Amid great tragedy and pain, God is opening doors for the gospel among the Afghan people! As these refugees enter our neighbourhoods, He is giving the Church in Canada and in many countries around the world an incredible opportunity not only to meet tangible needs but also to introduce people who’ve never heard the gospel to the eternal hope of Christ.
The tips below, based on advice given by a Christar worker serving among Afghans, are designed to help you minister to the least-reached people the Lord is bringing to your community.
Be a Learner
Adopt a humble, teachable posture. Yes, making yourself vulnerable in an unfamiliar cultural setting can seem awkward; but think how your new friends must feel! Be willing to learn. (Here’s a first lesson: People from Afghanistan are called “Afghans,” not “Afghanis.” Afghanis are a monetary unit like dollars.)
Don’t be afraid of making genuine mistakes, and model humility and gentleness (as Jesus did for us), as you step outside your comfort zone. As you walk alongside refugees, start by learning a few words of Pashto or Dari (a type of Persian), the two official languages of Afghanistan, to help put them at ease.
Identify the Gaps
Connect with a local refugee agency to learn what services they are providing and what is not being offered. This will help you focus your efforts to fill in the gaps and orient those you are serving to find the assistance they need.
If you encounter a language barrier, coordinate with the refugee agency or connect with those who have worked cross-culturally in Afghanistan to find local interpreters who speak Dari or Pashto.
Afghan refugees have many practical needs as they start over in an unfamiliar place. Coming alongside them to help meet some of these needs can be a powerful demonstration of God’s love and provision.
For instance, if you’ve moved to a new home in a new city, you know how overwhelming it can feel to set up the kitchen with staples. Now, imagine trying to grocery shop in a store where product names are foreign and you’re faced with a paralyzing number of options. Help your refugee friends locate a nearby ethnic market or grocery that carries more familiar products.
Assisting with transportation can also be a meaningful way to reach out. Initially, offer to provide rides to the store, doctor’s appointments, etc. In the short term, introduce them to public transportation. In the long term, help them get a driver’s license.
In addition, think beyond providing for immediate needs, and consider how you can orient them for a new life in an unfamiliar place and culture. For example, take time to explain American customs to them, and show them not only where to buy food or receive medical care but also parks or other places where your family likes to go for fun.
Grow in Understanding
As you welcome Afghan refugees to your community, understanding some elements of their cultural values can help you connect with some of their less obvious but still significant needs.
Afghan culture is hospitable:
- The gift of a welcome basket with dried fruit and nuts, green and black tea, and candies or sugar will provide the staples they need to feel comfortable serving guests.
- Afghans traditionally sit on the floor to eat, so consider providing a “table” cloth (or piece of soft vinyl material cut into a rectangle, maybe 3-by-6 feet) to spread out on the floor at mealtime.
- See if they lack any basic household items, such as mattresses, pillows, blankets, towels, washcloths or dishcloths. Depending on the aid the refugee agency is offering, you may have opportunities to provide in generous ways to meet these immediate needs.
Afghan culture is concerned for physical cleanliness:
- For the bathroom, Afghans would appreciate having plastic sandals or slippers in varying sizes. For the main living areas, they could also use separate house slippers, as outdoor shoes are removed when entering the home.
- Many Afghans prefer using a plastic watering pot or bathroom mugto wash rather than toilet paper. These can be found at Asian grocery stores and on Amazon.
Afghan culture (for those who are devout Muslims) is concerned for ritual cleanliness:
- Though it may seem counterintuitive to Christians, providing Muslim refugees with an Islamic prayer mat (for a practice that is already ingrained within them) could demonstrate that you care about their spiritual needs and may open a door to share about your intimate connection with your Heavenly Father.
Afghan culture is very relational:
- Helping refugees keep in touch with loved ones, assuming they feel safe doing so, can be a significant way to demonstrate God’s care. This may mean helping them set up phone service with Wi-Fi/data and/or buying them a phone. Reloadable phone cards or voice call accounts can be a good options for enabling them to connect.
Afghan culture is down-to-earth:
- Refugees will need to quickly become familiar with their new neighborhood and wider surroundings, so city maps (paper and virtual) would be helpful.
As you seek to serve the Afghan refugees God is bringing to your community, don’t forget to ask Him to work through you and to open their hearts to the gospel. In His sovereignty, He is giving His people opportunities to demonstrate His love and communicate the hope He offers, and it’s vital to bathe this ministry in prayer.
Get more resources to help you reach out to Afghans at christar.org/welcoming-afghans.
For some stories about what God is currently doing among Afghans, check out our Q & A with our Christar workers!