[Episcopal News Service] As churches across the United States consider ways to welcome Afghan families who have fled the Taliban in their homeland, Wyoming bishops are publishing headlines to counter the state’s reputation as the only one in a nation that has never had a formal refugee resettlement program.
Mark unanimously began researching the process of sponsoring an Afghan family on September 20 at the Episcopal Church in Casper. The church has formed a committee to work with the episcopal ministries of migration to provide needs such as accommodation and employment, as well as to provide scholarships and other support to these potential new neighbors.
“Most Afghan families want to go where there is an Afghan community. There is no community here, “said Rev. Jim Shumard, rector of St. Louis. Mark, but told the Episcopal News Service that he and his community hope to change that. “We pray that other local churches will sponsor other families so we can build community together.”
Last week, St. Mark’s efforts were described in a Washington Post article, which highlighted past residents ’unwillingness to welcome refugees in this strongly conservative and mostly white state. In 2020, 70% of Wyoming voted for President Donald Trump, who made opposition to legal and illegal immigration the basis of his campaign and who, as president, reduced the number of refugees allowed to enter the United States to a historic minimum of 15,000.
On Friday, October 8, President Joe Biden raised the refugee limit to 125,000 for fiscal 2022.
All will have to find places to live, and as they settle in new communities, many will receive help from one of nine agencies that are part of a federal refugee resettlement program, including the Episcopal Ministries of Migration, or EMM.
“EMM continues to work through our network of 11 affiliates to provide services to arriving Afghans,” Kendall Martin, senior communications manager at EMM, told ENS. “The biggest need is still housing.” Donations can be paid online to EMM’s neighbors Welcome: The Afghan Allies Fund, and congregations and individuals interested in offering housing or volunteering can fill out EMM’s online form.
“We are aware that there are episcopal congregations and leaders in Wyoming who care about this issue and they want Wyoming to be a welcoming state,” Martin added.
Wyoming Bishop Paul-Gordon Chandler would also like to see his state open its doors to refugees.
“As the Episcopal Church in Wyoming, we want to be a religious community that welcomes a foreigner and accepts the ‘other,’ modeled on Abraham, who is not only our ancestor but the ancestor of all Afghan refugees,” Chandler said in an email to ENS. . “Since Wyoming does not have a state-funded resettlement program, it will take extra creativity and commitment to make that happen. We are currently exploring together all that this entails and rejoicing in what God may have in mind as we travel this path toward sacred hospitality. ”
After the 20-year U.S. war in Afghanistan ended in August with the final withdrawal of U.S. troops, an AP-NORC poll found that most Americans support welcoming Afghans who worked for the U.S. government and are open to welcoming others fleeing persecution in that South Asian country. About 50,000 Afghans were released into the United States on so-called humanitarian terms. Some may be able to apply for special immigrant visas, while others will apply for asylum.
Wyoming State MP Landon Brown, a Republican, told the NPR this week that he supported welcoming Afghans but expected some resistance. “It’s very difficult to talk here in Wyoming, solely because of our small population and the fear of what an influx of immigrants might look like to our small population,” Brown said.
Wyoming, with 580,000 inhabitants, is the least populated state in the country. Nearly 84% are white, not including Hispanic residents, compared to 60% of the U.S. population, according to the U.S. Census. Of all U.S. residents, 14% were born in another country; in Wyoming that number is 3.4%.
While several neighboring Western states have offered to receive Afghan families, Wyoming government spokesman Mark Gordon said in August that “there is no interest” in doing the same. Gordon’s office recently told the Washington Post that the governor is open to developing processes for religious groups to host evacuees.
Wyoming has no refugee resettlement program. But some still hope to host Afghan evacuees. https://t.co/73R5KlKhEE
– Washington Post (@washingtonpost) October 7, 2021
Schumard said he had not received any negative response from parishioners or the local community to his community’s interest in sponsoring the Afghan family. The only “hate message” he said he received was a message from an anti-Muslim critic from another state who reacted to the Post article.
Shumard’s first experience with accepting refugees dates back more than two decades to the time he served at Grace Episcopal Church in Gainesville, Georgia. That congregation helped settle and support families from Bosnia. Shumard is confident that Wyoming residents will feel equally welcome to families from Afghanistan. “I think there are enough voices that want that to happen, that it’s a great opportunity,” he said.
For Christians, this spirit of welcome is biblical, he said, quoting Jesus ’command in Matthew 25 to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and welcome the stranger. “It’s not just what Jesus would do,” he added. “It is also a way to respect the work that our soldiers have done. … They said I couldn’t do my job without them [Afghan] interpreters and allies. So few of us fought in Afghanistan or worked in Afghanistan. I feel like this is the way to do our part of the job. ”
Board in St. Mark works with members of a missionary community called The Table to recruit enough volunteers to establish a viable welcome team. Some have already begun looking for accommodation and jobs, if and when they can bring an Afghan family to Casper, a city of about 58,000 residents.
As the assembly goes step by step, “I just believe the Spirit is working on this,” Shumard said.
– David Paulsen is the editor and reporter for Episcopal News Service. It can be reached [email protected].