Andrew Mashas • Faith-Based Engagement Specialist, CWS Lancaster

Editor’s Note: On the first Thursday of each month, the eNews feature article highlights the mission focus for the month. In December we’re lifting up a recipient of this year’s Christmas Joy Offering, Church World Service Lancaster. You can find the current month’s mission focus in the Joys & Concerns section of the weekly eNews.

Click to meet some immigrants who brought valuable skills to our community.

Church World Service (CWS) Lancaster continues to help resettle refugee families from around the world to the Central Pennsylvania area. After strong travel restrictions due to the Covid-19 pandemic, we started receiving families back in May 2020. Since then, we have received 92 individuals (consisting of 16 families and some individuals) from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Syria, Myanmar, and most recently, Afghanistan.

After a 20-year military occupation in Afghanistan, the longest running war in American history concluded at the beginning of September. What ensued was the largest humanitarian evacuation in American history. Over 65,000 individuals from Afghanistan were airlifted out of the Kabul airport after the Taliban regime overtook the capital city in 11 days. Those Afghan families were then taken to various military bases across the United States. From there they have been processed for resettlement with the nine resettlement agencies in the US, and CWS is one of them. 

CWS Lancaster has begun to receive some families from Afghanistan to the Lancaster area, and we plan on helping to resettle many more over the coming months. The Presidential Determination (the amount of refugees allowed in the US in any given federal fiscal year) was set at 125,000 allowed into the United States beyond the 65,000 from Afghanistan.

This clearly presents not just a challenge, but an opportunity. This dramatic increase in refugee arrivals, after several years of federal budget cuts, has prompted CWS to open a satellite office in the Harrisburg area. We hope to open the office and to start resettling families to the Dauphin and Cumberland County areas in January 2022. This will give CWS the ability to service and resettle more refugee clients to the Tri-County area than ever before. And we can only do this work with the continued support of the local faith community, mobilizing churches to be a welcoming presence for all who want to start new lives in America after fleeing from violence and war.

CWS, along with churches like Derry Presbyterian, continue to form sponsorship groups (called Welcome Teams) for small groups of people to walk along side of our refugee friends and neighbors during their resettlement and integration period. This program lasts for approximately six months as families look to get settled to the area, learn a new language, enroll their children in school, secure housing and employment, and continue to flourish in our community.

We are so thankful for churches like Derry Presbyterian for their willingness to walk alongside CWS in this exciting time. The goal is to serve as many refugee families as we can with dignity and compassion, love and grace as God calls us to continue to welcome the stranger in our midst.