Two Voices, One Heart

Two Voices, One Heart

by Mary Friedman and Dan Martin for the Immigration, Refugee and Asylum Task Team

Proverbs tells us that without advice plans go wrong, but with many advisers they succeed (Proverbs 15:22). This article is asking you to share advice! Many churches in the SNEUCC are engaged with refugee resettlement. In fact, the churches in the SNEUCC have some of the most active and longest engagement in this work, compared to the rest of the UCC. Here are two voices that show up; although specific circumstances can be different, the core blessings and challenges are very similar.

Dan Martin’s voice: Our church, First Congregational UCC, New Milford, CT, has been involved with refugee resettlement since 2016. An interfaith coalition that included the Episcopal, Catholic, Presbyterian, and Methodist churches, and Temple Sholom, formed the original team that settled a family from the Congo. The team is now 80 people strong and has a volunteer base drawing from the entire community. We are now working with our third resettlement, a family of six from Afghanistan.

Like any mission project, we have learned that some parts are very satisfying, and some parts are challenging. I would like to share two of our learnings from each part:
  • This has been a wonderful experience for our volunteers. The words “welcome the stranger” become alive when you are driving, tutoring, or helping a real person.
  • The people involved in this work are some of the most wonderful, hard working people  I have ever met.
  • Once the family is physically set up, the work of full resettlement can take a couple of years, and maintaining volunteer engagement for that long can be challenging - especially with driving to appointments.
  • The work of refugee resettlement and the corresponding fundraising needs tend to crowd out other mission work.
Mary Friedman’s voice: First Church of Christ, Longmeadow, MA partnered in 2005 to settle a family of nine Liberian refugees who came to us from a transit camp in Ivory Coast. They joined our church, and it has been a real gift for our mostly white, suburban congregation to have them worshipping with us. Last December, a team from our church joined with a team from the Unitarian Universalist Society of Greater Springfield to help settle an Afghan family of ten. We are partnered with Jewish Family Service of Western Mass. There have been so many blessings for us in this effort. We have learned so much about Afghanistan and Islam and how Ramadan is observed, and how Eid is celebrated. Most of the active volunteers have fallen in love with the family, admiring their courage, resilience, and faith.

Team members share our experiences of food shopping, tutoring, medical/dental visits, etc. via email and our biweekly zoom meetings. We have had opportunities to help the family meet other Afghan families in our area. As Dan has said, there are challenges, such as how to avoid creating dependency - especially when there is the language barrier.  Along with that is the need to examine our own motivations for what we do with the family. (Whose needs are we really meeting?). Another challenge is to recognize the family's right to make their own decisions, even if they are ones with which we might disagree. Flexibility, patience, and teamwork are needed.

There is great benefit for our churches, we believe, in sharing our experiences with resettlement efforts and supporting one another in this work. Now for the advice portion of this!
  • Is your church experiencing similar challenges?
  • How are you addressing them?
  • What other questions would you like raised and shared for advice?
The Immigration, Refugee and Asylum Task Team would love to hear your input! Would you please share your advice or additional questions here


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Mary Friedman

Mary Friedman is on the Social Justice Team of First Church of Christ, Longmeadow, MA.

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Dan Martin

Dan Martin is the Chair of the Outreach Ministry at First Congregational Church UCC of New Milford, CT.

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