Strangers in the Southwest: Local Adventists Can Help Refugees
“Jeffrey’s my best friend,” the Afghan man says with a sincere smile. The friendship began when Jeffrey Lee and his wife picked up this man and his family arriving as refugees at the airport. Right away the two families hit it off, and they stayed connected. When it was time for the Afghan family to move to San Antonio, Texas, Lee drove the U-Haul, going not just the extra mile—but the extra 350 miles.
In 2020 and 2021, approximately 1.5 million immigrants entered the United States, including 23,000 refugees. This influx has given Americans the opportunity to obey God’s command to love foreigners in Deuteronomy 10:17-19.
With large groups resettling in the Southwestern Union, several church members have been particularly active in organizing Adventists to respond to refugee needs.
In Houston, Texas, Scott and Julie Griswold have a special project under ASAP Ministries called Reach the World Next Door. Their purpose is to mobilize church members to actively care about refugees, international students and immigrants. They have been active in Houston for the past six years with 10-15 churches in the area working with them to reach out to refugees.
In Oklahoma, Ira Farley, who has been working with Muslims for decades, has organized a team of about 35 Adventists to support refugees in their community. When Farley saw a need, he approached Catholic Charities, the organization that coordinates reception and transportation needs for refugees, to offer help. They asked for help with airport pickups. So far, Farley and his team have picked up approximately 425 arriving Afghan refugees.
Church members have been helping these refugees in many ways, including but not limited to picking them up from the airport. helping refugees get settled; helping with transportation to appointments, grocery stores, the DMV, etc.; picking up or delivering large items; helping them acquire furniture, diapers, back-to-school supplies, etc.; participating in food distributions; hiring refugees who are looking for work; teaching ESL classes; acting as extended family (substitute grandmothers are particularly needed); being there for refugees (grab some crayons, chocolate, or tea and just show up); providing after-school tutoring; helping with social services; connecting refugees with those who can meet their needs; helping them navigate life in America; conducting health expos; volunteering at Catholic Charities (cleaning toilets, sorting clothes, etc.); hosting baby showers; organizing Adventure and Pathfinder programs and providing emotional and spiritual support.
“We have taught [the volunteers] to pray in a way that is acceptable to both Muslims and Adventists,” says Farley, noting that Adventists and Muslims have many things in common, such as abstinence from pork and alcohol and appreciating modesty.
The Griswolds have been amazed at the openness of the Afghan community to friendship and conversations. “I have no background with Muslims,” Scott admits, “but the Lord made it clear, ‘It doesn’t matter. This is the need.’”
“Every time we hear their stories of loss and heartache, we are moved to spend more time with them,” adds Julie. “The children in the Adventurer and Pathfinder clubs are so eager to learn. We love every minute.”
The Griswolds provide online training at ReachTheWorldNextDoor.com, which uses videos, small group studies and assignments to train volunteers how to work with refugees. However, Scott said, “Don’t wait to get through all the training. Just jump in and do something!”
As refugees begin leaving the resettlement centers for jobs and homes across the country, there is a need for Adventists everywhere to reach out and lend their support in the next stage of the transition. “I would love to connect the family who moved to San Antonio with Adventists in Texas,” says Farley, expressing how wonderful it would be to find Adventists who would love this family the way the Lee’s did.
Would you like to help? Those in Oklahoma (or in San Antonio who would like to connect with the family mentioned above) can contact Ira Farley at IraFarley@gmail.com.
In Houston, contact Scott Griswold at Scott@reachtheworldnextdoor.com. Those elsewhere can contact Gabby Phillips, North American Division coordinator for Adventist Muslim Relations, at GabrielaPhillips@nadadventist.org.
By Lori Futcher. Futcher is a freelance writer based in Idaho. Ira Farley is a member of the Edmond Seventh-day Adventist Church in the Oklahoma Conference. Scott and Julie Griswold are members of the Conroe Seventh-day Advenist Church in the Texas Conference.