Monthly Archives: January 2022

Befriending Newly Arrived Afghans Across the US

In their most recent newsletter, Mission to North America Refugee & Immigrant Ministry highlights Grace Covenant’s Mary & Allen Slade and Nathan Kieweit for their labors to lead our church in outreach to Afghan Refugees here on the Peninsula. We have reproduced the post here:
Have you resolved to do something new in 2022? Something that will allow the Lord to deepen your spiritual life in fresh ways?

Upon her recent retirement, Mary Slade of Grace Covenant Presbyterian Church in Williamsburg, VA, prayerfully set a new goal for this season of her life:  to form a friendship with someone who might not ever walk through the doors of her church! The Lord answered, providing her a chance to befriend a newly arrived Afghan family in her area.  She started by offering to drive the young Afghan mother and her pre-school daughter to shop at Walmart, and then to a local park with playground equipment. 
“When we got to the park, I realized it was their very first time,” says Mary. “The little girl was frightened! After an hour, though, her countenance totally changed. You could see the stress melt away! Her mom enjoyed it, too–getting away from the confines of the apartment and her many worries, to a peaceful place with trees. And she was relieved to see her child happy.” 

When the little girl’s older brother found out that they had gone to the park on a school day without him, he asked Mary if they could go again, so he could get in on the fun! 

“Now their mom calls me ‘Mom,’” says Mary affectionately. “Knowing that they don’t have their own mom or grandma with them, it’s such a special thing to be able to just be there for them in that capacity as they begin to navigate life in the US!” 
Acts 17:26 and 27 tells us that God has always used the movement of people for His purposes – and that whatever causes people to leave their homelands (in this case, fleeing to a safer place), His sovereign purpose is “that they might perhaps feel their way toward Him and find Him.” But this doesn’t happen in a vacuum – He has brought them to OUR communities – into proximity with believers so that we might be “the aroma of Christ” in how we welcome and befriend them.“Knowing that they don’t have their own mom or grandma with them, it’s such a special thing to be able to just be there for them in that capacity as they begin to navigate life in the US!”
Have you heard that Afghan arrivals will be resettled in your area? If you haven’t yet, it’s very possible that you will soon. While the evacuation flights initially took approximately 70,000 Afghans to US military bases around the country for processing and vaccinations, only 16,000 now remain on the bases, and those are expected to leave for local communities before Feb. 15th.

While most previous refugees have spent years in camps waiting for a chance to resettle in a safe country, these Afghans have not had that experience. Many had been working in respected roles with US troops or US-funded aid programs, and had been relatively comfortable financially, until their country fell to the Taliban and they found themselves in imminent danger. Suddenly they had to leave everything behind, and those fortunate enough to make it onto evacuation flights were brought directly to the US. 

Not having to endure the protracted trauma of refugee camp living is positive, and the Afghans are very grateful to be in a safe place. However, the whiplash of rushing to evacuate – with no chance to prepare, very few possessions, anxious about family members who didn’t make it out – and now suddenly finding themselves in a new culture where their previous roles and/or professional credentials are not transferable – is a huge challenge. Having put their lives -and the lives of their family members – at risk to help Americans, their hopes of how they would be welcomed here may be high. “For these families, it’s hard to adjust to the reality that they need to accept an entry level job and start at the bottom,” says Mary Slade. 

Suddenly finding themselves in a new culture where their previous roles and/or professional credentials are not transferableis a huge challenge.After arriving in a new country, refugees have to rebuild their lives from scratch, usually with significant assistance from the local resettlement agency that picks them up at the airport and walks with them through the first few months. But – due to critical staff shortages caused by the erosion of federal support for the refugee program during the previous 4 years – and due to the sudden, unanticipated evacuation of 70,000 Afghans to the US in 6 weeks’ time, rather than the usual “controlled flow” of refugees into the US – many of the local resettlement agencies assigned to help the Afghan arrivals are overwhelmed, currently only able to provide limited support in this process, once the refugees are sent to local communities from the US military bases to which they were initially evacuated.
And yet, partnership with resettlement agencies is vital. “For the US government, there has been no ‘Plan B’ for helping refugees to settle in the US,” explains Pat Hatch, MNA’s Refugee and Immigrant Ministry Director. “Federal government and state agencies depend on the local resettlement agencies as the sole conduit of information and processes crucial to establishing the refugees’ identity in US databases and providing access to transitional benefits and services for which they are eligible.”

