As the presence of the Taliban became more and more distressing, Irfan Ali Shah Akhundzada knew it was time to leave his home in Kabul, Afghanistan.
“The Taliban has wiped out business opportunities,” said the husband and father of five. “Some people are begging in the street.”
Akhundzada decided to head to Ohio to create a new home for his family after hearing how nice it was from a friend living in the state.
With a career working with the U.S. Agency for International Development and as an interpreter with the United Nations, Ali had relationships with people who could help him plan the move.
The family arrived in Columbus, Ohio, six months after leaving Kabul. The difficult journey included multiple stops, including a stay at a U.S. military base in Germany for over a month.
A welcome team from Worthington United Methodist Church and St. John’s Episcopal Church received the family. The two neighboring churches created a partnership to work with Community Refugee and Immigration Services to sponsor a refugee family.
A refugee resettlement agency affiliated with Church World Service, CRIS is a longtime partner of United Methodism’s West Ohio Conference. Their services aim to facilitate sustained self-sufficiency and successful integration for refugees.
For Akhundzada and his family, the welcome team became a second family. “When we arrived,” Akhundzada said, “we received a warm welcome and were taken to our new home.” The team set up a house for the Akhundzadas and provided several months’ rent. The team also walked alongside the family to help navigate language and cultural barriers through everyday life.
“Refugees who are paired with volunteers and church groups have a vastly more positive resettlement experience and transition to life in the United States than those who are not,” said Angela Plumber, executive director of CRIS Columbus. “We are working toward a goal of having every refugee we resettle connected to a community member or group. Church members who become involved in resettlement have the opportunity for a life-changing experience that is humbling, enriching and meaningful.”
Throughout the conference, more than 10 churches partner with CRIS to be in ministry with refugees. Not all churches have welcome teams.
Individuals and churches can serve by teaching English as a second language, donating home furnishings such as beds or providing transportation to those who have appointments.
“The impact of this ministry reminds us of our interconnectedness,” said the Rev. Dominic Mejia, Worthington UMC. “God binds us to one another, and Christians in Columbus cannot ignore the suffering of Muslims in Kabul. We must do what we can to care for one another.”
With multiple gifts, Akhundzada is currently employed with CRIS, working with other families wanting to create a new life in a new country. He is also looking forward to having his children eligible to attend school.
Asked about his life now, Akhundzada said, “This place is heaven for me.”
If you or your church want to get involved in welcoming refugees, tgibson [at] cris-ohio.org (click here) to email Teresa Gibson with CRIS.
Written by Amy Graham, Communications Specialist