UMs respond to Afghan refugees

08.25.21 | Wellness and Missions, Immigration Rights | by Neal Christie

    United Methodists have advocated for the needs of refugees beginning with The Refugee Act of 1980 when the U.S. settled more than 200,000 refugees a year, many from Vietnam and other parts of Southeast Asia; in the 1990s our congregations responded to the refugee crisis in Sudan; in the 2000s many welcomed refugees from Iraq and Syria. 

    Many of us cannot imagine what it must be like to abandon our home nation due to war. The deteriorating situation in Afghanistan is a humanitarian crisis that has now left upwards of 550,000 Afghans internally displaced. This is in addition to the 2.9 million Afghan refugees documented as of 2020.

    This humanitarian crisis affects 18 million people -- one-half of the country’s population. It is the result of more than 40 years of military occupation and bitter conflict. Billions of dollars have been spent to fund endless wars. In the strength of the Creator of us all, we are called to walk alongside those who have been persecuted and displaced, to provide a space of love and safe refuge for all people in harm's way, and to advocate for peacemakers, relief workers, and policymakers, and all voices of faith, that we may have the courage, grace, integrity, and strength to make a broader path of welcome and safety for all who seek refuge. Praying for peace means that pursue healing resulting from the generational trauma of war and advocate for the needs of vulnerable people who are made in God’s image.

    As United Methodists, we affirm, Regardless of legal status or nationality, we are all connected through Christ to one another. Paul reminds us that when 'one part suffers, all the parts suffer' as well  (1 Corinthians 12:26). The solidarity we share through Christ eliminates the boundaries and barriers which exclude and isolate. Therefore, the sojourners we are called to love are our brothers and sisters, our mothers and fathers, our sons and daughters; indeed, they are us.” (The Book of Resolutions of The United Methodist Church: Welcoming the Migrant to the U.S.)

    Maryland expects at least 180 Afghan refugees in the coming weeks as part of Operation Allies Refuge, a program that provides Special Immigrant Visas to people in Afghanistan who worked with the United States in fields such as translation/interpretation, security and transportation.

    How can we respond?

    The U.S. State Department has provided a list of the following resettlement agencies:

    • Church World Service -- Working around the world, CWS has seen migrants and refugees finding home even after every door has been closed. That’s the power of your compassion at work when it links to human resilience.
    • Episcopal Migration Ministries -- Episcopal Migration Ministries, the refugee resettlement and migration ministry of The Episcopal Church, is currently working in partnership with the U.S. government to assist our Afghan allies with resettlement and direct services through a network of 12 affiliates across the U.S.
    • Ethiopian Community Development Council -- Refugees and immigrants face daily challenges as they reestablish new lives. ECDC’s programs assist newcomers by giving them hope for their future, and helping them become self-sufficient, productive members of their communities.
    • HIAS -- Works around the world to protect refugees who have been forced to flee their homelands because of who they are, including ethnic, religious, and sexual minorities. For more than 130 years, HIAS has been helping refugees rebuild their lives in safety and dignity.
    • International Rescue Committee  -- The IRC has worked in Afghanistan through three decades of crisis providing millions of people with shelter, education, clean water, health support. 
    • Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services -- working to meet the relocation needs of Afghan immigrants and refugees; see a related story
    • U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants -- Their goal is to help create a world of possibilities for displaced people—where displacement may have defined their past but their future is reimagined with unlimited possibilities
    • World Relief -- World Relief partners with local churches and community-based organizations across the United States to provide support for thousands of immigrants and refugees who are seeking a place to call home. 
    • The Simple Steps You Can Take Now to Help Afghan Refugees – NPR gives some simple anyone can do in a matter of minutes to help Afghan refugee 

    We ask congregations to share with us what they are doing in their local community and to direct any questions regarding how best to respond to Afghan refugee needs at or a who are in conversation with the United Methodist  Committee on Relief (UMCOR).  

    The United Methodist Committee on Relief, or UMCOR, addresses the global refugee and migration contexts guided by four principles: the right to stay and flourish in one’s country of origin; safe passage for those with no viable alternative but to leave; welcoming and belonging, a process wherein migrants, refugees, and receiving communities work together to meet the needs of new arrivals; and support for the returned to help them reintegrate with dignity into their home countries after deportation.

    What do we advocate for in the public square?

    Congress and the Administration passed and signed a bipartisan emergency supplemental budget bill that established more funding and added 8,000 Special Immigrant Visa for eligible Afghan nationals. The program ought to prioritize at-risk populations such as activists, journalists, religious and ethnic minorities, and humanitarian workers who seek refuge. Learn more.

    As faith-based members of civil society, United Methodists seek Beloved Community, sustained peace-building that does no harm. We advocate for:

    • legislation that will uphold the civil and human rights of all migrants in the United States and will provide an opportunity to attain legal status for all undocumented migrants currently in the United States, as well as for those arriving in the future;
    • denounce and oppose the rise of xenophobic, racist, and violent reactions against migrants in the United States, and support all efforts to build relationships among people, instead of building walls among diverse ethnicities and cultures;
    • welcome newly arriving immigrants into our congregations;
    • provide wherever possible pastoral care and crisis intervention to refugees and newly arrived migrants, identifying and responding compassionately to their spiritual, material, and legal needs

    “The United Methodist Church affirms the worth, dignity, and inherent value and rights of all persons regardless of their nationality or legal status. United Methodist churches throughout the United States are urged to build bridges with migrants in their local communities, to learn from them, celebrate their presence in the United States and recognize and appreciate the contributions in all areas of life that migrants bring. (The Book of Resolutions of The United Methodist Church: Welcoming the Migrant to the U.S.)

    How can we pray? 

    Global Liturgy for Migrants and Refugees from the British Methodist Church

    An Intercessory Prayer: 

     Reader 1: Lord, we bring to you the weeping and wailing of the mothers of this world, waiting for their children who have disappeared in the sea, in the desert, in uncertainty:
    Congregation: “I was a stranger and you welcomed me” 
    Reader 2: Refugees, men, women and children, from the war zones of this world, who are fleeing hunger and poverty, in the hope of a better, more secure life.
    Congregation: “I was a stranger and you welcomed me” 
    Reader 3: We bring to you our lament for those who have died stranded at our borders, those who have died fleeing through deserts, mountains and seas. We call upon you and we join in the cry of those who have died seeking justice and a better world.
    Congregation: “I was a stranger and you welcomed me.” 
    Reader 1: Lord, we bring to you our shame for turning away and remaining silent. We have enough to eat in Europe - and do not see that we also create the causes of hunger. We are insatiable and do not realize that is the cause of many wars. We’re silent, when we should speak and act.
    Congregation: “I was a stranger and you welcomed me.”  
    Reader 2: Lord, we bring before you our political leaders, who are not making decisions about mere numbers, but about the destiny of many human beings. Sharpen their awareness of how things are interrelated. Keep their consciences alert. Let them develop rules that are guided by humanity and a vision of peace.
    Congregation: “I was a stranger and you welcomed me.” 
    Reader 3: Lord, give us the strength to bear witness to the suffering of your children on the run, on their way to us, at our borders, in refugee camps and among us, in detention, waiting to be deported, in fear of the dangers that lie ahead, in mourning for those who have died. Help us, Lord.
    All: Hear our prayer. Amen.

    (Adapted from a prayer of Churches’ Commission for Migrants in Europe (CCME) and German Ecumenical Committee on Church Asylum)

    Additional resources on ministries with immigrants, migrants, and refugees