For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat…I was a stranger and you invited me in…Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.(Matthew 25)
Jesus begins life as a refugee, as his family flees from Bethlehem to escape danger and violence.His ministry proclaims the love and hospitality of God that knows no boundaries.St. Columba’s shares this good news of God’s love through our readiness to welcome and support vulnerable families who arrive in our country in times of crisis.
Forum: Afghan Refugee Sponsorship
On February 12th, we hosted a Forum to hear about the inspiring progress of the three Afghan refugee families sponsored by our church. Hear stories of the families' incredible journeys and how our volunteers have shared their time and gifts to assist them.
Ministry to migrants bussed from our southern border
Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it. (Hebrews 13: 2)
In recent months, thousands of migrants and asylum-seekers fleeing from violence, persecution and hardship have made strenuous journeys to the southern U.S. border. The border has now come to Washington, DC and other cities, as those arriving are transported northward from Texas and Arizona on long, crowded bus trips. St. Columba’s is working in partnership with local churches and aid organizations offering welcome, rest, food and clothing to newcomers as they search for employment and housing or prepare for the next part of their journeys.
To learn how you might assist in this ministry of hospitality and support for vulnerable neighbors, please contact John Nolan at [email protected]
Latest update on our refugee families:
Refugee Journeys: Progress of the Afghan Families Sponsored by St Columba’s
Early in 2022, St. Columba’s began our sponsorship of three Afghan families: the Khanis, the Baserys, and the Aminis. The six adults and five children have made amazing progress in a very different culture.
Building a New Life for A Growing Family
Let’s begin with the Khanis, the first Afghan family to arrive in our community after the fall of Kabul in 2021. They have been preparing for a new baby due in November since their arrival. Our dedicated and talented health team assists Najeeba, the mother, with her health care needs. Baby furniture, clothing and diapers, meals for the family, and rides to school for their toddler are being planned for with the support of parishioners. Mawla Dad, the father, is employed at Silver Diner on Wisconsin Avenue. Son Sulaiman, 3, is attending St Columba’s Nursery School. He is adjusting quickly and making new friends among his classmates. Najeeba improved her English by taking a 12 week intensive English class at English Now in Bethesda. Volunteer Christina Sprague announced to our team with the parents’ permission, “Drumroll…they are having a boy! I know two words in Dari, so I understood when Sulaiman looked at the fetus on the monitor and said "mui"-- fish!”
Committing to Education as the Path Forward
The Basery family, the second family to arrive, resides in Silver Spring and prioritizes education as the key to building a new life here. Getting their daughters, Hasanat, 7, and Omra, 5, ready for school included dental surgery for both and a tonsillectomy for Hasanat. Omra was finally fitted for new hearing aids just prior to her first day of kindergarten. A lot to do in a short time! Navigating the American medical and dental system is complicated even for Americans but our team was able to guide them through it. Abdul, the father, seeks an IT position in his field and continues to follow-up on opportunities. Dewa, the mother, was a college instructor in Afghanistan. She is working toward greater English fluency through classes at English Now, so she can continue teaching or work in the IT field in the future.
Volunteer Sharon Albinson shared her reaction with our team, “Omra’s hearing aid fitting was spectacular! I wish I’d taken her picture with her little thumbs up sign when she started to hear through them. It will be forever in my head!”
Realizing their American Dream
The Amini family represents our Leap Of Faith as sponsoring a third family has meant stretching our financial and volunteer resources beyond our original plan. They reside at the same apartment complex as the Baserys. In fact, the fathers knew each other in Afghanistan. Baktash, the father, and Maryam, the mother, are working toward realizing their dream–one they shared with us upon their arrival–of having an Afghan restaurant. Baktash works as a cashier, and does many other tasks, at Bandit Taco in Tenleytown. And, recently, Maryam started a 10-week paid culinary internship to become a chef with the organization Emma’s Torch. This organization will help her find employment once she completes the internship. Marwa, the 6 year old daughter, enjoyed attending camp this summer along with Hasanat and is in first grade at the same school as the Basery children. Mehran, the 3 year old son, is adjusting well to day care at the Goddard School in Silver Spring. Back-to-school shopping trips with members of our team, ensured all the kids were ready for the start of school. And, of course, attending great schools will shape the future success of all of these children. Volunteer Alice Goodman informed the team, “I’m thrilled to report that Maryam was accepted into the cooking program. If that works out, it will be a big boost to their income.”
The Refugee Response Ministry Leadership Team is made up of twelve parishioners and two staff members. In the spring, we relied on teams of more than a dozen St. Columba volunteers to set up the homes for these families and to help them move in. Since the move-in, a half dozen additional volunteers have joined our team to regularly assist the Afghan families. These first 6 months have focused on medical and dental needs, employment, English acquisition, and legal assistance with their visa status. Equally important,
members of the parish have accepted the invitation to welcome these families with outings and help with specific one-time needs like stocking their pantry and learning routes on the bus and metro lines.
