Recently my wife and I heard Halima’s story. Originally from Afghanistan, Halima has lived in northwest Iowa for several years and studied at Northwestern College in Orange City. Each summer she returns home to Afghanistan to visit family. This past summer she nearly became trapped in Afghanistan when the Taliban took over Kabul. She narrowly managed to get a flight back to the US. Sadly, she had to leave her husband and family behind. Upon returning to the US, Halima served as a translator for the US Army at Fort McCoy in Wisconsin as the Army dealt with the withdrawal from Afghanistan. Currently she works at the Mary Treglia House in Sioux City, a 100-year-old organization that helps people from other countries – including many from Afghanistan these days – make a new home in northwest Iowa.
As I listened to Halima and the needs of Afghans arriving in northwest Iowa, I thought of a story Jesus tells that includes this part:
The righteous will answer him, “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?” The King will reply, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”
Afghan refugees arriving in northwest Iowa find themselves in a foreign environment, grateful to be safe from the Taliban, but also uncertain and vulnerable in regards to finances, work, language, and cultural expectations. They need people to help feed them by navigating a grocery store together with them. They need people to donate clothes suitable for cold Iowa winters. They need people to warmly invite them into their lives and befriend them. And along the way our new Afghan neighbors will hopefully learn English, adjust to northwest Iowa, and begin giving back to their community. If you feel nudged to befriend an Afghan family that’s new to the area, contact the Mary Treglia House – marytreglia.org or 712.258.5137.
Our Afghan neighbors also need Americans to advocate for them. To put it simply, newly-arrived refugees have one year to get their immigration paperwork in order; however, the system is so backlogged that refugees and their supporters fear they will not be able to take their next steps to permanent residency or citizenship in time. Members of Congress are considering an Afghan Adjustment Act to expedite the process, similar to when Laotians came to northwest Iowa after the Vietnam War. If you’d like to investigate advocating for our Afghan neighbors, go to this page at the National Immigration Forum.
Unless we have an indigenous background, all of us have an immigration story in our family history not unlike Halima’s. And you could say that those of us who follow Christ have immigrated from our hell-bound destinations to being welcomed into the Kingdom of God. It makes sense that people with that kind of story welcome other immigrants too.
This was my contribution to the Perspectives column
in The Rock Valley Bee a couple weeks ago.