presbyterian men’s sunday WELCOMING THE STRANGER AMONG US

In 2022 MCPC celebrated Presbyterian Men’s Sunday on July 31. The theme for Men’s Sunday was WELCOME THE STRANGER. The message for the day emphasized the Biblical call to welcome the stranger among us. The MCPC Men’s Breakfast and Study Group was moved early in the year to learn about the plight of one particular refugee group, those fleeing Afghanistan. Three of the guys will now share some possible actions that we as individuals can pursue.

Let mutual affection continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it. Remember those who are in prison, as though you were in prison with them, those who are being tortured, as though you yourselves were being tortured. Let marriage be held in honor by all, and let the marriage bed be kept undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterers. Keep your lives free from the love of money, and be content with what you have, for he himself has said, “I will never leave you or forsake you.”

Hebrews 13:1-5 / NRSV with permission

As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. But they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.” So he went in to stay with them. When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him, and he vanished from their sight. They said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?” That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem, and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. They were saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!” Then they told what had happened on the road and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.

Luke 24:28-35 / NRSV with permission

The MCPC Men’s Breakfast and Study Group was moved early in the year to learn about the plight of one particular refugee group, those fleeing Afghanistan. So the worship service included pieces on each of three non-profits in Maine that have been chartered by the U.S. State Department as resettlement agencies: The Jewish Community Alliance of Southern Maine (JCA); Maine Immigrant and Refugee Services (MEIRS), and Catholic Charities. The hope is to remind us of our call to serve Christ through serving others, and to share some tangible information on doing so. What follows is the text from each of these three speakers.

The Jewish Community Alliance of Southern Maine
The Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS) was chartered by our State Department in 1975 to aid in resettling 3,600 Vietnam refugees. JCA is the local affiliate based in Portland. Thirty-eight refugees from a variety of countries have been settled in the Brunswick, Portland and Waterville areas so far this year, with another 42 to be resettled by year-end. Two Afghan families are now being supported in Brunswick by a variety of individuals and organizations. The Beth Israel Congregation in Bath is just one of those organizations.

I have been very impressed with the breath and quality of support JCA provides. The key need right now is housing, housing, housing, affordable housing. Any tips on yearly rental housing would be so, so appreciated. Of course, there are many other ways that individuals and organizations can support Afghan resettlement:
Contributions of money.
Contributions of furniture, kitchen stuff and other household items.
And to me the most satisfying, contributions of time and talent such as help with transportation, teaching English as a second language, grocery shopping and navigating through this new culture. JCA has a website that is full of information about the organization in general and how to contribute and volunteer in particular. The last page of today’s bulletin has this link plus other valuable reference information. One-hour Zoom training sessions are also available twice monthly for learning more about JCA and for having the opportunity to answer questions of the JCA staff.

Jewish Community alliance of Southern Maine (JCA) / &
Email: / Phone: (207) 772-195

Maine Immigrant and Refugee Services – MEIRS
The mission statement of this non-profit organization emphasizes that it unites immigrants and refugees with their new Maine communities by providing the skills, support, and opportunities necessary to succeed. In recent months MEIRS has been assisting over 100 Afghans, who are already in Maine and in very overcrowded temporary housing. Once they find adequate rental housing, they can apply for jobs allowing them to become independent.

MEIRS volunteers work with individual Afghans to find affordable housing with access to public transportation and food stores, and near a school or school bus stop if needed. Not surprisingly, it turns out that such affordable housing is more readily available in the Lewiston-Auburn area than in Portland, Brunswick and Topsham areas.

At this point MEIRS may sound like an interesting secular program to you – but it turns out that we at MCPC have an interesting and important historical connection with MEIRS. And, their work has been endorsed and supported by PCUSA!!! MEIRS began in 2008 as a dream shared by a group of young Somalis who were living and working in Lewiston. They saw a desperate need to help refugee youth become educated and empowered members of their new community. Starting out of a van, they began the Somali Bantu Youth Association of Maine, which attained nonprofit status in 2009. They saw incredible success. Lewiston High School had no immigrant or refugee youth graduating in 2008, but through this group’s efforts, more and more of them began graduating. As of 2016, that rate has risen to more than 97% — which is much higher than both Maine and national averages

After its inception, the Somali organization saw a need to help not only young people, but also their family members. The organization began offering classes to help new Mainers learn English, financial literacy, and parenting and job skills. They provided help with naturalization and interpretation, as well as assistance with understanding legal rights and the justice
system. In 2015, this group officially became Maine Immigrant and Refugee Services (MEIRS) and expanded its services to

It is easy to individually become involved in the MEIRS program including donating used or new furniture or kitchen utensils, but financial help with apartment rental deposits and first month rental fees remain an urgent need for Afghans already in the Lewiston area.

Maine Immigrant and Refugee Services (MEIRS) / / Phone: (207) 782-026

The Sponsor Circle Program for Afghans
“Sharifa and Homayoon Ghafoori fled Kabul last year with their six kids. He had worked as a security guard at the U.S. Embassy. They had no family in the U.S. and no friends. But that changed pretty quickly once they arrived in Huntsville, Alabama. Julie Johnson and her husband, Ben, organized what’s known as a sponsor circle to host them. These sponsor circles do many of the same things that resettlement agencies do for new arrivals. Part of the idea behind sponsor circles, to get more people involved in helping refugees who might not have gotten involved before.”

The story of Sponsor Circles begins with the U.S. decision to withdraw all troops from Afghanistan by August 30, 2021. The U.S. created a program called the Afghan Placement and Assistance Program (APA). This program uses community-based Resettlement Agencies to help the new refugees. These agencies have been around for a long time, and already have much experience with any cultures and in many different communities.

The APA realized, however, that the quantity of refugees coming from Afghanistan would quickly overwhelm the current Resettlement Agencies, so a new option had to be developed, and quickly. To meet the need, on October 21, 2021, the U.S. State Department coordinating with a private foundation, Community Sponsorship Hub (CSH), established Sponsorship Circle Program for Afghans. This program creates opportunities for individuals and community groups across the country to directly support Afghans who have been relocated to the United States.

This is how the program works: First, through the program, groups of five individuals come together to form a certified sponsor circle. This group will be trained in the work to be done, and then be matched with a newcomer family, welcoming them to their community and providing them with initial reception and integration services. Because the resettlement is done by amateurs, the Community Sponsorship Hub trains and tests five individuals in the requirements. The work is allocated to different people according to their skill sets, as determined by the group itself. Five members of the group must complete a background check. The moment they arrive, and likely before, the newcomers will take steps to build new lives for themselves and for their family. A Sponsor Circle would take primary responsibility for welcoming the newcomers, and providing initial support and resources as they integrate into our community. The Sponsor Circle commitment is for 90 days and about $2,300 per family member.

The responsibilities include:
• Securing housing and basic necessities;
• Connecting to legal assistance;
• Providing support in obtaining a social security card;
• Helping to access medical services and available benefits;
• Enrolling children in school;
• Providing English language support, and job search advice and support;
• Providing basic community orientation;

One church member said this about helping the Ghafoori family relocate to Huntsville: “It’s a lot easier to help those people than you think.” And the Ghafoor’s themselves are grateful. “We are strong now,” Sharifa said. “My children, my family, me and my husband – we are all strong now because we are in here. There’s no difficulties, no Taliban. So we are happy, and we are strong now here.”

Sponsor Circles /
Email contact:

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