The United States’ chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan last August left a bitter taste in the mouths of many. A nationwide survey by the nonprofit More in Common found that a majority of Americans agreed with the statement “America did not leave Afghanistan with honor.”
Although some 120,000 people were evacuated in the final days, tens of thousands of Afghan allies—people who supported American and NATO efforts—were left behind. In fact, Politico reported in early September that a senior State Department official, speaking on condition of anonymity, admitted that “the majority” of special immigrant visa applicants were left in Afghanistan.
U.S. military veterans voiced especially strong feelings about the pullout. Although the military did the best it could in the evacuation, and then in temporarily housing thousands of displaced families, more than 70% of veterans say the withdrawal left them disappointed, angry or betrayed.
So it’s not surprising that Edward Graham—the youngest son of Franklin Graham and a former Army Ranger who served six deployments in Afghanistan—is determined to see American churches step up and play a key role in aiding the 55,000 Afghans who as of mid-November were on United States military bases, awaiting resettlement in the U.S.
“This is the opportunity for the church to be the church,” said Edward, who serves as assistant to the vice president of Programs and Government Relations for Samaritan’s Purse. “This is what we’re called to do. We have an unbelievable opportunity to take someone who is broken and hurting, beaten down after years of war and the failures of man, and love them in Jesus’ Name.”
Samaritan’s Purse is seeking to mobilize at least 1,000 churches to help resettle Afghans, and the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association is helping by reaching out to its church partners to inform them of the opportunity.
For Afghan families that fled with little more than the clothes they were wearing, the needs are great. Although the government will temporarily pay for housing, churches can help by furnishing the living spaces, assisting with job searches, connecting families with legal counsel, getting kids into school, signing individuals up for English classes, showing them how to get around and helping them get a driver’s license.
“It’s my hope that the first people that Afghans meet in America outside of a military base will be the Body of Christ,” Edward said. “Many of them have only heard stories or rumors about Christians, and most of those are lies from madrassas in Pakistan—that we’re this great evil, this great Satan. I want them to think, Woah, I’m being unconditionally loved and cared for by people that I was told were my enemies.
“The church has been asleep for a long time. It’s time to wake up and love our neighbors, and this is a great chance to love our Muslim neighbors.”
One church that jumped at the chance is Alliance Bible Fellowship in Boone, North Carolina. “We’ve got about 150 volunteers in our church who have said they want to be a part of helping with the resettlement, so we’ve got a good group to make it happen,” said Outreach Pastor Doug Cheshier. “I think probably the foremost reason is our commitment to the Gospel and seeing it brought to the ends of the earth. And sometimes the ends of the earth come to us.”
Cheshier sees the Afghan Resettlement Project as a way for churches to return to a more outwardly focused ministry after the challenges of COVID-19. “I think God already had a plan,” he added, “for how He was going to reach Afghan people and bring them to us.”
One of the biggest long-term needs for newcomers will be employment, and churches should not be afraid of that issue. In the current economy, businesses are desperate for help, and Afghans tend to be hard workers, Edward said.
Businesses in Boone quickly expressed interest in hiring Afghans who are being helped by Alliance Bible Fellowship. “Several contractors have said they are interested in hiring if the people have skills in this area or want to learn,” Cheshier said. “I’ve had people with rental properties say they’d be glad to employ them. And one of our volunteers created a family profile where we can learn about their English skills, job skills, training or education, and we can try to find them a job that fits what they are skilled to do.”
Franklin Graham points out that this is a chance for the church to follow the example of the Good Samaritan: “What an opportunity we have for the Gospel of Jesus Christ,” he said, “to invite that Afghan family to go to church with us, get involved in church life. And I believe that many of these families will come to know the One true God and His Son, Jesus Christ. Pray about this to see how God would lead you.”
How Your Church Can Help
- Go to SamaritansPurse.org/ARP and fill out the interest form.
- A Samaritan’s Purse Response Coordinator will call you within 24 hours and will email a simple application for you to complete, along with supplementary guidance.
- The Response Coordinator will review your application and set up a time to talk through the process of welcoming Afghan newcomers.
- Samaritan’s Purse will continue to support the sponsoring church or group through its Response Center, which is open daily.
Above: Members of Alliance Bible Fellowship leave the airport with the first Afghan family they will be helping to resettle.
Photo: ©2021 Samaritan's Purse