By / Aug 15

August 15th will mark one year since the fall of Kabul and the official collapse of the Afghan government. The anniversary is a somber reminder of the chaos that entailed following the U.S. withdrawal from the country. We remember the horrific images that came out of Afghanistan as mothers hoisted their children over the airport fences and as people desperately clung to the landing gear of departing airplanes. When it could not seem to get any worse, it did. A suicide bomber detonated near a gate at the Kabul airport killing 13 U.S. service members along with at least 60 civillians. Sorrow ensued as millions across the world watched helplessly. 

Over the last year, much has happened causing the world to shift its attention away from Afghanistan, the war in Ukraine being one of the most notable. While the unjust war in Ukraine deserves our attention and full support, it should not come at the expense of forgetting the thousands of Afghans displaced from their homes and those left behind. They are not afforded the luxury of moving on to the next story, even if the world seems to. 

The evacuation of Afghans

The evacuation of Afghanistan was far from normal operating procedures. Under normal circumstances, someone who is fleeing their country will go through a lengthy process while abroad in order to gain the status of “refugee.” The Department of Homeland Security will approve cases after significant screening. However, a number of factors have made an already extensive process, that typically takes two to five years, nearly unworkable for those who need it. Since, as the State Department put it, “It is undeniable that we were surprised at the pace by which the Taliban were able to pursue their territorial advances,” their response was forced to rapidly evolve. 

Because there was not time for the normal refugee resettlement process to take place, the priority had to be shifted to protecting life on the ground and getting Americans and Afghan allies out as quickly as possible. In the midst of the chaos, many people who had faithfully served the U.S. military or who would otherwise qualify as a refugee were tragically left behind. In order to maintain the highest level of security screening, even in such an unusual process, the first stop on those flights out of Kabul was not the U.S. Everyone was taken to a U.S. military base in Europe or the Middle East for intensive security screenings. Biometrics were taken and cross referenced to criminal and terrorist related databases. If anything was flagged in the databases or in questioning, the individual would not be allowed into the U.S. Those who cleared security were then allowed to eventually travel to the US, where they were subject to additional security and health screenings. 

The arrival of Afghans

Given the unprecedented evacuation of 120,000 people from Kabul in a matter of days, there was not sufficient time for bureaucratic paperwork to be completed and for the formal status of “refugee” to be acquired. As a result, those who fled Afghanistan were brought to the United States using “humanitarian parole,” a tool the U.S. government may use to deliver people quickly to the U.S. in the case of a humanitarian crisis, instead of through the United States Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP). 

Though it may seem like a minor distinction, it can and has had an extensive impact on the lives of Afghans brought to the US. Typically, parole does not allow for financial assistance such as food stamps or cultural orientation resources such as language classes that would typically be provided to a refugee through a resettlement agency. Thankfully, H.R. 5305 was signed into law to address some of these shortcomings by allowing Afghan parolees to access basic services provided by resettlement agencies as they arrived into the country and began to try and make a home. 

In addition, churches and people of faith stepped to the front lines to meet the needs of vulnerable Afghans who arrived to the U.S. Historically, people of faith have led the way in resettling refugees. On a national level, six of the nine agencies that work with the U.S. government to resettle refugees have religious roots that motivate their work. This instance was no different. Churches opened their doors, families made meals, and Christians rose up to welcome our new Afghan neighbors. In response to the crisis, World Relief, a Christian refugee resettlement organization, saw their number of active volunteers double.

Significant challenges still remain

Despite the work of volunteers and organizations to meet the needs of Afghans and Congress’ move to provide resettlement benefits, other challenges still remain. One of the severe limitations of parole status is that it is intended to only be temporary. Though it can potentially be renewed to avoid deportation, it does not provide any pathway to permanent status and will never allow Afghans to fully settle. Sadly, just as with Dreamers and Temporary Protected Status recipients, they will similarly live in legal limbo and have a fear of future deportation as a permanent fixture in their lives. With the Taliban continuing to search for those who aided the U.S. during the 20-year campaign, deporting our allies and other vulnerable Afghans back to their country is not an option. For the foreseeable future, those who are returned will likely be jailed and potentially killed. Unfortunately, parole ultimately serves as a short-term solution to a devastating, long-term crisis.

The ERLC has joined other evangelical organizations in repeatedly urging “the passing of legislation that would allow Afghans to adjust status to a lawful permanent resident once in the United States. Without a change to law, individuals with humanitarian parole status will face an uncertain future, lacking a clear, direct path to permanent legal status and eventual citizenship.” Though many of these individuals could ultimately qualify for asylum, our asylum system is so significantly backlogged already that adding tens of thousands of new cases would leave Afghans in legal limbo for years. Without an act of Congress, many Afghans are left without a real solution.

Additionally, hundreds of Afghan allies who assisted the U.S. remain stuck in Afghanistan or in third countries unable to legally enter the States. Following the immediate evacuation, the U.S. government has been very limited in its granting of parole requests and Special Immigrant Visa requests. This has forced many of these individuals to enter the severely-backlogged and time-consuming refugee resettlement program, which may take years for them to be granted status. Many continue to face intense persecution from the Taliban and are in urgent need of assistance to find safety in the U.S. 

