Nov 30, 2021
Congregational UCC of Neenah/Menasha is helping to welcome eight members of an Afghan refugee family to the Fox Valley. The family – a married couple with five children and a nephew in tow – arrived earlier this month. The congregation created a Good Neighbor Team to work with World Relief, the government-designated resettlement agency for the Fox Valley.
“It’s difficult to find words for how inspiring it is to be able to be part of an effort to help people who find themselves needing to completely start over,” the Rev. Dave Frey, pastor of Congregational UCC, told Wisconsin Conference Life. Later, he added, “My sense is they feel welcomed and safe and kind of off to the next part of life.”
Though the experience has been immensely satisfying, the church has encountered challenges along the way.
“Certainly, there’s a language barrier,” Frey said. “What’s kind of neat is that the team has found all kinds of creative ways to mitigate that, one being that the father of the family learned German in his own home growing up, so he is a fairly fluent German speaker.
“One member of the team has a daughter who’s fairly fluent in German. She has been able to get on the phone and help translate.” The newly arrived family already has connected with other Afghans in the region, including a couple that has been in the area for seven years and can help bridge the language barrier.
There have been important cultural lessons, too. On a shopping excursion with the refugee family, a member of the Good Neighbor Team suggested the group order a pepperoni pizza.
“The dad was able to communicate that pork was not for them,” Frey said. “They figured out something else. It’s really sort of neat to observe the ways that we learn things cross-culturally and through sensitivity.”
The Afghan family is living in one half of a duplex. The congregation helped provide things like towels and cooking utensils – “the various items you need to set up a new house.” World Relief has cautioned the church “not to try to overwhelm them with money, so to speak.”
“World Relief’s reasoning is that one of the things that every kind of immigrant needs to figure out is how to make a transition to being able to survive financially and independently in American culture,” Frey said. What’s more valuable is to help the immigrants create a household budget.
Is your congregation interested in helping an Afghan family resettle in Wisconsin? Email Mary Kuenning Gross, the Wisconsin Conference’s Afghan allies welcome coordinator.