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Todd Unzicker and Adam Clark: Christians must heed the call to welcome Afghan refugees and other vulnerable immigrants
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Todd Unzicker and Adam Clark: Christians must heed the call to welcome Afghan refugees and other vulnerable immigrants

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More than 1,000 Afghans will resettle in North Carolina in the coming months after fleeing violence and oppression from the Taliban. When they arrive here, it will be up to North Carolinians to welcome them.

This presents a challenge, but it is also an opportunity. We can and must answer the call to welcome our vulnerable neighbors from across the world. As Christian leaders, we think a big part of the responsibility for doing so falls to us and our fellow believers, to those of us who call ourselves the body of Christ.

Our faith commands that we empathize with the suffering of refugees. Jesus himself, our Lord, fled persecution with his family as a child. Caring for the vulnerable demonstrates the great love that Christ first showed us, and we live out our calling as Christ-followers by welcoming and seeking justice for the “sojourner.”

Many are already answering this call to welcome. For example, Vic and Michele Wallace are long-time members of The Summit Church in Durham. The Wallaces have been serving refugees in the local community for the past decade as they have lived out biblical hospitality and been blessed by their new refugee friends.

One refugee family they’ve worked with is the Tamang family. Forced out of Bhutan in the early 1990s, the Tamangs spent decades in a refugee camp in Nepal before coming to North Carolina. The Wallaces were there for them, from their initial meeting at the airport to sharing meals, Bible studies and prayer requests together, building a friendship that has endured.

As Afghans and others fleeing persecution arrive in North Carolina, we need individuals, families and teams from local churches to respond like the Wallaces did. Facilitating these mutually transformative relationships is at the heart of World Relief’s mission as a faith-based organization that partners with both the U.S. State Department and with hundreds of churches throughout North Carolina to welcome refugees.

The Tamang family’s success story in the U.S. includes being granted permanent legal residency; this pathway will be more difficult for Afghans. Because of the unique circumstances of their evacuation, most Afghans arriving this year are not formally classified as refugees and thus lack a guaranteed path to a green card and citizenship. As we offer welcome and friendship, Christians can also urge our members of Congress to create a pathway to permanent legal status for Afghans paroled into the United States.

We do not want these Afghans to be stuck in perpetual “temporary” status that requires regular renewals and substantial fees to maintain their ability to work lawfully. Sadly, there are already approximately 13,000 North Carolina residents who have been working and residing lawfully with “Temporary Protected Status” for at least a decade, and who still have no path to permanent legal status. Another 22,000 young “Dreamers” brought to the U.S. as children are in North Carolina lawfully for now, but could have their legal status withdrawn by a recent lawsuit.

Just as we advocate for Afghans, we also advocate for these immigrants, encouraging Sens. Thom Tillis and Richard Burr to forge legislative solutions to allow these neighbors — many of whom belong to North Carolina churches — to pursue permanent legal status.

But lastly, as Christians, we should also advocate to God through prayer. We invite our fellow Christians to pray that our state would be a blessing to refugees and other immigrants even as we anticipate they will bless our state.

Todd Unzicker is the executive director-treasurer of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina. Adam Clark is the director of World Relief Durham, which also operates in the Triad.

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