A Refuge for Neighbors: How churches are ministering to Afghan refugees

The congregations of Radnor United Methodist Church and Royal Center United Methodist Church are learning afresh what it means to embody Christ’s call to love their neighbor as themselves.

The perennial question about neighborly love is raised in the well-known parable of the Good Samaritan. An expert of the law responds to Jesus’ command to love one’s neighbor with this question, “And who is my neighbor?” (Luke10:29)

For Radnor UMC and Royal Center UMC in 2021, the answer to that became, “Afghan refugees.”

In August, thousands of refugees were relocated to the US. after the Taliban took control of the government of Afghanistan. Many were relocated to Camp Atterbury in Edinburgh, IN, which currently hosts more than 7,000 evacuees. Over half of that number are children under the age of 14.

Around that time, Leilani Weaver, a congregant at Royal Center, received a call from a friend working with Team Rubicon, which is a “nonprofit that utilizes the skills and experiences of military veterans with first responders to rapidly deploy emergency response teams.”

Team Rubicon was looking for organizations to be a connection point for donations, while these congregations were simultaneously looking for ways to love others while remaining safe during COVID-19. It was a match.

The two congregations got to work receiving and delivering donations. Some donors dropped off items, while others sent checks for teams to purchase items from provided needs lists.

Rev. Branden Scott is the pastor of both congregations. He reflected on this unique, new ministry through these small congregations. “This is not a normal situation. 

Often we are going to help those in our community of the same faith. This is very different,” he said, referencing the religious differences between the congregation’s Christian faith and the refugees’ Islamic faith. “But Christ’s ministry had nothing to do with those who thought or looked like us. It’s about loving.”

Radnor UMC and Royal Center UMC continue to rise to the challenge of providing for the refugees longterm.

More than time, however, resettlement takes people.
Radnor and Royal Center’s collective efforts to serve Afghan refugees has been joined by other churches, including Asbury UMC in Portland, Grace UMC in Franklin, St. Luke’s UMC in Indianapolis, Bradley UMC in Greenfield, and Mt. Auburn UMC in Greenwood.

Team Rubicon has even asked volunteers from Radnor and Royal Center to be a part of getting United Methodists in Cleveland, OH, involved because in their words-“Methodists get things done.”

The congregations’ ministry serving Afghan refugees has become a cross-cultural and interfaith encounter, mirroring the parable where a Samaritan takes care of a Jew. Jesus asks the hearers to reflect on the actions of the priest, Levite, and Samaritan man. “Which one of these was a neighbor to the man?” asked Jesus. The expert in the law responded, “The one who had mercy on him.” “Go and do likewise, said Jesus. (Luke 10:36-37)

When asked about the impact on the congregations, eyes have been opened to seeing that, “Christ’s Church has no boundaries,” Rev. Scott said. He feels passion and joy in seeing congregants be reinvigorated as the hands and feet of Christ who are going and doing as Jesus charged.

“Christ’s Church has no boundaries.”

Rev. Scott