COLUMBUS — Five houses of worship have announced plans to sponsor and support four relocated Afghan families as residents of Columbus at least for their first year here.
That support for the time being will include basic expenses such as housing and utilities, groceries, schooling and also helping with employment, according to plans made by a group calling itself Faith Partners In Compassion.
Those religious bodies that are a part of that group are: First Presbyterian Church; First Baptist Church; the Islamic Society of Columbus Indiana; St. Bartholomew Catholic Church; and First Christian Church.
They are working alongside agencies Exodus Refugee Immigration Inc. in Indianapolis and the Indianapolis office of Catholic Charities on the plan for the Afghans to resettle here. Both agencies have worked extensively with families resettling.
These families coming to Columbus are among the thousands of Afghans fully vetted by the American government and currently hosted in military facilities across the United States.
They are not necessarily part of the more than 7,000 Afghans being assisted at Camp Atterbury in Edinburgh, according to local religious leaders.
For example, the first family to relocate, to be helped by First Presbyterian’s congregation, is coming from Wisconsin and is expected to arrive within days.
“The local partner congregations are motivated by a sense of call from God to help, knowing these Afghan individuals took great risks to support American troops serving in their country,” said the Rev. Felipe Martinez, pastor at First Presbyterian Church.
Exodus and Catholic Charities will be instrumental in the early segment of the families’ resettling. For example, Exodus recommended placing multiple families’ residences near each other to provide a support system and immediate opportunities.
“The Afghan families being resettled in Columbus left their homeland under harrowing conditions,” Martinez said. “Members in families like these had helped the American military, who in turn promised to support them. In a way, the partner congregations are seeking to be a part of fulfilling that promise.”
Local clergy said part of their long-term goal is to help the families move toward self-sufficiency.
Pastor Dan Cash of First Baptist Church mentioned that his congregation has a history of helping refugees, having assisted Vietnamese families who settled in Columbus in the 1970s after the Vietnam War.
“I think that, among us, there was both a sense of a call and a compassion,” Cash said. “The people here clearly said, ‘We need to do something (to help).”
Cash added that his congregants recently began training for the process. That includes a leadership team of five people plus as many as 10 to 20 other volunteers coordinating everything from transportation to housing and furniture.
“It’s a pool of people to call on depending upon the specific need,” Cash said. ” … These (Afghan) people have had their world turned upside down.”
Local religious leaders mentioned that each house of worship is coordinating its own plans for donations and financial support, after Exodus’ initial financial. They acknowledged that the amount needed will vary from family to family, depending upon the size of the family and overall situation.
The Islamic Society of Columbus Indiana was among the first local faith bodies to reach out to help the refugees at Camp Atterbury when it organized a donation drive of clothes, supplies and money in September, according to Ghufran Ahmad, president.
“Donations just poured in because were so excited to be able to help,” Ahmad said.
Now, he mentioned that he’s especially heartened to see so many Christians willing to help Afghans, whom he said are mostly Muslim, “regardless of their religion or ethnicity.”
And he said the local Islamic society, which averages about 150 people at services each Friday at the mosque at 2310 Chestnut St. in Columbus, will be a key to extend a hand to the soon-to-be local families with their worship and faith.
“That’s one of our advantages here, that, even for a smaller town, we already have a mosque (for them),” Ahmad said.
He added that the members of the local Islamic society have been raising money regularly for the Afghan people ever since September. And that money will be used to partially support each of the families relocating here.