AFGHANISTAN – In response to the number of resettled Afghan refugees in communities in the United States, Send Relief, the combined compassion ministry of the International Mission Board and the North American Mission Board, is facilitating coaching to help churches engage their new Afghan neighbors. This coaching is a limited-time project and will only be offered for another five months.
The United States has evacuated thousands upon thousands of Afghans to the U.S. The majority have been resettled, but many still remain to be settled.
While the fall of Afghanistan to the Taliban has created immense tragedy, many Southern Baptists sense unprecedented opportunity as previously difficult-to-access people are now making homes in the U.S. Christians are stepping up to engage these neighbors, compelled by the scenes that dominated the news a few short months ago.
“Many of these Afghans served and supported our American forces and government on the ground in Afghanistan,” said Dana Bomar, Send Relief’s Afghan refugee response specialist. “The scenes of desperation during the evacuation were both upsetting and heart-rending. I think many Christians can recognize that God is at work, even during this great misfortune.
“We may not understand all that He is doing, or even how He is doing it, but we can recognize that He is doing something quite unique,” Bomar continued. “And the question for believers and local churches is quite simple: What is our role in all of this; what is our response to what God is doing around us?”
Send Relief recognized the relocation efforts as an opportunity for local churches to respond. Bomar began coaching approximately six months ago and has observed that many churches are eager to reach out, but often feel unsure about how to begin or how to take their efforts further. She explained that the coaching is designed to meet them where they are and help them move forward.
Send Relief coaching
Through Send Relief, Bomar serves as a resource for churches. She’s worked among Afghans for years, so she understands their most pressing felt needs as well as their deepest spiritual needs.
The coaching process typically begins with an online video call with an individual or church leader to assess their current efforts. Whether they are looking to boost an established international ministry or are just beginning their efforts, she offers suggestions on how to connect with their Afghan neighbors, presents practical ways they can serve them in their communities and offers advice on spiritual resources for Afghans in their heart language.
She also encourages the formation of small groups within congregations, so participants can encourage one another in their commitment to reach out to Afghans.
“God isn’t necessarily asking how much you will do, but rather if you will do anything at all,” Bomar said. “Really, all we have to do is take the first step in faith and go from there. It is easier to do that consistently when we surround ourselves with like-minded folks whose hearts share the same purpose.”
After she leaves the church with a few practical to-dos, she offers an online training for a larger group. In that training, they discuss Afghan culture and customs, things to remember when reaching out to refugees and how to share the hope of Christ.
“We talk about really practical things that will help build relationship and avoid cultural pitfalls,” she explained. “But we also talk about their beliefs and worldview. This is important, because we want to share in their experiences and connect with them in meaningful ways as we offer them the hope of Christ.”
After the virtual training, she remains an “open door for them to ask cultural questions” as the churches engage in ministry among Afghans. Bomar also points churches to gospel resources they can use to help in reaching Afghans. Many resources can be found at store.imb.org.
Churches engaging well
Christ Covenant Church in Atlanta, Georgia, utilized the Send Relief coaching and has been engaging an Afghan family in their community. They are located close to Clarkston, Georgia – known as the most diverse square mile in the U.S. The Send Relief ministry center is also there.
Jeremy Brooks, the missions pastor at Christ Covenant, received a call from the local Send Relief ministry center asking if the church would be willing to adopt one of the Afghan families to provide care. After receiving some training, they’re engaging the family through “a lot of really normal stuff,” Brooks said.
They connect through social media and other apps, plan days for members to play sports with the kids in Piedmont Park, take them to the local Afghan market, spend time with them and provide “simple, practical” resources for the family.
The ministry has especially been embraced by young adults in the church, including couples and singles.
Brooks said the coaching was helpful, because their church had not done a lot of relational refugee ministry. Bomar helped the church understand that “ministry to refugees is different than ministry to other internationals or students who choose to come here.”
“That was paradigm shifting for me and the group,” Brooks added.
The missions committee at Metro East Baptist Church in Wichita, Kansas, found that a member of the church had rental properties where Afghans were resettled. He told one of the pastors, “Here’s kind of a mission field in our own community.”
He provided the committee addresses of the homes, and the missions committee put together baskets of necessities and snacks. They visited the addresses to develop friendships with the new neighbors. Their goal remains to serve as a practical resource to navigating their new lives in the U.S.
For the most part, their effort has been well received.
Bomar provided the initial training for the missions committee. Eventually others joined the second training.
“The training gave us a lot more confidence to then go knock on the door,” Michelle Eastman, the missions committee chairperson, shared. This has helped the church build a network of 30 individuals the committee can reach out to for help to meet local needs.
“The Send Relief coaching is allowing those churches and individuals who feel God stirring in their hearts to step out in faith,” Bomar added. “It gives them a launching pad to step out and see where God takes them. We know God is passionate about His Church, and we know He is passionate for the lost of this world. As His disciples, I pray our hearts beat for the same things His does, and I pray our time and efforts reflect that.”
To find out how your church can become better equipped to serve your Afghan neighbors, fill out the contact form at sendrelief.org.
Some names may have been changed for security reasons.
Myriah Snyder writes for the IMB.