Jesus tells us in the Gospel that when we welcome a stranger, we welcome Christ himself. In our Baptismal Covenant, we promise to respect the dignity of every human being, loving our neighbor as ourselves. Episcopalians across the Diocese have been welcoming Afghan Refugees to Oklahoma for over a month. Here is our story on the experiences we have had welcoming our new neighbors and how you can get involved in this ministry work. Our Diocesan liaison is Jennifer Hund (Jen). Jen is the volunteer coordinator for The Council on Islamic Relations CAIR and a member of Santa Maria Virgen. She has volunteered many hours to this important ministry, training members of our congregations to provide this welcome.
In Oklahoma City, many churches have joined in the welcome. All Souls, St. Johns, St. Augustine of Canterbury, and St. Paul’s Cathedral! Many congregations in the OKC are hosting training programs. Centered on cultural humility, welcoming producers and what to expect!
St Paul’s Cathedral members are welcoming and providing hospitality by putting together welcome bags for refugees. Filled with dates and nuts and familiar tastes from home! St. Paul’s has expanded their efforts and will be working with CAIR to get further engaged.
Dean Katie Churchwell reflected on the act of welcoming and showing hospitality, “Offering hospitality is a deep act of faith. By building trust and connection, we are active participants in the flourishing of communities filled with those who have been experiencing great fear, chaos, and heartache. St. Paul’s, responding to this call has made me exceptionally proud to be their dean, and it has been heart-opening to journey together in loving our neighbors.”
In Stillwater, many refugees have arrived, and more are expected. The Rev. Jeff Huston, Chaplin for St. Augustine of Canterbury Center at Oklahoma State University has been assisting in leading the efforts on the Afghan Refugee Welcome along with The Rev. Blake Woods and Jennifer Hund.
Fr. Jeff commented on his experience with Afghan Refugee welcoming, “I’ve been encouraged by the response as we’ve helped facilitate connecting our clergy and parishioners with different volunteer opportunities. It is wonderful to see people from all different walks of life really lean into the biblical practice of hospitality. Whether it's delivering meals, welcoming our new neighbors at the airport, and helping them get settled in temporary housing, providing meeting spaces, financial resources, or prayer, I believe we have responded to this call with compassion, humility, and creativity. I am especially grateful for Jennifer Hund and the work she has done navigating different organizations and facilitating the training sessions of our various churches in the OKC region. Her praises cannot be sung enough. “
In Tulsa, congregations are assisting the refugee community. Trinity Tulsa is working to create long-term mentors for refugees resettling to Tulsa.
Hannah Middlebrook, Director of Operations at Trinity Tulsa commented on their efforts, “Trinity Tulsa’s Social Justice Commission (SJC) has been instrumental in our involvement with Afghans new to our area. The SJC, in conjunction with other Tulsa churches, is facilitating outings to get families out of their hotel rooms while they await more permanent housing. Whether that is time in our playground, or helping families learn how to use the resources of our downtown library, we are so pleased to be able to offer our time and energy,” Middlebrook said. “We are also excited about a developing program we hope will ease the refugees into learning English. Conversation Circles will pair Afghans with a small team of parishioners who will conduct simple English conversations in a non-threatening environment. These circles will not only provide English language learning opportunities but will provide a network of trusted locals who can help these newcomers navigate an overwhelming season of their lives. We are commanded to treat the stranger as a native among us (Leviticus 19:33-34). It is our Christian duty to offer our time, talents, and treasure to welcome “the stranger” to our home, and it is our absolute honor to do so,” Middlebrook said.
In addition to Trinity, Christ Church, Tulsa is working with the reformed synagogue for volunteer opportunities. Up in the Northeast region, All Saints', Miami, is using their successful backpack supplies program to assist the Afghan refugee children heading to school. See photos below!
A total of 1,800 Afghan Refugees are expected over the next several months. Every refugee has a different story and different circumstances, as Christians, we can welcome them with hospitality and love! As the months go by, there will be more opportunities to participate in the welcome and hospitality ministry. Stay tuned with our Diocesan Social media accounts, emails, and chat with your local priest or church leader on how to get involved. You can also contact The Rev. Jeff Huston (email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org) and The Rev. Blake Woods (email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org) on how to get involved in this important ministry work.