On Sunday, Aug. 15, two Muslim Afghan women walked into Grace Community Church in the middle of worship. As they walked about halfway into the sanctuary, we made eye contact. The look on their faces was of hopelessness.
They were distraught and tearful. I eventually recognized them. One was a former ESL student with Gateway of Grace Ministries. The other was a woman we had helped about three years ago. The women came to ask for prayers for their families and Afghanistan. So, Grace Community members and I prayed with them and for them. It was such a special moment in the life of our congregation — Persecuted Iranian Christians praying over two beautiful Muslim Afghan women. Since that Sunday, they have continued to join us.
When I arrived home that Sunday evening, I turned on the television news and saw Afghans with fear on their faces and looks of desperation as they flooded the Kabul Airport tarmac. The Taliban had taken complete control of Afghanistan.
While I have dealt with more than my share of distress, confusion and loss as a refugee, these images were too much and too familiar.
Then I thought of the three young children of one of the women who had joined our service earlier. She had returned her children to her husband in Afghanistan about a year ago so she could work to provide for the family. This woman was an engineer in Afghanistan and had worked with the U.S. military. When the Taliban discovered she was working with Americans, her life quickly unraveled. To stay meant her life was in danger.
Her engineering degree did not transfer to the U.S., so she took the only job available, working at a meat processing plant. While she was grateful for the job, the pay was simply not enough to provide for herself and three children who also needed child care. She made a decision that seemed like her only option: She sent her young children back to Afghanistan so that she could work all the hours possible to provide for her family from afar. I simply can’t imagine her pain, and possibly guilt, of being separated from her three small children. And none of us can imagine our children being 7,500 miles away in a country that has experienced war and religious conflict for decades.
This is just one of many heartbreaking stories from refugees I have heard in the past several weeks. With all the work we were doing and preparing for, we knew this called for God’s supernatural strength and intervention.
Our interdenominational refugee ministry, Gateway of Grace, organized a prayer vigil which was led by George Sumner, Episcopal bishop of the Diocese of Dallas. People from around the country joined the Zoom event. And prayers were offered in three languages. Bishop Sumner’s homily from Lamentations 1 brought a clear perspective of our times, comforted us with a reminder of God’s faithfulness, and challenged us to faithful service in these difficult times.
“With all the work we were doing and preparing for, we knew this called for God’s supernatural strength and intervention.”
The last few weeks have amounted to a rollercoaster of emotions as I have practically lived on the phone. My calls are between talking with Afghan refugee friends and hearing one desperate appeal after another to help get their loved ones out of Afghanistan to calls from friends near and far asking, “How can I help?” Thankfully, those encouraging calls have come at just the right moments.
I have translated and put together documents for more than 60 Afghans and contacted offices of elected officials to get any help they can offer. Against the backdrop of desperation at Kabul Airport, we did experience the goodness of God when a few of our ESL students who were in Afghanistan to see ailing parents were able to return to the U.S. And the three young children of our engineer mother and wife are now out of Afghanistan. While they have not yet been reunited, at least her children are out of harm’s way.
Another display of God’s goodness came when generous friends of Gateway of Grace provided flights for 15 Afghans from Dulles to DFW Airport. This unexpected blessing and so many like it remind me of God’s love for refugees and what God will do through Gateway of Grace to express it.
As part of the ministry’s emotional support for our families, Grace Community Church held a time of community mourning for Afghan and Iranian refugees, a historical practice within both sister cultures.
Meanwhile, Gateway of Grace continues to assess needs as families arrive. Since we are meeting them within a few days after arrival, most need basically everything. So, we are furnishing apartments, providing housewares, kitchenware, diapers and of course assistance in connecting them with various government offices to get the proper documents to work. All of it connects with Gateway of Grace’s ministry philosophy which is to meet the practical, emotional and spiritual needs of refugees.
“While they won’t be hiding from the Taliban, they will experience different struggles in their new country, unlike any society they ever have known.”
Although the horrific conditions for Afghan refugees grip our attention today, their plight will move down and eventually out of the daily news cycle. It’s just the way news reporting works. But the harsh reality is that their struggles will be far from over.
While they won’t be hiding from the Taliban, they will experience different struggles in their new country, unlike any society they ever have known. They will need to find jobs that can support their families, enroll their kids in school, begin to deal with their trauma and PTSD, and learn to live in a new country without the support of extended family. And yes, they will need to do all of this and make time to learn the English language so they can eventually move from surviving to thriving.
Afghan refugees, as well as refugees from other parts of the world, still will come long after their plight is no longer newsworthy. And Gateway of Grace Ministries will still be there providing for their immediate needs, job search and resume writing, English as a Second Language, transportation to class, child care, pastoral care, cultural integration, and friendship based on the love of Christ.
The needs are great, but so are the opportunities to bring hope and healing to refugee families through the power and provisions of Christ. What a privilege it is to be an instrument of God’s love to people who only days ago thought their lives were hopeless.
Samira Page serves as executive director of Gateway of Grace Ministries, an inter-church ministry to refugees in Dallas, one of the U.S. hubs for Afghan refugee resettlement. She once was a refugee herself, fleeing her home in Iran and eventually finding new life and new faith in Texas. She is a graduate of Perkins School of Theology at SMU with both master’s and doctoral degrees in theology and missions and is an ordained priest in the Episcopal Church. Gateway of Grace launched a Bible study group that since has become a mission-type church serving refugees. That congregation is called Grace Community.
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