It Takes a Village
By Rev. Sharon Stanley-Rea, Director of Refugee and Immigration Ministries of Disciples Home Missions.
“It continues to take a village to make a difference in this young woman’s life” said Anne Gibbons, Associate Chaplain at Lynchburg College in Virginia. “I know it sounds cliché, but Hawa has been blessed with an incredible team of supporters, which she needs as she continues to face challenges ahead.”
For nearly a year, First Christian Church of Lynchburg’s Global and Local Outreach Team, together with ecumenical friends throughout the city and partnerships with Week of Compassion and Disciples Refugee and Immigration Ministries, have continued to follow the story of an amazing young Afghani woman, Hawa Bakhteyari. Hawa’s father was killed by Taliban supporters, and she has experienced repeated violence due to her commitment to education and refusal to marry as a young teen.
Disciples’ Week of Compassion and Refugee and Immigration Ministries (RIM) have helped the church channel and augment funds for ongoing support for Hawa’s education and living expenses.
Last Fall, Hawa was also supported by her Lynchburg friends and Disciples and ecumenical partnerships to apply for asylee status in the U.S., which could offer protection from previous and potential persecution if she were made to return to her homeland. After nearly three months of waiting, Hawa received a great New Year’s gift—a letter which recommended approval of her asylum application, pending a final security check. As Doug Ford, the Director of the Legal Aid Justice Center at the University of Virginia wrote, “It is great news and importantly she can apply for work authorization” now!
When First Christian Church announced the news in worship during Advent, the sanctuary erupted in applause. As Hawa awaits final clearance, First Christian Church Outreach Chair Lou Gregory reports, “Hawa has enthusiastically returned to college, where she has made many friends, and continues to study English and other courses.” A local Catholic family of 6, whose father served with U.S. forces in Afghanistan and understands well the need for protection of one like Hawa, has generously opened their home--and their 16 year old daughter has even cleared out closet and drawer space to make room to welcome Hawa. “I just hope I don’t bother her with my regular prayer practices,” Hawa has said.
Hawa’s team of faithful supporters are continuing to meet to arrange for her work authorization, and to consider future job and educational opportunities. The gift of having such a future demonstrates the best of American protection and welcome. “My friend from my same village was recently murdered upon return to Afghanistan” Hawa has said. God’s arms, through local churches, legal assistance, Week of Compassion, and Refugee and Immigration Ministries, have truly made a lifesaving difference to Hawa--and to thousands more through our faithful support.
This Week's Responses:
Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance
Gaza and West Bank, Humanitarian Crisis
Mozambique, Flood Relief
Syria, Humanitarian Relief
California, Hunger Relief
Virginia, Refugee Resettlement