Redland Baptist Church (RBC) is sponsoring two Afghan families — providing housing, furniture, clothing, food, and other necessities. The families, who are Muslim, are overwhelmingly appreciative of the “Afghan team,” and RBC members are excited. Over 30 members are significantly involved, and the whole church is supportive. “It’s like a mini-revival,” said Outreach Minister Peggy Peek.
Senior Pastor Mark Adams said, “This is one of the most exciting things I’ve seen in all my years of serving God’s people.”
Peek explained the church could not take their usual missions trips due to Covid, and they were seeking an alternative way to do some international outreach. Peek saw the opportunity to sponsor an Afghan family after reading a SEND relief email. After more research, Peek was intrigued by the possibilities. She presented the information to the church, and the congregation fully embraced the ministry.
Peek began forming an “Afghan Ministry Team” to organize the expected work.
Within months of their decision, which included training and paperwork, Peek and others met their adopted young Afghan couple, Bashir* and Darya,* and their three children, 11-year-old daughter; and two sons, ages five and 20 months. Bashir and Darya are expecting a fourth child in April.
In mid-August, the family arrived in the United States, and volunteers had the family settled into a three-bedroom apartment in Gaithersburg by November. RBC is paying three months of rent and partially subsidizing six more. They also provided furnishings, housewares, clothing, and food. Also, they enrolled the children in school, and they’re helping them organize their finances. Peggy asked if there was anything else the family needed. Bashir was extremely thankful but shared that his parents and brother were still in the U.S. military camp. Peek wasn’t sure she could help but made contacts, and once again, God opened a door. The church agreed to adopt the parents, Hamraz,* an Afghan Military veteran, and his wife Ilham* and Bashir’s brother, Wahid,* a college-aged student who wants to be a dentist. They are now living in the same apartment complex as Bashir. The church also rallied around the second family, doubling their investment.
While visiting with both families over Afghan tea and cake, Bashir, a 13-year veteran in the Afghan military, shared with me the story of his family’s terrifying experience in Kabul following the United States’ withdrawal of troops.
“The Taliban surrounded Kabul,” Bashir said. “The situation was very bad at that time. Every family was thinking, ‘what’s going on, what can we do?’ It was so hard for me and all of our team. The Taliban knew about us and that we were working with the U.S.” Bashir’s family had to move to a new location. “If the Taliban found you, they would kill you. It didn’t matter if you were young or old. It was so hard for my family. I talked to my U.S. mentor and told them the situation was very bad. Very bad,” he repeated, shaking his head.
His U.S. mentor contacted Bashir and asked, “Are you ready to go to the airport?” The family rushed to get a plane but had to return home.
Bashir said, “There were a lot of people at the airport, and everybody wanted to get in. The doors were locked. There were Taliban all around. We couldn’t get inside; there was too much traffic and too many people.” They returned several times but couldn’t get inside.
Finally, at 4 a.m. one morning, Bashir’s mentor called with a secret signal to enter the airport and board a plane. The family fled with just the clothes they were wearing and a few of their important papers in plastic.
They were transported to the Marine Corp Base in Quantico for two months before moving to temporary housing in Riverdale, Maryland.
“Then Peggy and the team found me and sponsored us,” Bashir said with a big smile.
Meeting Needs and Sharing the Gospel
After our meeting, Redland Members Mike Moore and Tom Cox, both on the Afghan Ministry Team, discussed job possibilities with Bashir and helped him with managing finances. Peggy drove Darya to a prenatal appointment.
The various teams are active throughout the week, assisting with transportation and teaching English as a Second Language to the families (currently, only Bashir speaks fluently).
Erin Toomey leads the food and clothing team. She led the team in stocking the pantry and refrigerator with warm meals.
“I’ve been very impressed with everyone at Redland. We wanted them to have a touch of home by the time they moved into the apartment. And everyone has been sensitive about permitted Halal food and other culturally appropriate meals.” Toomey said the families are very appreciative of what the church has done. They’re also thankful that team members have been taking them grocery shopping, allowing them to buy what they need. “We are building relationships and community,” Toomey said.
