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Presbyterians are stepping up to welcome refugees. How can you help?

PC(USA) Refugee associate details what people can do on ‘Join the Movement’ webinar

by Rich Copley | Presbyterian News Service

LEXINGTON, Kentucky — There are two major points of welcome for Afghan refugees coming to the United States.

First, refugees are arriving at military bases, where they need some basics such as food and clothing, said Susan Krehbiel, Associate for Refugees & Asylum for Presbyterian Disaster Assistance (PDA). Once they leave the military bases, there is a second welcome in communities across the country where families are resettling.

One thing both situations have in common, Krehbiel said, is “Presbyterians are partnering in both places. Some Presbyterians are connected with those efforts at the bases and they’re collecting donations, that is clothing, the diapers, the food, those kinds of things. And others are working with the resettlement organizations in the destination communities, opening up church spaces in some cases.”

Krehbiel was the guest on the most recent episode of “Join the Movement,” a livestream series highlighting how people can get involved in the work of the Compassion, Peace & Justice ministries of the Presbyterian Mission Agency.

Click here to see ‘Join the Movement: Welcoming immigrants and Refugees’ in its entirety.

While PDA responds to natural disasters such as hurricanes and wildfires, Krehbiel started her short conversation with Darla Carter of Presbyterian News Service saying, “we also carry the mandate to provide aid to refugees and those who are displaced.

The Second Presbyterian Church Louisville refugee team members Chris Ellis, Kathy Oyler, and Martha Nichols-Peccev speak with Khatul Amiri, a recent immigrant from Afghanistan, and Maha Kolko of Kentucky Refugee Ministries at an event in May 2020. (Photo by Rich Copley)

“So how do we do that? Well, that’s within the context of the overall mission of the Presbyterian Mission Agency, which means to provide humanitarian support itself, financially supporting food, shelter, medical assistance, legal services, those kinds of direct aid that people need. But it also means working at the national and international level to make sure that our governments are living up to those international policies and our U.S. laws. So, we work at both that larger level and at the local level.

“Here in the United States, that means supporting Presbyterians who are working in partnership in their local context, in their own communities. And again, that can range … from education and outreach like what we’re doing today, to individual technical assistance, as churches and individuals figure out their own role, and grant-making through our presbyteries. This year, I just looked up, we’ve given over $300,000 in grants in the U.S. to local refugee ministries.”

The Global Institute of Lansing is an adult education program for refugees and immigrants based at First Presbyterian Church in Lansing, Michigan. This photo by Rich Copley was taken in November 2019.

While many churches have been engaged in welcoming refugees for years, the recent news of Afghan refugees coming to the U.S. following the end of the United States’ nearly 20-year war in Afghanistan has attracted a lot of new volunteers wanting to help. In fact, Krehbiel said if you contact your local resettlement agency to volunteer, you should expect to wait a few days to hear back as they are inundated with new volunteers. But help is needed, she added.

If your church or community is not already involved in resettlement, Krehbiel said contacting a local resettlement agency is the place to start. Volunteer opportunities can range from financial contributions to PDA and/or resettlement agencies, to donating things like household items and clothing, to setting up new homes for refugees and even helping with things like transportation to appointments and other needs. Krehbiel also reiterated a need for affordable housing, as the refugee situation meets an affordable housing crisis in the U.S., which PDA covered in a webinar just before Thanksgiving.

For people and churches interested in getting involved in welcome, Krehbiel provided a number of links for more information:

Presbyterian Disaster Assistance’s Refugee Ministry page has a lot of information, resources, and contacts.

A page on Afghan refugees from PDA, the Office of Public Witness and the PC(USA) Office of Immigration Issues.

Toolkit for Congregations to Faithfully Accompany People Seeking Asylum – key considerations and guidance for a congregation or group interested in accompanying an asylum-seeker.

The current Unbound Advent series “Another Road” offers reflections from a wide range of perspectives on migration and refugees.

The Interfaith Immigration Coalition produces resources for reflections and conducting interfaith vigils.

While a lot of attention has been focused on refugees from Afghanistan recently, refugees are still coming to the United States from around the world, specifically arriving at the U.S. southern border. Krehbiel addressed some recent U.S. policy shifts in the webinar, and she pointed out that the day of the discussion, Dec. 8, was the third anniversary of the death of Jakelin Caal Maquin, a 7-year-old girl who died of sepsis while in custody of U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

Susan Krehbiel

Krehbiel remembered Maquin and thousands of others in a closing prayer, saying, “Gracious God, be with us now as we leave this space, ever mindful of those who come every day in search of freedom, in search of safety, in search of new life. We remember that we as a nation have responsibilities to welcome those in need of our protection. We remember your call to us as people of faith to welcome the stranger, and we ask that you be with all those who are at this moment without a place to call home. We give you thanks for all of those who hear that call and are responding from across our Presbyterian family and beyond.”

Rich Copley is a producer of “Join the Movement.”

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