio,” he said. “Our welcome team is another piece of the puzzle by serving as their friends and advocates.”
With a new lease on life, Schmitz said the family is thankful for all the support it has received.
“The head of household does not speak English, but he uses Google Translate to text us a regular stream of messages of thanks and gratitude,” Schmitz said. “And of course, smiles, handshakes and hugs have no language barriers.”
Moving forward, the welcome team plans to continue to assist the Afghan family for at least six months, during which time the team plans to help the head of household learn English, secure employment and learn to drive,” Schmitz said, adding the team also plans to introduce the family to American culture through visits to the Columbus Zoo and local parks and recreation centers.
“One of the most gratifying responses from the Afghan family has been from their 4-year-old daughter, ‘E,’” Schmitz said. “She eagerly embraces every chance to practice letters and numbers, and the determination in her eyes speaks volumes.”
Throughout the process of becoming involved in resettling refugees, members of St. Andrew’s have seen firsthand the impact churches can have on the community.
“Almost 200 years ago, Alexis de Tocqueville observed churches are part of the glue that holds together America as a democracy,” Schmitz said. “Since America is more pluralistic than it was 20 or 30 years ago, some people today question the role of churches in society. In answering this question, we suggest action is more impactful than words. The Christian ethic of service also is a powerful antidote to our polarized political culture. The church is very much part of our community, but its countercultural wisdom counsels people to look up to God, not left or right.”
Carlo Cherubini, a member of the church’s welcome team, added St. Andrew’s Afghan refugee mission is centered around three objectives.
“First, we model Christ’s unconditional love through service,” he said. “The refugee family who we are working with has been amazed by the caring that a church has shown for them. … Second, our team has inspired our church’s membership to get more involved in helping others as we emerge from the pandemic.
“Finally, we want to show our neighbors why churches have played a critical role for over 2,000 years and will continue to do so.”
When asked if the church might be involved in the future with assisting Ukrainians fleeing the ongoing war in their country, Schmitz said the welcome team’s focus for the time being remains on the Afghan and Rwandan families they are currently working with.
“We discussed helping Ukrainian refugees, but we don’t expect them to arrive before the end of this year, if not later,” he said.
Joshua Keeran is the managing editor of The Delaware Gazette. He can be reached at 740-413-0900.