When families from Afghanistan arrived in the United States following their rapid evacuation from the war-torn country, Adventist Community Services (ACS) stood ready to serve.
Chesapeake Conference’s ACS team first responded to the crisis by meeting evacuees arriving at Dulles International Airport in Virginia in early September 2021. The ACS team administered emotional and spiritual care as part of its ongoing partnership with the American Red Cross.
Care and Love for Evacuees
Most evacuees cared for were American citizens returning to the United States because of the rapid military withdrawal. Some of the Americans returning were also of Afghan descent, including some who had to leave family behind in the war-torn country.
“These are people who are having to completely restart their lives,” Ignacio Goya, ACS director for Chesapeake Conference, said in September. “Many are experiencing shock. We’re here for them in these moments of change, stress, and loneliness. We’re here to show them care and love and to let them know that they’re not alone.”
ACS team members also offered support for the volunteers and government employees working long hours in response to the crisis, many of whom have felt overwhelmed by what they’re seeing.
“No one has stopped to ask many of these people how they’re doing,” Goya said. “Working in a crisis is stressful. Imagine trying to help person after person for an eight-hour shift for 10 days in a row. Many are feeling frustrated because they just don’t have enough resources to help those arriving in the way they want. So we listen to them and cry with them and show them care and love.”
The latest response efforts have shifted from providing emotional and spiritual care to organizing long-term support for evacuees.
Help to Resettle
Three months later, ACS Chesapeake has shifted its focus to providing 340 Afghan families resettling in Chesapeake territory (Delaware and most of Maryland) with food and essential supplies as they attempt to rebuild their lives in the United States.
“We’re not just giving food or a welcome basket; we’re sharing the love of Jesus with them,” Ignacio Goya, Chesapeake’s ACS director, said. “That’s what ACS is all about; that’s what the Seventh-day Adventist Church is all about.”
Churches across the Chesapeake Conference responded to donation requests for essential items such as cleaning supplies, hygiene products, and basic kitchen equipment. In partnership with ADRA, ACS Columbia Union, and ACS North American Division, team members from ACS Chesapeake organized the donations into welcome baskets and personally distributed them to refugees living in temporary housing in the region.
For those involved in delivering the welcome baskets, interacting with the refugees has been heartbreaking as well as inspiring.
“It’s been life-transforming, honestly,” Kleyton Feitosa, pastor of Living Word Seventh-day Adventist Church in Glen Burnie, Maryland, said. “You know, we’ve been hearing the stories and seeing pictures on the news, but it gets real when you actually get to meet them and see the families and the needs.”
Feitosa added, “I found out that [a refugee’s] wife and children were left behind, and it really broke my heart.... But even with that happening in his life, he’s thankful; he’s grateful; he’s happy. He’s here and thinking already about how to eventually bring the family here.... We hear so much about how we, as Christians, need to be content, and we need to recognize and see the blessings around us. This young man taught me a lesson.”
ACS Chesapeake continues to partner with local government agencies to provide ongoing support and logistical assistance to refugee families.
“Our purpose in these last days as a remnant movement is to be the people that [are] looking for other people’s needs,” Goya said. “If you see a need, cover the need. Mingle and win their trust and be ready if the Holy Spirit [touches their] hearts to invite them to follow Jesus.”