East Saugus UMC hosts Afghan refugee family

The M family asked not to be identified to protect their family members who are still in Afghanistan.

February 07, 2022

A six-bedroom, mostly empty parsonage. 
A seven-member family in need of a home after fleeing from the Taliban in Afghanistan.
One great opportunity for the congregation of East Saugus UMC to be in ministry with some of our newest neighbors.
“We're a very small congregation, and they're mostly elderly people; really our biggest opportunity to do any kind of ministry is with that parsonage,” said Pastor Patricia Oduor. 
She and some members had attended a couple of meetings hosted by the International Institute of New England, a refugee resettlement organization, and decided they were interested in offering living space to an Afghan family.
And a family was ready to come in late November. Unfortunately, the parsonage furnace broke down. In the process of replacing it, asbestos was discovered, which meant the family had to go elsewhere.
The repair and removal work had been completed, and on Dec. 26, 2021, Pastor Oduor got a call that a family would be arriving in the U.S. in three days. They reached East Saugus on Dec. 29.
The family: father, mother, and five children: two daughters, ages 10 and 2, and three sons, 7, 5 and 4 years old now share the parsonage with Pastor Oduor. The family is expecting a sixth child later this year.
In an interview conducted with the help of the family’s case manager acting as interpreter, they shared some of their story.
The M family asked not to be identified, because of Mr. M’s work for the American Embassy. His work and the family’s decision to come to the U.S., mean any family members remaining in Afghanistan are in danger of retaliation. Since they left, their former home has been looted, Mr. M said, and there are many Taliban in their hometown now.
Mrs. M said: “Family members are constantly calling us [saying] … ‘we have to be hidden here because of you guys and we don’t have a way [to earn] an income, because we’re constantly hiding.’ … life is very hard for them,” she said, and expressed her wish that there was some way to support them or help ensure their safety. 
They are asking us for help, she said, “which we are not in a position to give.”
The M family lived in a mountainous village surrounded by many members of their extended family. Being away from them is difficult, she said, particularly for the children, who often ask about if and when they will see their cousins again. 
Working with Americans in Afghanistan did make it easier for the M family than for many others when it came time to leave the country. Still, they were not able to bring much with them, and some of their bags were lost in transit. 
“Being away from your own country, it not an easy thing to start a new life somewhere else,” Mr. M said. “Besides that, everything else is OK.”
He said the family is grateful to Pastor Oduor for the chance to visit with an uncle who is here in the U.S. “It was very enjoyable,” he said.
Pastor Oduor said she understands now just how much support and assistance refugee families need, and she’s “learning as I go along.”
She’s reached out to congregation members and others to help with getting the children in school, which means enrolling in Mass Health, as well as finding resources such as a Halal grocery store. (Halal means lawful or permitted in Arabic. When referring to food, it’s the dietary standard prescribed in the Qur’an.)
Mr. M worked as a driver and would like to find a similar job here. Speaking about the future here, he said:
“I hope to see a better life, one that is safer for my family and for myself. Education is the most important thing.” 
He said he hopes to have a life that’s “as it is for everyone else living here.”
The older children talked about their futures as well: 
“I want to study and become somebody one day,” said S, who is 10. Her brother, 7, said “I want to study and become a doctor.” Their 5-year-old brother also wants to “do well in school.”
Pastor Oduor said under the current agreement, the family will stay for a year. While they are welcome to stay as long as they need, Pastor Oduor has learned that most refugee families connect with family or friends and move on before too long.  
Mr. M expressed the family’s gratitude for Pastor Oduor, the church, and others who have been helping, including Rev. Nizzi Santos Digan, pastor of Good Shepherd UMC in Malden, MA, who has been helping the family with English lessons and transportation.
“I’m just very thankful that I was able to get out of the country and be here safe. I want to say thanks to Pat and others who are helping us. We count on that, and hope people will not leave us on our own, but keeping giving us a helping hand until we get on our feet.” 

How to help

Learn more about assisting refugees: International Institute of New England
If you'd like to help support this ministry, East Saugus UMC accepts online donations via PayPal or mail a check to 83 Chestnut Street, Saugus, MA 01907. Please indicate “Afghan Ministry” on your check or donation. The church is raising money to purchase a van for the family.

Is your congregation in ministry with our new neighbors from Afghanistan? Tell us about it: Email info and photos to communicate@neumc.org