Supporting Afghan refugees with a gift of welcome

Supporting Afghan refugees with a gift of welcome

Laurel Baird

The gift of welcome - our response to the Afghan refugees

When the Taliban took control of Afghanistan last August, the heart of the world was broken for the desperate plight of the Afghan people. Last fall, once we realized many of her residents were no longer half a world away but would become our neighbors, the city of Tulsa sprang into action. Hundreds across the city representing many different churches and organizations, including First Church, came together to welcome the Afghan refugees.

Unlike some of the receiving cities, Tulsa had never welcomed refugees on this large of a scale before and thus there was a steep learning curve and a heavy dose of grace needed for all involved. This became a beautiful example of the body of Christ coming together to work with its many members using their gifts to work as one. With Catholic Charities taking the lead, they assigned tasks to the different groups that worked in unity and helped the families become fully settled, operational and self-sufficient members of our community.

First Church members Laurel Baird, Catherine Anderson and Stacey Wilson showed hospitality to Afghan families resettling in Tulsa.

Three of the main ways members of First Church served was by welcoming Afghan families while they were in transition at the downtown hotels, gathering and stocking homes with necessary furniture and supplies, and then coming along-side two families as a support team as they settled into their homes, jobs and school.

What started with a desire to welcome became a beautiful opportunity to also receive. After spending months being shuffled from refugee camps to military bases and then hotels, the Afghans looked for any way they could also practice hospitality, something so central to their culture. While I was seeking to serve them in their time of need, sometimes the best thing I could offer them was an opportunity to serve me a cup of tea and to give my daughter another cookie.

Our volunteers welcomed Afghans from downtown hotels to enjoy tea, craft activities and basketball at the First Church Powerhouse.

As much of the heavy lifting on this front is coming to a close, the city of Tulsa and First Church are looking for new ways to work alongside our new network of Christians seeking to welcome those God brings into our communities. Please join us in praying for the Holy Spirit to show us the doors he wants us to walk through! If you are interested in being involved in this work contact James Estes.

Hear what these volunteers shared about their experience:

Why did you choose to serve by welcoming our new Afghan neighbors?

“This ministry gave me a chance to look beyond myself and focus on the needs of someone else, and it made me feel grateful for all that I have. It also gave all of us an opportunity to live out Matthew 25:35-40 in a more direct manner than we may usually have on a day-to-day basis. 
– Catherine Anderson, First Presbyterian Church of Tulsa

Staff members Eric Baird, Steve Wilson and Jackson Seibert regularly transported Afghan immigrants to the Powerhouse and other churches to meet people and participate in activities.

“We decided to volunteer because it seemed like the best way to live out our faith. Taking care of the widow, the orphan and the refugee are some practical things that we could do as a family to bring the love and care of Jesus to the world. I don’t know how else to say it other than, it felt right.” 
– Jackson and Jessica Seibert, First Presbyterian Church of Tulsa

“I was so excited to see God bring the mission field to us!” 
– Sherry Lightner, First Methodist Church

How have you been blessed by serving with this ministry?

The kindness/appreciation they continue to express and experiencing our shared time together over the past weeks (as their English has improved) has given me the opportunity to learn more about their history and how God’s brought them through so much.
– Rita Helwege, First Presbyterian Church of Tulsa

When James asked me to help with purchasing items for the Afghan resettlement process with donated funds that the church was charged with, I was glad to! I was touched by the many people in I came in contact with that expressed support, both verbally and through donations of their own. I was proud of Tulsa for their interest and empathy for the Afghans and their situation!”
– Stacey Wilson, First Presbyterian Church of Tulsa

Seeing people from other cultures reminds me of the love of God for all people and his desire to have worshippers from all nations and tongues.”
– Mike Hart, First Baptist Church

What have you learned about God through your experience?

God loves all people of the world irrespective of their faith and beliefs. He cares for these people even though they do not recognize Him. He has done so much of good to them through His people! He makes our joy complete in doing even so little for our neighbor.”
– Simon and Elizabeth Ipe, First Methodist Church

God can work powerfully even through our meager efforts!"
– Steve Wilson, First Presbyterian Church of Tulsa

About the author:
Laurel Baird is wife, mother and elder at First Church who is passionate about discipleship and learning alongside her two to five year old friends.