As you reach out to your local resettlement agency, be gently persistent in offering to supplement these important services,  using their online contact form or organizational email address. If you are specific about what you can offer (transportation to and from appointments? a storage unit for donated items? a housing unit for a year? furnishings in good condition? ESL tutoring?) and let them know multiple ways to reach you, you’ll be more likely to get a response.” (Find your closest resettlement agency at 

Mary Slade definitely sees her efforts as supporting the resettlement agency in their time of need: “The agencies are overwhelmed. They’ve never had this many refugees come through this fast, at a time when their staffing levels were so low. We are just filling in the gaps.” 
[Photo: Volunteers organizing donations at a storage unit in Tucson]

Another Grace Covenant Presbyterian member, Nathan Kiewiet, reports that “when we first met our Afghan family of eleven, they only had the clothes on their backs.” Simply taking new arrivals to Walmart to pick out some additional clothes can be a huge blessing. The church has donated money as well as household items, responding to specific needs expressed by Afghan families themselves, since “we want to get things they need, not presume what we think they need or overhelp.” For example, while some families may appreciate tables and chairs or sofas, many may – at least at first – prefer donations of clean carpets on which they can spread out a cloth for meals and for socializing, as has been their tradition. 

Finding housing in local communities for refugees is always challenging for the resettlement agencies, since it needs to be on public transportation routes, near jobs, and at a rate affordable on an entry-level wage.  (And since the refugees don’t yet have either a job or a credit rating!)

But with the Afghan arrivals, this has been compounded because there is a nationwide shortage of affordable housing, and also because many of the Afghan families who are arriving are quite large – often with five or more children, requiring larger units. 
“We want to get things they need, not presume what we think they need.”As a result of the shortage, once they are sent from the military bases to the local communities, many resettlement agencies are finding it necessary to house the Afghan families temporarily in extended stay motels until more permanent housing solutions can be found.
(If you as a parent or grandparent have ever had a vacation rained or snowed out and have been trapped in a hotel room for 24 hours with small children, you can begin to imagine how difficult it is for families who have been through so much trauma already to live this way for weeks or months, in a confined space, with many children.)

Many of the adults have not yet received their employment authorization documents that are still in process, and most of the children have not yet been enrolled in school, so they are just “sitting there in limbo, with nothing to do.”  If the local resettlement agency will permit, this is a tremendous, time-sensitive opportunity for church volunteers to step into the gap and provide meaningful activities and begin friendships (a few volunteers at a time, is best at first.) 
Essie Wu of Catalina Foothills Church in Tucson, AZ shares that her church has teamed up with a local Afghan-run organization, Tucson Afghan Community, as well as with Tucson Refugee Ministry to go to the hotel where Afghans are are living temporarily and help provide donations and diversions to those with little to do.  Activities have included crocheting (a popular pastime for Afghan women), soccer games, music, Q&A with an immigration lawyer and children’s activities.“You can’t imagine how rewarding it is to meet a family right at the beginning! They’re so grateful, and you become part of their story, burned into their memory – someone they’ll never forget!”
Though living in motels makes it impractical for these families to receive most household items yet, they have been very grateful for donated electric tea kettles (which don’t require a stove) and teacups, “which are culturally so important to Afghans, to allow them – even in their hotel rooms – to cope with their day in a familiar way, and to be hospitable if they have visitors.”
This is a tremendous, time-sensitive opportunity for church volunteers to step into the gap and provide meaningful activities and begin friendships. Christi Triplett shares that Westminster Presbyterian Church of Rock Hill, SC, is seeking to “stand in the gap” regarding lack of housing for Afghan new arrivals by offering the two small furnished houses owned by the church to be rented by Afghan families for up to two years. They expect to receive two families soon through Samaritan’s Purse, which is working with one of the resettlement agencies, Church World Service. Other churches might consider if there are housing units owned by the church (perhaps a former manse or parsonage?) that might be used for refugee ministry in a similar way in this emergency!
It is a truly special thing to meet a family in their very early days in this country and then to continue the relationship as the years go by, says Essie Wu. “You can’t imagine how rewarding it is to meet a family right at the beginning! They’re so grateful, and you become part of their story, burned into their memorysomeone they’ll never forget!” Essie can attest to that: She is still dear friends with some Somali Bantu refugees that she helped resettle twenty years ago!
Our next newsletter will continue to look at initial resettlement needs and provide ideas for building long-term friendships with Afghan families.

