COLUMBUS – Five places of worship have announced plans to sponsor and support four resettled Afghan families as residents of Columbus for at least their first year here.
This support for now will include basic expenses such as housing and utilities, groceries, schooling and also employment assistance, according to plans developed by a group calling themselves Faith Partners In Compassion.
The religious organizations that are part of this group are: the First Presbyterian Church; First Baptist Church; the Islamic Society of Columbus Indiana; Saint-BarthÃ©lemy Catholic Church; and First Christian Church.
They are working alongside the Exodus Refugee Immigration Inc. agencies in Indianapolis and the Indianapolis office of Catholic Charities on the Afghan resettlement plan here. Both agencies have worked extensively with relocating families.
These families coming to Columbus are among the thousands of Afghans fully controlled by the United States government and currently housed in military installations across the United States.
They are not necessarily among the more than 7,000 Afghans receiving aid at Camp Atterbury in Edinburgh, according to local religious leaders.
For example, the first family to move, to be helped by the First Presbyterian’s congregation, is from Wisconsin and is expected to arrive in a few days.
âLocal partner congregations are motivated by a call from God for help, knowing that these Afghans have taken great risks to support American troops serving in their country,â said Rev. Felipe Martinez, pastor of First Presbyterian Church .
Exodus and Catholic Charities will be instrumental in the first segment of family resettlement. For example, Exodus recommended placing the residences of several families close to each other to provide a support system and immediate opportunities.
âAfghan families resettled in Columbus left their homeland in dire conditions,â Martinez said. âFamily members like these had helped the US military, which in turn promised to support them. In a way, partner congregations seek to participate in the fulfillment of this promise. “
Local clergy have said part of their long-term goal is to help families become self-sufficient.
Pastor Dan Cash of First Baptist Church mentioned that his congregation has a history of helping refugees, having helped Vietnamese families who settled in Columbus in the 1970s after the Vietnam War.
âI think there was both a sense of calling and compassion among us,â Cash said. âThe people here have clearly said, ‘We have to do something (to help). “
Cash added that his followers recently started training for the process. This includes a management team of five and up to 10-20 other volunteers who coordinate everything from transportation to accommodation and furniture.
âIt’s a pool of people to call on based on specific needs,â Cash said. â… These (Afghan) people have seen their world turned upside down. “
Local religious leaders mentioned that each place of worship coordinates its own plans for donations and financial support, after the initial funding of Exodus. They recognized that the amount needed will vary from family to family, depending on family size and the overall situation.
The Islamic Society of Columbus Indiana was among the first local religious organizations to come to the aid of the refugees at Camp Atterbury when they organized a collection of clothes, supplies and money in September, according to Ghufran Ahmad, president.
âDonations just came in because we were so excited to be able to help,â Ahmad said.
Now, he mentioned that he was especially comforted to see so many Christians ready to help Afghans, who he said are mostly Muslims, “regardless of their religion or ethnicity.”
And he said the local Islamic society, which averages about 150 people in services every Friday at the 2310 Chestnut St. Mosque in Columbus, will be a key to reaching out to future local families with their worship and faith. . .
âIt’s one of our advantages here, that even for a small town, we already have a mosque (for them),â Ahmad said.
He added that members of the local Islamic society have been regularly raising funds for the Afghan people since September. And this money will be used to partially support each of the families who settle here.