From Afghanistan to Aurora

Family at CWS Fall 2022 outing.
Photo by Sherri Kimmel

by Sherri Kimmel, leadership team member at Mechanicsburg (Pa.) Church of the Brethren

“Nothing compares with being a refugee; you are robbed of context and you flail about, searching for self-definition.” —Peter C. Newman, journalist and refugee from Nazi Germany

This was not the parting I’d imagined. Actually, I hadn’t really envisioned a parting—yet here we were in early September, enfolded in a tight embrace, Najiba’s face pressed into my shoulder. As she clutched me tighter and sobbed loudly, I patted her back, murmuring, “It’s okay, it’s okay.” We held each other far longer than we ever had all those times over the last 18 months when we’d exchanged quick hugs as I came and went from her home.

Before long, tears were streaming down my face, too. I had to beat a quick retreat, too rattled to retrieve the yellow snow shovel propped outside the townhouse. I’d given it to her husband, Naser, last winter after our only significant snowfall. For the last two days, he’d been asking members of our Church World Service welcome team to take back items we’d donated.

Even though they were taking just the bare necessities for the cross-country move, they were leaving with more than they had when they arrived in the United States in September 2021 as refugees from a chaotic Afghanistan toting an infant, a three-year-old, and four duffle bags.

Now, on Sept. 11, 2023, they were leaving central Pennsylvania with a newborn (their third girl) in their Honda Civic that Mechanicsburg Church of the Brethren and two other local congregations had helped them purchase a year earlier. Their destination: Aurora, Colo., where several family members and former neighbors from their remote mountain village in central Afghanistan had settled.

A new mission

When I learned in August 2021 about the fall of Kabul and the desperate departure of Afghans who feared the Taliban, I immediately thought of an Afghan student whose essay I’d recently featured in Bucknell Magazine, which I edited. Her academic adviser, a close friend of mine, was trying desperately to find a way out for the student’s family. I offered to do what I could, but all avenues were closed. If not her family, I wondered, were there others I could help rescue?

Then I thought about the Vietnamese refugee family my home church, Brookville (Ohio) Church of the Brethren, had sponsored 50 years earlier during the ill-fated Vietnam War. I remembered how the Truong family had thrived in our community with the support of our church family. Knowing the relationship our denomination has with Church World Service, I reached out to the CWS Lancaster (Pa.) office.

CWS was one of nine resettlement agencies the US government tapped to resettle the 76,000 Afghan allies flooding into our country. Conveniently for me, CWS decided to open a new office in nearby Harrisburg to help handle the largest influx of refugees since the Vietnam War.

I approached our church leadership about sponsoring a family, simultaneously using professional and personal contacts to enlist two other local congregations—Grantham Brethren in Christ and Mechanicsburg Presbyterian. In September 2021, our new 10-member CWS welcome team held its first meeting. We began ironing out our organizational structure and started collecting furniture, household goods, and other items for the yet-unknown refugees we would be supporting. All we needed was a family.

When the time came, we had less than a week’s notice, but we were ready for the family to arrive. All we knew was that the parents were in their mid-20s and had two small children.

This excerpt was originally featured in the January/February issue of Messenger magazine. Read this article in full online or support the publishing ministry of Messenger magazine.

(Read this issue of eBrethren.)

Our impact in 2024

Matching Gift Campaign

By Traci Rabenstein, executive director of Mission Advancement

“As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace.” ~1 Peter 4:10, ESV

Greetings in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ!

It is with great excitement that we share about a special opportunity as we enter this new year! Donors have already shared generously with the denomination in 2024. A group of anonymous individuals have dedicated their time, prayers, and financial resources in the past to further the work of Jesus and this year have generously donated $100,000 for a matching gift campaign in support of the Church of the Brethren’s Core Ministries. With the help of those who respond with matching gifts, and with your help, our work will be strengthened in the year ahead.

TOGETHER we join Jesus in the neighborhood as we venture to live and serve one another. Together we grow as courageous disciples, extend generosity and witness, and steward God’s blessings. We passionately work in unity as the body of Christ. We pray with one accord for the missions and ministries of the Church of the Brethren and for those who carry them out. We discern in harmony how we can make a difference both locally and globally. Lastly, we acknowledge that our contributions and their impact are greater as we continue the work of Jesus together.

When we asked one supporter why they partner in the work of the Church of the Brethren, they shared, “We appreciate efforts the Church of the Brethren is making to love neighbors around the world, and are blessed to be financially a part of that ministry.”

All missions and ministries under the Core Ministries umbrella represent the heart of our faith, values, and identity. Global Mission supports various projects and ministries of our global partners and furthers the international mission of the Church of the Brethren. Brethren Volunteer Service and FaithX provide long-term and short-term service opportunities. The Office of Peacebuilding and Policy shares our voice, and the voices of our partners, with our elected officials concerning endeavors that support peacemaking around the world. Discipleship and Leadership Formation strives to empower, encourage, and educate our youth, young adults, older adults, lay leaders, and pastors who work to meet Jesus in their neighborhoods. Organizational Resources and the ministries under the General Secretary’s office—such as Information Technology, Buildings and Grounds, the Finance Office, Communications, Messenger magazine, Brethren Press, and Mission Advancement—support the work of the entire organization. An unrestricted gift to the Church of the Brethren provides the financial support needed to sustain all of the moving parts of the denominational work we carry out TOGETHER.

We encourage you to pray and discern how you can join all of our supporters and congregations to be the hands and feet of Jesus. TOGETHER we will have a greater impact in 2024.

Learn more about the work of our Core Ministries at Double the impact of your contribution by giving to our matching gift campaign at

(Read this issue of eBrethren.)