Wheaton Profs Work to Welcome Afghan Refugees

By Ashley Bowman Through church outreaches and a collaboration with World Relief, Wheaton professors are supplying and organizing donations to help displaced Afghans resettle in the U.S.

Afghan refugees in a New Mexico dining hall. Credit: Religion News Service Photo: David Goldman.

Some Wheaton professors are partnering with World Relief, an evangelical nonprofit, to help Afghan refugees settle into their new lives in the Chicagoland area. 


Political science professor Amy Black attends Immanuel Presbyterian, an Evangelical Presbyterian Church (EPC) located eight miles southwest of Wheaton, in Warrenville. When she heard about her congregation’s collaboration with World Relief, she felt compelled to participate. 


“I read about tragic events and I feel helpless,” said Black. “In this case, it just felt like something tangible and practical that we have the resources and the capabilities to make it happen.” 


Black and her husband, Professor of Theology Daniel Treier, began collecting materials for “welcome kits” for refugees. Included were items such as cleaning supplies, kitchen utensils, linens and other essentials.


“It’s basically all the soft goods to get an apartment going—so it’s not furniture—and it’s not designed to be everything you could ever need,” said Black. “But it’s designed to be enough to get a family started.” 


Black’s home is one of five locations where Immanuel members can drop off donations. With the help of those in her church community, as well as her family, Black accumulated the means for three welcome kits. 


This provides three refugee families with the essential supplies for their homes. The homes themselves, along with furniture, are provided by World Relief. The nonprofit also performs safety inspections on homes.


Black said this act of generosity is one way of expressing her Christian faith. “This is what we do, and it’s part of being Christians,” said Black. “It’s nothing extraordinary. That’s what makes it cool—our ordinary task is helping people out.”

Immanuel Presbyterian Church in Warrenville, Illinois. Religion News Service photo by Emily McFarlan Miller.
Dr. Black surrounded with donations collected by members of her home church, Immanuel Presbyterian. Religion News Service photo by Emily McFarlan Miller.

Chemistry professor Larry Funck and his wife, Alethea, who also attend Immanuel Presbyterian, helped Black compile supplies. The Funcks purchased materials for welcome kits, providing supplies such as twin- and queen-sized bedsheets, a clock, hangers, towels and other basic supplies. Their donations, in addition to World Relief’s provision of furniture, were enough to outfit the bedrooms of one Afghan family. 


“We tried to get the quality of things that we would actually use in our own home,” said Alethea Funck. “Not just things that were the cheapest available, but things that would last for a while so that people could feel like they were in a comfortable home.”


The Funcks first heard about the donation initiative during the Welcome and Announcements portion of the church’s Sunday morning service. “We got involved because of Christ and what we were told to love our neighbors,” said Althea Funck. “And like the example of the good Samaritan, we really have a reason to love those in need. Everybody has a right to safety, a home and food. And we certainly don’t fulfill that in this country very well, but that certainly is a desire for us as Christians.” 


Immanuel Presbyterian is only one of the many churches helping Afghan refugees as they arrive in the United States. In the wake of the US troop withdrawal in August and Afghanistan’s fall to the Taliban, approximately 95,000 Afghan refugees are expected to resettle in America by September of 2022. Of the first wave of refugees, Illinois received 860 Afghans. 


Many more new arrivals are expected in the coming weeks as additional Afghan refugees complete their security and health screenings at US military bases. In just the past month, sixty Afghan individuals have arrived in DuPage County and are in the resettlement process with the help of World Relief. 


Emily Miller, a case manager at World Relief DuPage, has helped Afghan families find housing and provide them with the welcome kits donated by local churches like Immanuel Presbyterian. Miller said helping Afghan refugees is not only her job but her civic duty. 


“America was in Afghanistan for twenty years,” she said, “and we were sustained and survived because of the Afghan forces on the ground, interpreters, contractors, engineers, security guards and soldiers from these regions that risked their lives—risked their family’s lives to help the US—and to try to assist the US in establishing a workable military and government. All of these people came to the US because they are at risk of Taliban retaliation for helping the US. So I think that we absolutely have a responsibility to help them.”  


Miller also said that there is a spiritual responsibility to support arriving Afghan refugees as well. 


“For any refugee from any country that is fleeing violence or persecution, we have the responsibility as Christians within our country to care and attend to and walk alongside foreigners,” said Miller. “To live like Jesus is to walk alongside these people, because they are wonderful and talented and they have their own gifts and ways of living life. So it is important to ensure that they feel welcome and have a place.” 


World Relief helps to not only get refugees settled in their homes, but also helps them secure food stamps and employment, as well as providing families with essential items like diapers and strollers. 


Both Black and the Funcks said that helping refugees requires both prayer and action. 


“We read about a lot of really difficult things that are happening,” Black said, “and we don’t have a lot of human answers, but we serve a God who is the creator and sustainer of the universe. Prayer is my number one response. But I think we can also do other things, too.” 


Alethea Funck agreed with Black, emphasizing the importance of praying for refugees who have lost everything and have to adjust to new lives in the US.


“I think we just need to pray for these people,” said Alethea Funck. “I think this is reaching out as Christ would have us do to reach out, to make them feel at home. I don’t think we understand at all what these Afghan people went through and what it’s like to be a refugee and to relocate a whole family, leaving everything behind. So I try to have empathy in my heart for them.”

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