The role of the Church

God provides no ambiguity in where he stands on helping the most vulnerable. The greatest commandments in the Bible are to love God and to love our neighbors as we love ourselves (Matt. 22:37-38). Vulnerable, displaced people from Afghanistan are attempting to begin new lives in our neighborhoods, churches, and communities. Many are scared, lonely, and in need of help. For most, their family, friends, and livelihoods had to be quickly left behind. They have been forced to start at ground zero. An immense opportunity exists for the Church to continue rallying around this community and helping people in desperate need of care. A mission field has come to us, and the hope of the gospel remains our greatest gift. 

Below are some resources from Southern Baptist missions entities and other faith-based relief organizations to assist you and your church in meeting both the physical and spiritual needs of Afghans in your community. 

  • Submit a World Relief form to open up your home to Afghan parolees. 
  • Get coaching from a Send Relief team member. Learn how to engage and minister to Afghans. 
  • Watch the “Care for Refugees Workshop” put on by Send Relief. 
  • The IMB has resources for sharing the gospel with Afghans in the US. 
  • Donate to support the efforts of Send Relief in assisting refugees and displaced people around the world. 

Though the world has in many ways moved on from those who have suffered in the aftermath of the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, we must intentionally choose to see these people, made in the image of God, to remember their loss, and to offer our help. We have been given an opportunity to show the love of Christ to those who are in desperate need of hope. As we find ourselves in proximity to these individuals forced to flee, let us commit to loving them as Jesus would through extending the good news of the gospel to the broken, meeting the needs of the vulnerable, and welcoming the stranger with open arms into our homes, churches, and communities. (John 13:34-35; Matt. 25)

By / Sep 2

As the United States departed from Afghanistan, there remains an urgent humanitarian crisis in the country, both for the U.S.’s Afghan allies and those fearing persecution from the Taliban.

Chelsea Sobolik welcomes Matthew Soerens, the U.S. Director of Church Mobilization for World Relief to discuss how and why Christians can serve Afghan refugees who qualified for the Special Immigrant Visa Program and the Refugee Resettlement Program.

Guest Biography

Matthew Soerens is the U.S. Director of Church Mobilization for World Relief, where he helps evangelical churches to understand the realities of Afghan refugees and immigration and to respond in ways guided by biblical values. He also serves as the National Coordinator for the Evangelical Immigration Table, a coalition that advocates for immigration reforms consistent with biblical values.

Matthew previously served as a Department of Justice-accredited legal counselor at World Relief’s local office in Wheaton, Illinois and, before that, with World Relief’s partner organization in Managua, Nicaragua. He’s also the co-author of Seeking Refuge: On the Shores of the Global Refugee Crisis (Moody Publishers, 2016).

Resources from the Conversation

By / Jul 22

Every person reading this is a human being. But what does that actually mean? “Human dignity” is a term used by Christians (and non-Christians) in policy conversations about a vast array of topics including poverty alleviation, humanitarian aid, abortion, and euthanasia. As Christians, we believe that God creating humankind in his image means that every person possesses an inherent and inalienable dignity. In other words, every human life is precious because every life belongs to a person who bears God’s image. Because of the value and preciousness of each life, it is vital that we develop a clear biblical understanding of what a human is and what the image of God implies. 

What is a human?

Our culture has wrongfully placed the responsibility of defining personhood onto individuals instead of our Creator, who, as “the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End” (Rev. 22:13), has the rightful authority to define our being. Claiming false authority over personhood has led to broken families, distorted views of sexuality, and heinous acts such as abortion in our society. Thankfully, through the creation account, the Bible helps us understand specific ways human beings are set apart from the rest of creation. Though faithful scholars differ in certain respects about exactly what it means to be made in God’s image, below you’ll find three characteristics about humanity that are clearly implied by the opening section of Genesis. 

1. Humans are relational

“Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth” (Gen. 1:26)

When God created mankind, he did so as a Trinity of three persons: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. God created us to live in community with him and with one another, reflecting his relational nature. As one God in three persons, God is relational by nature. Similarly, humans are made to operate in relationships. This is precisely what God emphasizes when he creates Eve to live in union with Adam and says, “It is not good for man to be alone” (Gen. 2:18). 

Through the blood of Jesus, God invites us into fellowship with the divine Trinity. John writes in 1 John 1:3, “Indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.” God’s heart for relationships is further revealed in the New Testament when he establishes the familial nature of the church, encouraging believers throughout the New Testament to “devote themselves to fellowship,” to “have one heart and one mind,” to “bear one another’s burdens,” and to “love one another with brotherly affection” (Acts 2:42; 4:32; Gal. 6:2; Rom. 12:10).

2. Humans are distinct/unique

So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” (Gen. 1:27). 

In creating us, God not only gave us the ability to love and enjoy companionship with one another and himself, but he also made us distinct in two ways. First, as mentioned above, mankind is made in God’s image. And from Genesis, we learn that human beings are distinct because we are the only part of God’s creation that he specifically made in his image. 