Recent activities bringing the families together with our parishioners:
● The families and our volunteers enjoyed a fun trip to Butler’s Orchard in Germantown, Maryland in October for pumpkin and apple picking.
● Our team gathered for a festive baby shower for Najeeba as the Khani family prepares for a new arrival.
● At a Friendsgiving Potluck in November, we joined in celebrating the families’ arrival in the US one year ago and gave thanks for all they have achieved.
Look for ways to be involved: dates and details in St. Columba’s weekly e-news.
This fall and winter, opportunities for involvement include joining a “meal train” and donating diapers to assist the Khanis as a newborn joins their family, along with helping with rides to nursery school for Sulaiman.
The families often express their deep gratitude and thanks for the outpouring of support and welcome from our church. It really does “take a village” and we have a great one at St. Columba’s. Our work is an act of faith. We are Living God’s Love by welcoming the stranger and loving our new neighbors. We welcome all parishioners to join us as we accompany these families on their challenging journey to build a new life in our community. Watch the weekly e-news for updates, and contact Keri Piester at [email protected]
about ways to participate.
Article prepared by Ann Romig, RRM Communication Chair
Click to read: Our response to the current Afghan refugee crisis
In the tense days after the chaotic fall of the Afghan government to the Taliban in August 2021, people in our parish began to come together, recognizing a call to live God’s love by helping another arriving family to make a new beginning.Thousands of Afghan evacuees began to arrive at military bases in Virginia, many bringing only what they could carry.Leaders of our Refugee Response Ministry (Jim Losey, Keri Peister and Jean Ann Wright) have offered valuable guidance to the Episcopal Diocese of Washington as Bishop Marianne Budde called on churches to support the arriving families.
While preparing to sponsor a family for settlement in a neighborhood not far from us, in October the Refugee Response Ministry conducted a successful “coats on the corner” drive outside the church entrance, collecting hundreds of winter coats offered by parishioners and local residents for men, women and children from Afghanistan living in military housing in Virginia.In December the parish contributed much-needed clothing and supplies to refugee families housed in hotels in downtown Bethesda.
In January an informative and well-attended Sunday forum helped raise awareness about the global crisis affecting displaced people, the challenges facing Afghan evacuees, and the rich rewards of volunteer engagement.The Vestry, our church’s leadership council, expressed enthusiastic support for plans to prepare and raise funds to sponsor an arriving family.
The Refugee Response Ministry–now a group of more than 60 parishioners–has submitted an application with the State Department’s Sponsor Circle Program, launched in October 2021 to encourage organizations to provide direct resettlement support to Afghans in communities throughout the United States.
About five years after the arrival of the Khwaja family, we're now awaiting another Afghan family ready to begin their new life. We're excited and hope to share news soon about the family that St. Columba’s will sponsor. The congregation’sgenerous response to the fundraising drive makes us hopeful we now can sponsor two families.
Click to read: How to get involved in support of an arriving family
There are important ways you can help to extend God’s hospitality to a refugee family, ranging from sharing a few hours of your time to a deeper level of engagement.No matter what “skill set” you might bring, your kindness and welcoming spirit can make a world of difference in easing the transition for an anxious family seeking to make a home in a new and challenging environment. Below is a list of committees formed to carry out our mission, along with the names of those heading each activity. Please contact each committee chair directly to learn about upcoming volunteer opportunities.
Our Leadership Team–Keri Piester (Chair), Cami Caudill, Rev. David Griswold, Shelly Gehshan, Margie Trinity, Gardell Gefke, Alice Goodman, Emma Hersh, Jim Klein, Judy Klein, Ann Romig, Carolyne Starek and Catherine Sheehan Bruno–are eager to work with you to support the family we will sponsor.
You can also contribute financially to this effort by giving to the 2022 Annual Outreach Appeal for Ending Family Homelessness and Supporting Afghan Refugees. You can donate at www.columba.org/refugee. To those who have already given to the fund, we offer our deep thanks.
