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Supporting Afghan refugees in Kansas City

by The Rev. Canon Gar Demo

In the Fall of 2021, a small group of people at St. Thomas felt called to respond to the flood of Afghan people that evacuated to the United States. The Kansas City metro area received more than 3000 people as part of this evacuation. There were two designated refugee ministries, Catholic Charities and Jewish Community Services, assigned the task of settling the refugees. 

IMAGE FROM CATHOLICCHARITIESKC.ORG

St. Thomas was selected as the first full community partner and committed to walking with a family for 6-12 months. This commitment includes helping move them in, supplying essential household items, paying rent for up to six months, and providing education and cultural orientation. St. Thomas works with a Catholic Charities case manager and social worker for additional support. Initially, 35 people have committed to help with this ministry, including a core team of leaders: NJ Umeh, Laura Bond, Lezlie Martin, and Linda Bemis.

Catholic Charites assigned St. Thomas two Afghan families. Neek and Gul Mohammed are brothers; Neek has a wife and six children; Gul has a wife and seven children. The oldest children are close to 14 years old, and the youngest is a baby. The two families have been in the US for about six months, and they live in separate houses in Kansas City, KS, about five miles apart from each other. The fathers have found some work in landscaping. Neek and Gul worked for 20 years as security guards for VIP’s from the United States. 

Afghan New Year was March 24. A small group of volunteers brought them a halal meal from the Holy Land Café to help them celebrate. The families were very gracious and thankful. They invited us in for tea and snacks. They were fasting until sundown, so we did not stay to eat with them.

Cultural orientation classes started a few weeks ago in each family’s home. Teams of two volunteers lead the classes. Catholic Charities provide interpreters, and they join by telephone. During these classes, the families learn about living in the United States and explore our history and other important information. 

English as a second language is another part of this ministry. Catholic Charities held an initial training session for everyone who expressed an interest in helping the families learn English. The next step will be for Catholic Charities to assess the parents’ current English skill level. After that, we can begin scheduling sessions with the parents. We will work in teams, going to each family’s home. There is no interpreter provided for these sessions as this helps the families utilize their English skills. 

St. Thomas raised the required money to support the families during this time. It is hoped that we can give our new neighbors a solid foundation as they embark on a new life in the United States. The cornerstone of this ministry is responding to the call by forming deep relationships with the families across religious and cultural lines. This is a living embodiment of Jesus’ call to love our neighbors.

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