Second, God made us distinct in terms of biology. As Genesis 1:27 tells us, God designed us as either male and female. These distinctions in biological sex are apparent in many ways, including our DNA and external features. Each sex is unique, and various aspects of God’s nature are displayed in both men and women. Ultimately, these distinctions are an important part of the mystery of the gospel, particularly when they are on display in a one flesh union between a husband and a wife. 

As the New Testament explains, the male and female marriage relationship is a picture of Christ’s love for the church. Paul writes of the mysterious, holy complexity of the marriage relationship in Ephesians 5:32: “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh. This mystery is profound, but I am speaking about Christ and the church.” Long before Christ’s incarnation, God purposefully created humanity as male and female and designed the marriage union to display truths about himself. 

Biological sex in every individual is one aspect of God’s design that proclaims his creativity and gives us a clearer picture of his image. The distinct features each human bears remind us that no life is ever interchangeable, replaceable, or worthless.

3. Humans are commissioned

God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and every creature that crawls upon the earth” (Gen. 1:28). 

Every person has a designated role as a steward and cultivator over the earth. God gave Adam a job: to have children, to subdue the ground, and to rule over the other living creatures. Each of us can subdue, or tame, the earth through all kinds of vocations, but this command reveals that God has designed a place and a purpose for each of us (Eph. 2:10). God has included in our makeup the ability to procreate, desires and determination to care for and protect our families — with specific callings designed for husband and wife — to produce things that are good and useful, and to assert leadership in various settings. In order to preserve ourselves and care for loved ones, we employ different gifts and talents that add value to the world and subsequently seek the good of our neighbors. 

God sets his image-bearers above creation and other created beings in giving us vocations. Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations is widely taught and accepted, observing the phenomenon of trade as an obvious outlier from the way animals relate. Smith is merely observing what has been woven into creation — God has uniquely commissioned his image-bearers to work and care for his good creation, and even the marketplace puts his creative design on display.

Conclusion

The special care God took in setting humans apart from other created beings is why a Christian understanding of human dignity is important when considering issues of justice. Slavery, genocide, abortion, and exploitation of all kinds are tragic displays of treating other humans as utilities. But God’s unmistakable genius in each of our bodies, minds, hearts, and personalities denies any attempt to devalue a human’s worth. These practices are considered “inhumane” because they treat people as a means to an end, more like subordinate animals than respected brothers and sisters.

As Christians, we must defend the vulnerable on the grounds that humans are image-bearers; there is no amount of privilege or power that makes a man or woman more or less valuable. Physical distinctions are often a barrier to relationships and an excuse for sinful and exploitative uses of authority, but the Bible makes no distinction when it comes to a person’s value; every person bears the imago Dei, and every person matters.

When God finished creating heaven, earth, and us, he called his masterpiece “very good” (Gen. 1:31). Long ago, God defined our worth so sinful humans wouldn’t be responsible for determining the value of a life. From conception to death, humans have dignity, eminence, and significance because we are the only creatures God made in his image. We may not understand the full picture of the imago Dei until we are face to face with God in heaven, but we do see God’s image reflected in how humans are relational, distinct, and commissioned.

By / May 5

Jeff Pickering and Travis Wussow welcome Matthew Soerens of World Relief, a refugee resettlement agency, to the roundtable to talk about what happened with President Biden’s decision on the refugee admissions ceiling. The group also discusses the Evangelical Immigration Table advocacy both for refugee policy and for solutions to the ongoing migration humanitarian crisis at the U.S. southern border.

“Rhetoric is no refuge for the persecuted — we need action. The refugee resettlement ceiling should be raised immediately so our nation can welcome those we already vetted. … We know the program is a secure and thorough process by which America can serve as a beacon of freedom and safe harbor for the oppressed, including persecuted Christians and other imperiled religious minorities.” — Russell Moore on April 16, 2021

“I’m thankful President Biden revised his decision on the refugee ceiling. This action is the first step in bringing admissions back to the historical average and our nation back to our own ideals as a beacon of freedom.” — Russell Moore on May 4, 2021

Guest Biography

Matthew Soerens serves as the U.S. Director of Church Mobilization and Advocacy for World Relief and as the National Coordinator for the Evangelical Immigration Table, a coalition of evangelical organizations of which both World Relief and the ERLC are founding members. He previously served as a Department of Justice-accredited immigration legal counselor for World Relief’s local office in suburban Chicago. Matthew is the co-author of Seeking Refuge: On the Shores of the Global Refugee Crisis (Moody Publishers, 2016) and Welcoming the Stranger: Justice, Compassion & Truth in the Immigration Debate (InterVarsity Press, 2018). Matthew earned his Bachelor’s degree from Wheaton College (IL), where he also has served as an adjunct faculty member for the Humanitarian and Disaster Leadership graduate program. He also earned a Master’s degree from DePaul University’s School of Public Service. Originally from Neenah, Wisconsin, he now lives in Aurora, Illinois with his wife Diana and their four children.

Resources from the Conversation