CUMBERLAND – On a Saturday morning when they could have been hitting the snooze button on a lazy day, a group of members at the Four Corners Community Chapel in Cumberland gathered in the church sanctuary to learn specifics of their mission for the day: to help refugees they’d never met.
Helpers, split into teams for moving furniture and boxes, were scheduled to get a trio of apartments at the Cumberland Crossing Apartments on Mendon Road “to functional level” to welcome three new Afghan refugee families, also playing a lesser role in preparing another three apartments for three more Afghan families.
The Rev. David Pierce, speaking before sending everyone to their cars to head to a public donations warehouse on Ernest Street in Providence to pick up furniture, said there would be moments of frustration through the day, but to be flexible with plans.
This effort was all part of the church’s wider goal to be a neighbor and show mercy to people who need it most, said Pierce, adding that they plan to stay involved in the refugees’ lives to continue making them feel welcome in a new home where they’ll “live and be part of life with us.”
“Bless you for being the helpers today,” Pierce said. “Bless you for being God’s hands.”
Nate Green, a Lincoln resident and Cumberland native, said he heard about the opportunity to help through his wife, Annie, who would be there later in the day, and decided to come with his children.
“It’s a cool opportunity to help a refugee family,” he said. “It’s amazing to give back.”
The church was working with Dorcas International Institute of Rhode Island, the only agency in Rhode Island authorized by the U.S. Department of State to resettle refugees arriving to the U.S. The first group of Afghan refugees settling in the U.S. is estimated at about 37,000 after the ending of the Afghanistan war and frenzied efforts to get people out of the country.
A refugee, according to Dorcas International, is a person who is forced to flee their home country and is unable to return to that country because of a well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.
Refugees go through a rigorous interview process, which starts with the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, and most vulnerable cases are referred to the U.S. Refugee Assistance Program. The processing could take years, sometimes as long as two decades, before a refugee is approved for resettlement to the U.S.
Part of efforts to successfully resettle refugees is to educate communities on how to build welcoming and inclusive environments, says the organization, including through trainings and public education projects, as well as gathering and disseminating information about refugee resettlement.
Newly arrived refugees are often in great distress and need. Many have arrived with no literacy skills and significant physical or mental health issues. Often refugees have walked off the plane with only the clothes on their backs and their documents. Refugee resettlement depends heavily on individual and group volunteers to help new arrivals adjust to their new lives.
For more on helping Dorcas International with the effort, including how to donate needed supplies, visit diiri.org/refugee-resettlement/
Pierce says being a neighbor means crossing the street to help without any thought of what the other person can give in return. This was not a matter of charity, he emphasized, as these people could more than adequately care for themselves if they hadn’t lost everything in circumstances outside their control, and would certainly act with the same kindness if the roles were reversed.
The three apartments the group fully furnished were on first, second and third floors, said Pierce. One is now home to a family of seven, another to a family of six, and a third to two single men.
When Pierce first became pastor at Four Corners in 2016, he said he believed in working for justice and sticking up for those who have no voice, not living in fear of those from other faiths but cultivating relationships with them.
“We just believe it’s part of our work as a church to welcome one another,” he told The Breeze last Saturday.
Church volunteers also helped pick up donations of household items from numerous locations in the area, including Cumberland, Lincoln and Woonsocket. Pierce said they’d received all sorts of offers to help after announcing the efforts online and in church.
Pierce said the church has had a relationship with Dorcas International for a few years, and it was Dorcas that reached out about helping with the effort to create homes for the refugees. He said a number of other local churches in the area are getting involved with the effort or are planning to.