Linda B. and her husband Bruce, who have been working with a few others from Covenant Life Church in Gaithersburg, MD, to help a young Afghan couple get settled in the Washington DC area advise: “Use Google Sheets – user-friendly spreadsheets that can be edited by anyone with the link!” Keeping a shared spreadsheet allows church refugee team members to be on the same page and avoid duplicating each other’s efforts.

New needs can be reported to the group on this shared document, and progress can be tracked, as team members add a brief description of who did what on what date, subjects discussed, what items have been donated, etc.

Wondering what household items Afghans most frequently request? Here is a starter list:

tea kettles and tea cups,
serving platters, serving dishes, 
old-fashioned pressure cookers, 
large cooking pots, 
cookie sheets, or roasting pans for oven roasting 
irons and ironing boards
large, clean area rugs 
A very helpful 17-minute video by missionary to Afghanistan, JW, on Afghan cultural considerations

January 31st : Culture and Considerations: How to Best Welcome Afghan Newcomers (a 45-minute webinar by Church World Service): Staff of the Afghan Association of Michigan tell how we can best welcome our Afghan allies and new neighbors. 

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Grace Covenant Men’s SIP Groups

Proverbs 27.17 says: “Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.”

As a way to connect men to one another, and to encourage men to sharpen one another, Grace Covenant Men’s Ministry is launching a new initiative we are calling SIP Groups. The acronym SIP stands for Scripture Invitation Prayer.

The idea for SIP Groups were born out of a an interdenominational event at the Brother Bryan Mission in downtown Birmingham, Alabama, in February 2020. Participation has grown from a few to more than 50 congregations, from a variety of denominations, in 11 states, as of the end of 2021.

SIP Groups are simple. Each group will consists of 5 or 7 men. Each participant in the group will commit take one day each week, for the period of 40 days. (Groups of 5 are Monday – Friday; Groups of 7 are Sunday – Saturday.) On your assigned day you are responsible to send a simple group text, with a verse or short Bible passage, and a brief prayer related to the passage. Here are a few examples:

1 Timothy 1.8-9

“But we know that the law is good, if a man use it lawfully; knowing this, that the law is not made for a righteous man, but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and for sinners, for unholy and profane, for murderers of fathers and murderers of mothers, for manslayers,…”

Thank you Father for waking us this morning and thank you for your word and law for without we would just be lost. Help those that are lost like we have been and allow us to be a blessing in others lives bless us with a wonderful holiday season and thank you for sending your son Jesus Christ to die for our sins even though we did and do not deserve it bless and protect our families in Jesus mighty name we pray amen!!!

Psalms ch 40 v 16

 “Let all who seek You rejoice and be glad in You; Let those who love Your salvation say continually, The lord be magnified!”

