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Welcoming Afghans

I have the joy of teaching English to refugees and new immigrants. Returning to the classroom thrills me and gives me the privilege of meeting Afghans who have come to this country quite recently. Last week I spoke to some of these when I gave them English placement tests. I asked one of our conversation questions to evaluate their abilities, “What is the most difficult thing about living in America?” Even if they had English ability to answer, the recently arrived Afghan students would be stumped and would finally quizzically reply something like this, “There’s nothing difficult about living in America. It’s safe here.”

Of course, they will face challenges, though. How can we help these new arrivals feel welcome and adjust to their new country? The first thing to do is to google “Refugee Resettlement Agency [Your State or Country]” to find out where refugees are being welcomed. If you connect with an area resettlement agency, they can direct you to ways to help.

Even though we have only recently been aware of the influx of Afghans seeking safety, they have been coming to the U.S. for quite some time. My metropolitan area has welcomed over 300 in the ten months between October 2020 and  July 2021. That number will increase a great deal in the coming days. What are some specific ways to help?

Programs that teach English to newcomers are a blessing to new immigrants. Connect with such a program in your community. Resettlement agencies may train you and match you or a group from your church with a family to walk with them through the resettlement process. Are you willing to help children register for school? Can you teach them how to fill out forms or help them sort through their mail to determine what is important and what is advertising? Are you willing to help them understand which of their phone messages are scams? Can you teach them how to make a doctor’s appointment or how to use mass transit? These newcomers may also need someone to simply listen and comfort them as they process loss and trauma.

I remember praying for God to open unreached countries to the gospel. Now the Lord has brought Afghans to be our neighbors. We can provide them with some short-term help, enjoy their friendship, share tea with them, laugh and cry with them, pray with them, and perhaps enjoy some mantu–savory stuffed noodles. We have the privilege of welcoming and enjoying and helping these dear ones. Let’s grab this God-sized opportunity!

Photo credit: “Afghan Refugees” by United Nations Photo is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Beth Barron and her husband have worked cross-culturally for 32 years, first in the Middle East and now in the U.S. She teaches English to refugees and uses her writing skills to advocate for them. Beth enjoys writing, biking, vegetable gardening and connecting heart to heart with other women. She is involved in her church's External Focus ministry. She and her husband have three adult children, two daughters-in-love and two grandsons. Beth graduated from Rice University in Houston and is committed to life-long learning.

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