Wanting to help welcome Afghan refugees to Iowa City, Carol Tyx and a few friends banded together to start the Iowa City Afghan Allies Sponsor Circle. The Sponsor Circle model for refugee resettlement was initiated by the State Department when it became clear that many resettlement agencies were overwhelmed as more and more Afghans found their way to the U.S. 

One of the first hurdles Tyx and the Circle had to overcome was securing decent, affordable housing for a potential family. That’s when Tyx immediately thought of her church, Faith UCC in Iowa City. Though small, Faith practices a Shared Ministry model and has always found a way out of no way.

“We like to call ourselves ‘The Little Church that Could,” said Pastor Ryan Downing. “From being a Sanctuary church in the 80s to becoming Open and Affirming in 1992, Faith UCC has always responded to the needs of the world with action.”

With the parsonage between renters, Tyx proposed that the church open its doors to a family of Afghan refugees, rent free. 

 The church responded by not only opening the doors of its parsonage but by going out of its way to collect necessary household items and raising funds to cover the day-to-day needs of the family.

“This work of helping to resettle an Afghan refugee family is just what we do,” Church Council President Kathryn Kinsella said, “like it wasn’t a question, but something to figure out how to make happen.”

The church also put in for and was awarded a $3000 grant from the UCC/Wider Church Ministries Refugee Aid Fund, which helped to cover the lost income from not renting the parsonage out. With an already small budget, the church then raised more money so that it could offer the parsonage rent free for six months.

“It continues to amaze me that a small church, with 20-30 people attending each Sunday, can make a big difference in our community,” Tyx said. “We aspire to be like the good Samaritan. When we see someone hurting or in need, we try to find a way to help.”

From there the church and the Sponsor Circle had to wait for a match. Finally, a family chose Iowa City, and on June 6th the Azizi family arrived, settling into their new home just two doors down the street from the church. On June 11 Faith UCC hosted a benefit concert and welcoming party. The event was cosponsored by the Iowa City Afghan Allies and the Unitarian Universalist Society of Iowa City and raised more funds to help the family with their day-to-day needs as they begin a new life in Iowa.

When asked about how other churches can help with refugee resettlement, Tyx responded, “It takes a village to support a refugee family well. Band together. Find other like-minded folks to assist you. Don’t be afraid to think big. This issue touches many hearts and once you put your project out there, your surrounding community will rise-up to meet you.”


Article shared by Ryan Downing, Faith UCC Pastor