Toomey said she’s also excited to see that volunteering is multi-generational, from little children working alongside their families to older grandparents.
Cox said, “Helping others in such a meaningful, direct way gives me joy. I think God made it that way for all of us because he is love, and he wants to share that with us as a great gift.”
An avid bicyclist, Cox found a donated bike for Bashir. “I know the joy you get from getting your own bicycle. I cannot fully explain how good it felt to see the expression on his face when Bashir got his bicycle and what that represents in his life.” Now the team is praying for a car for the family.
Moore said, “It has been neat to see how the different interests and abilities of the group working with the family have complemented each other to support the resettlement. It’s a great example of the body of Christ at work in the world.”
In addition to enrolling Bashir’s two older children in school, church volunteers also enrolled them in RBC’s Upward Basketball program and purchased their uniforms.
“They really like Upward,” Bashir said. And, they’re making friends, both at school and at basketball practice.
Associate Pastor Kevin Freeman’s children Olivia and Wesley are also involved with Upward and have become friends with Bashir’s children.
Wesley is on the same basketball team as Bashir’s son, and Bashir’s daughter plays on a girls’ basketball team in her age group. Though the Afghan children can speak some English, much of the communication still relies on gestures, but it works. “It’s a neat dynamic,” Kevin said. Wesley and (the five-year-old boy) get along well.”
Kevin and his wife Karen invited the family, including Bashir’s parents and brother, for Christmas. He said, “We are excited about it. The church has provided Christmas presents for the family, and they went all out!
“We’re picking them up Christmas afternoon. We’ll put all of their gifts around the tree and have it all lit up for the full experience. As we do the gift opening, I’ll explain that this (experience) is a gift from the church to you and explain ‘here’s why we share gifts at Christmas.’” Kevin will tell the account of the wise men bringing gifts and then share the example of God sending his Son into the world as a gift.
“I think it’s the most wonderful thing in the world getting to have close contact with this family and then later, them looking back and seeing who helped them get a foothold (in their resettlement) — that it was the church that came along without strings attached. It’s one of the most beautiful expressions of God’s love we can offer.”
Toomey is thrilled the church can minister to the family at Christmas. “To have the opportunity to meet this family where they are and provide real-life support and establish a safe home, especially approaching Christmas, is such a natural and easy way to share the love of Jesus.”
“It’s being the church with a capital’ C.’”
Partnering With Afghan Christians
Senior Pastor Mark Adams said ministering to the Afghan family is, in a way, partnering with Christians in Afghanistan.
He said, “A few weeks back, I read an article that told about Afghan Christians. They are, of course, a small minority of that nation. When the U.S. started to airlift people out of the country as the Taliban took over — many of these Christians decided to stay. One said, ‘This is where God has placed us. God is certainly able to protect us, and if He chooses not to protect us, we are willing to suffer and even die for the name of Christ.’
These brave believers are committed to sharing the gospel there, even under Taliban rule. They know it could cost them their lives — but if it does — they know they would be ‘airlifted’ to a far better place. But they know that this is not true of their Muslim neighbors—they know these people DON’T KNOW Jesus. They don’t have the promise of Heaven. So, they let them take their place on those planes.
“As you know, about 40,000 Afghans, most of them Muslims, came here — where thanks to our religious freedom, they can hear the gospel.
“At Redland, we see this as our opportunity to partner with those courageous Afghan believers — doing our part on this end to share the gospel with these refugees God has brought to our door.”
Churches interested in learning more about adopting refugee families or discovering other ways to help may visit SEND Relief for free resources and training. Additionally, the Salaam Center in Baltimore is reaching out to refugees, and volunteers and support are needed and welcome.
*names changed for security purposes
Sharon Mager serves as a communications specialist for the Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware and a BaptistLIFE correspondent.
Since this article was written, the team helped find Bashir and his brother, Wahid, jobs at a local restaurant.
Cover Photo: Cpl Rachael Allen, Canadian Forces Combat Camera, Canadian Armed Forces photo