Click to read: RRM Committees for Sponsoring a Refugee Family, Chair(s) & Key Tasks
Welcome & Community Engagement - Chair Catherine Sheehan Bruno ([email protected])
- Organize a welcome meal(s)
- Brainstorm activities to connect family & parish
- Coordinate with St. C’s staff to communicate opportunities to connect with parish
- Help maintain Google Calendar for activities & events
Housing & Furnishings - Chair Emma Hersh ([email protected])
- Locate apartment and sign lease
- Collect and store furniture & new home furnishings
- Organize Move-In Day and Home Set-Up
- Assist family with safety (emergency kit) & maintenance (tool kit/cleaning supplies)
Clothing & Food Support - Chairs Judy and Jim Klein ([email protected] & [email protected])
- Stock the family’s pantry upon their arrival
- Provide list of local grocery stores, including Halaal market, & assist w/ shopping first month, including use of Food Stamp card
- Assess clothing needs & provide assistance obtaining clothing needs (identify low cost stores, obtain specific clothing donations, and/or provide gift cards for clothing)
Finance - Chair Gardell Gefke ([email protected])
- Manage RRM budget
- Share budget with refugee family and explain their financial responsibilities
- Provide any needed financial assistance (opening a bank account, creating a budget, preparing taxes, etc.)
Health, Dental & Public Assistance - Chairs Shelly Gehshan ([email protected]) & Margie Trinity ([email protected])
- Enroll family for public benefits (SNAP Food Stamps, Medicaid, etc.) & educate family about these programs
- Identify a medical provider for adults & kids as well as dental clinic
- Assess if there are any immediate medical &/or dental needs
- Assist with scheduling any needed care
Employment - Chair Alice Goodman ([email protected])
- Assess job experience & skills of adult family members
- Prepare a resume, if needed
- Help identify available jobs and assist with job applications
- Identify any job training opportunities
- Provide interview prep and follow-up
Communication - Chair Ann Romig ([email protected])
- Prepare monthly brief update on family in a story-telling format for RRM Ministry Group
- Work with St. C’s Communication Team to share updates via website & newsletter
- Take photos at events and activities
- Keep archive/record file of updates and photos
Education - Chair TBD, Carolyn Starek, Educational Advisor ([email protected])
- Enroll children in public school system
- Identify adult ESL classes for parents
- Support parents communication with school via email & parent-teacher conferences
- Provide tutoring/homework help for children, as needed
- Organize conversation opportunities with parishioners to improve English acquisition
- Ensure children have school supplies and technology
- Enroll in summer camp, if interested
Transportation - Chair TBD
- Provide drivers for family to appointments as needed
- Keep volunteers informed of driving needs via Google calendar & email
- Educate the family about public transportation - bus & metro
- Help the family obtain a metro/bus fare card
CONTACT: KERI PIESTER| E-MAIL
St. C's Refugee Family: How Are They Doing?
Shared by Lois Herrmann
A loving partnership continues between St. C's and our Afghan refugee family, the Khwaja's, a year-and-a half into their new life in America. Family members have responded, each in their own way, to the daunting chall...
The Khwaja Family's Story Continues
Shared by Lois Herrmann According to Judith Kozlowsky, one of a handful of St. Columbans who have been deeply supportive of the family: “They have done remarkably well – and are far ahead of where they might be.” Kerianne Peister who als...
DC United Soccer Game
In August, our Afghan family, the Khwajas, joined St. Columbans: the Chen, Brinkeroff, and Perry families and Judith Kozlowsky for a DC United soccer game. Unfortunately the game was rained out after about 30 minutes, but that didn't dampen anyon...
Cooking with Shakeba
Shared by Refugee Response minister, Judith Kozlowski While driving the Khwajas home from an appointment, I learned Shakeba wanted to learn how to make pizza. So, two days later, my daughter, Christina and I went to the family's apartment to s...
Making the Soccer Connection
Join St. C's Refugee Response ministry at a DC United soccer game on Sat., Aug. 12 (7 pm) at RFK Stadium. All are welcome to join in on this fun event and meet the Khwaja family that St. C's has been supporting. Reserve your tickets with Greg Che...
Our Refugee Family Moves Ahead
Thanks to his characteristic determination and some able assistance from several St. C's volunteers, our refugee Dad, Fridoon, began a job in his field last week. His freshly minted resume and good interviewing skills netted him entry-level work ...
A Time to Catch Up
Let us gather on Mon., May 15 - 7 to 8:30 pm in the Great Hall, and make time to catch up on all of the happenings since our refugee family arrived on February 22. It has been 3 months...the children are in school, the parents are in ESL classes ...
New Bicycles for the Khwaja Boys
Mr. and Mrs. Khwaja really appreciated shopping at the New to You Sale. John Nolan helped Fridoon find two great bikes for his boys, who were so excited when we brought them home.
A Message from a Neighbor
This message comes from Maya Teitelbaum, a Water Ministry colleague of Alex Acosta. Maya is not a St. C's parishioner, but came to the Water Ministry via her neighbor Betty King. Maya and Betty both live right around the corner from Paddington S...
Our Family Makes Their Home in America
Since their February 22nd arrival, our refugee family has been busy completing their US paperwork, signing the lease on their apartment and getting ready to move in this Saturday. Refugee Response ministry volunteers have taken the family to vari...