 Dear Heavenly Father! We thank you for this day, for the blessings you will bestow upon us.  Thank you for your love that shines upon us in the darkest of times, we know you are with us. With your hand reaching down to us, helping us in our troubling times!! Please forgive us of our sins, let us have a  heart of gratitude putting you first in our lives!! For its in your great name we pray!

Psalm 84:10

 For a day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere. I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of wickedness.


Lord, God Almighty, Grant that we may be given even a glimpse of your glory; let us behold your splendor, so we would be reminded that NOTHING compares with you. We thank you that you have sent your son, Jesus, in whom and by whom we see you. Thank you that in Him we will dwell in your presence forever. ~ Amen

Occasionally someone may add a comment about the verse before offering the prayer.

Good morning SIP Family!!!

 Colossians ch 3 v 16

 Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God!!

 Let us lift each other up, encourage each other and pray for each other. To serve God and each other with love!!

 Our great and glorious Father!! Thank you for this day you have given us! Thank you for the love you have shown us. Dear Father . help us today to be more Christ like, to serve each other. Let your spirit be our guide, to glorify your Name in we do. It is in your great name we pray !! Amen!!

No matter what, the text message is short and simple. But, it is amazing how encouraging you will find it to be.

Those who are the recipients of these message often reply with a word of thanks, or with a comment how the verse or prayer has encouraged them on that day, or with a simple thumbs-up emoji. In this way, SIPs are connecting and mutually affirming.

Grace Covenant Men’s Ministry would like to launch our first round of SIPs to begin on February 1. To do this we would need for participants to sign up by Saturday January 29. Just click on the sign-up page link: Grace Covenant SIP Groups.

Sign up requires only two things:

  • We need your name
  • We need your cell phone number for the group texts.

Click the link and join us!

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A Pastor’s Note to Grace Covenant – January 5, 2022

Dear Grace Covenant Family,

With recent spikes in COVID cases and hospitalizations in our area, including several members of our Grace Covenant family; and with informed projections telling us that this present spike has yet to reach its peak, the Grace Covenant Session has chosen to initiate some temporary precautionary measures. These protocols will go into effect this Sunday, January 9, and run through the end of this month. They will be reviewed again by Session at our February 1 meeting. 

Chief among our temporary measures will be the postponement of the resumption of Sunday School for all ages, and the temporary suspension of nursery, Kid’s Quest (catechism), and Children’s Church on Sunday mornings.  Obviously we are concerned for the health of our children, many of whom may not have yet had opportunity to receive vaccination. But our concern is also for those who teach – and for those who coordinate these activities for our children.

Second, we will encourage intentional social distancing, as well as reiterate our present policy which strongly recommends wearing masks during our worship services. Along with that, as strongly as we affirm the importance and benefits of worshipping together, we do want to encourage anyone with underlying health issues that might compound the effects of COVID to consider worshipping with us online for a few weeks.  

Finally, a few other recommendations and minor adjustments will be made by various ministries. Most immediate among those adjustments will be the postponement of our annual Congregational Dinner Meeting to Sunday February 6. Ministry leaders will notify those involved of any other adjustments that will impact their respective schedules and activities.  

Like many of you, I have grown weary of all these restrictions and adjustments. I long for a day – hopefully a day sometime soon – when we are back on the road to normalcy.  As a Session we are not predicting anything, nor do we want to inspire fear or undue concerns.  We are simply taking some temporary proactive measures intended to protect the people in our church, with as little disruption as possible. It may prove, in  few weeks, that these temporary measures were un-necessary. Nothing would make us happier. But few things would cause us more regret than for us to take no preventative actions, then later realize we should have.  We ask for your patience with us, and for your prayers. We are always in need of wisdom, but perhaps at this time more than almost ever before.  

Speaking on behalf of all of our Elders – those presently on Session, those on sabbatical, and those who are Emeritus – I will paraphrase the Apostle Paul: We give thanks for you all, for the grace God has given you is evident, and an encouragement to us all. 

Grace & Peace,

W. Dennis Griffith, Lead Pastor

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