Article shared by Sandy Gahn, member of Urbandale UCC:

Recently, the refugee ministry group at Urbandale United Church of Christ in Urbandale, Iowa, led our church worship service. Our refugee ministry started in the fall of 2021 when we learned that many refugees from Afghanistan would be coming to the Des Moines area. Our ministry members volunteer with the United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants (USCRI), a nonprofit that works to help resettle refugees from all over the world in our community. Refugee ministry group members shared how our ministry started, what we have been doing for the past few months, and what inspires us. Guest speaker Mr. Munyanziza Isaac Mundere gave an inspiring meditation sharing his experience as a refugee in Uganda.

Due to limitations on refugee resettlement imposed by the federal government during the past few years, the staff at USCRI had been cut to the bare bones. With the withdrawal of the US from Afghanistan, USCRI and other resettlement agencies knew our community would be receiving many refugees from Afghanistan. However, there was not enough time before they came to add additional staff to do the work. Therefore, volunteers to help do needed tasks became very important. Two of our church members learned of that need and led us in beginning our church’s refugee ministry.

Munyanziza Isaac Mundere

When the refugees first came to Des Moines, they did not have food stamp benefits or any way to buy groceries. USCRI organized the volunteers, and several of our members shopped for groceries for families. Many of the families have children, and our volunteers enjoyed meeting the children and playing simple games with them when we dropped off the families’ groceries.

The refugees do not have cars when they first arrive, and they have not yet learned to navigate the bus system. Some of our volunteers drive folks to medical and dental appointments. One of our volunteers talked about the trust the refugees are placing in us when they get into our cars, not knowing who we are, not knowing the city, and not being able to speak English for the most part. We strive to live up to their trust.

USCRI did not have support staff, so some of our members help by doing office paperwork. One of our members has been volunteering in the office every week. She said she can’t do some of the other needed tasks because of her physical limitations, but she is an experienced legal secretary and finds it rewarding to help in this way.

Our refugee ministry has helped with setting up apartments, obtaining donations, and purchasing needed things for the apartments. We also help receive and sort donations at the USCRI office. During the winter, some of the refugees did not have coats and other winter gear. When one of our members noticed this, she organized us to obtain and distribute coats for refugees who wanted them.

Our church has been generous and supportive of our ministry, and we appreciate that very much. We are simply doing what God is calling us to do: share with our neighbors and welcome them into our community.

Rev. Amy Murray, Munyanziza Isaac Mundere, Carla Briggs