When Afghanistan fell to the Taliban in August 2021, Mechanicsburg (Pa.) Church of the Brethren member Sherri Kimmel worried about the family of a student she’d met through her work at Bucknell University. Her efforts to help that family led her to Church World Service (CWS), one of nine national organizations working with the US government to resettle the 76,000 Afghans lucky enough to reach the United States. Although the exiles did not include the student’s family, Kimmel wanted to aid other Afghans in building new lives in America.
Another Bucknell connection, professor Brantley Gasaway–an Anabaptist neighbor–helped Kimmel forge a partnership between his church, Grantham Brethren in Christ, and hers.
Kimmel enlisted one more congregation, Mechanicsburg Presbyterian Church, and soon found herself leading a 10-member, 3-church welcome team, working with CWS to resettle a young Afghan family of four in Carlisle, Pa.
On May 22, the Church of the Brethren sponsored a picnic in honor of the family and, with members of the welcome team watching, presented a generous check to help with the family’s expenses.
The welcome team, formed in September, spent its first few months gathering household goods and furniture, forming a transportation team, and completing clearances that would enable them to interact with the family they would be supporting. The team initially met with Andrew Mashas of CWS Lancaster. He informed them that the nearly unprecedented number of refugees arriving had led CWS to add a new office in Harrisburg, Pa.
Once the new site director was hired in December, the team began meeting regularly with Alex Swan. As he worked to hire his office staff, team members took on the challenge of helping Swan prepare for the anticipated early 2022 arrival of the Harrisburg office’s first family.
In early February, the team learned they would be welcoming a young couple with two small children. Team members joined Swan to meet the family at Harrisburg International Airport and drive them to their new home in Carlisle. The family had arrived in the US on Sept. 8, 2021, and had been confined to the base at Fort Dix. The team delighted in seeing the family’s first real glimpse of America as they commented on the cornfields lining the road on their way to Carlisle.
While the family settled into temporary quarters in a Carlisle Airbnb, the team visited them regularly, took them grocery shopping, chased down job leads, and assisted Swan in scouting out rental opportunities. Through a team member’s personal connections, they secured a three-bedroom townhome in Carlisle. On move-in day in late March, the team rented a U Haul truck and transported the collection of furniture and home furnishings they’d stored at one of the churches to the family’s first American home.
With the family now settled, the team turned to other tasks–helping them set up bank accounts and a family budget, providing transportation, arranging ESL classes and tutoring for the parents, enrolling the eldest child in Head Start, seeking legal representation for an asylum claim, and so forth.
While a few team members had worked with refugees before, most, including team leader Kimmel, were rookies. According to Kimmel, though many of the team members were strangers when the team first met, they united around the common cause of helping a very appreciative and delightful young family settle into a new and safe life in Carlisle. Truly, Jesus was working in their neighborhood.
— This article was provided to Newsline by Sherri Kimmel.
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