The father of eight served in the military in Afghanistan on America’s behalf. After the Taliban takeover of his homeland last August, his life was in danger. He and his family needed to flee.
With his military paperwork hidden under his wife’s clothing, the family made it safely to a U.S. military base and then to temporary housing in North Carolina.
There, he met Karen Fiorini, CityServe coordinator at Providence Church in Raleigh, North Carolina. The man’s compassion not only for his fellow refugees but also for those seeking to help them “inspired me to do anything to help him and his family,” Fiorini said. Her first steps were simple: help the family shop for groceries and begin the process of helping the parents and children learn English.
Fiorini and her family developed a close relationship with the refugee family. Although the Afghan refugee family has relocated to another city in North Carolina, regular contact continues.
This story is one of many that Fiorini passionately shares about ministry and witness to the hundreds of Afghan refugees who are finding temporary housing in her community.
It’s a story that’s resonating throughout North Carolina’s capital city and beyond.
‘Partners with refugees’
“The Raleigh Baptist Association has hundreds of people and groups that are involved with Afghan refugees. Each one partners with refugees in different ways and on different levels. It is a beautiful portrait of grace to see God using His people to show His love to those who feel such hurt and abandonment from their previous lives,” said Patrick Fuller, executive director, Raleigh Baptist Association.
Ministry and being a witness for Christ go hand-in-hand as believers build relationships with refugees.
“Ministry, such as meeting practical needs often leads to gospel conversations as relationships are developed. These relationships are built as churches, Sunday school classes, small groups and mission groups adopt and connect with Afghan families.
“As the refugees begin to trust those who are helping them in practical ways, they listen and begin to process the gospel conversations that take place,” Fuller said.
‘Love and mercy of Jesus’
Providence partners with numerous other area churches and ministry organizations to care for the Afghan refugees who are building their new lives in America.
Through her experience of getting to know refugees personally, Fiorini has learned to “never look at anybody as a project or group but as individuals.”
“When I see people thrown into utter chaos, their core physical and spiritual needs need to be met. As they are lost and afraid, we can show them the love and mercy of Jesus Christ,” she said.
Providence Church offers a Monday evening meal and worship service for Afghan refugees, with several other area churches providing transportation to the service. The Baptist association also rents a charter bus to transport refugees to the worship service.
Seventy-one refugees participated in Providence’s first Afghan worship service, hearing the gospel message in their native Farsi.
Throughout the week, local believers help the arriving refugees with practical needs, such as learning English, packing and moving and providing household necessities, including everything from pots and pans to fresh food.
‘Big family ministry’
In partnership with the association and the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina, The Summit Church in Raleigh has brought a new pastor, John Messiah, on board to focus on building relationships with Afghan refugees.
“We call our ministry ‘the big family ministry,’” explained Messiah, Summit’s director of local international outreach.
“We realized that immigrants (especially refugees) enjoy a lot of new things here in the U.S.; yet, they always miss their families and they always want to feel part of a bigger family.
“We are committed to be family for them, and they appreciate that so much,” he said.
Once a month, refugees go to the church facility for dinner, worship and a Bible story in English and Farsi. Two to three times a month, Summit volunteers visit refugees in their homes for home care, pastoral care and discipleship.
“We have had many great conversations about how Christ meets us in our suffering and longs for us to know His peace He freely offers, and we have seen some accept that very offer. There is much joy in the Triangle with this new community.
“We are blessed to be Jesus’ hands and feet caring for these dear brothers and sisters,” Messiah said.
Loving Jesus and Afghan neighbors
In addition to the Afghan refugee ministry and witness of multiple congregations in Raleigh Baptist Association, church planter David Abdelmesseh is launching an Afghan church in Garner, North Carolina.
Already more than 30 Afghan refugees have made professions of faith “from the efforts of Baptists who love Jesus and who are loving their Afghan neighbors and friends,” Fuller said.
Still, there is more to do.
Partnerships and opportunities to minister and witness to Afghan refugees “continue daily,” Fuller said.
“It is important for Southern Baptists to minister to the Afghan refugees that God continues to bring to certain areas and neighborhoods because it is an incredible opportunity to show them gospel-centered love,” Fuller said.
As believers meet “the physical needs of people who have been broken, worn down and abandoned by the actions and decisions of others … God opens the soul of the recipient so that seeds of faith can be planted, sown and watered. With cultivation, the recipient will have the opportunity to come into a personal relationship with Jesus.”