Circle of Welcome: Lutheran Services program helps family from Afghanistan – Salisbury Post – Salisbury Post

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Circle of Welcome: Lutheran Services program helps family from Afghanistan

Published 12:00 am Saturday, February 10, 2024

Note: Names of this family and some of their circumstances have been changed to protect their family.

By Susan Shinn Turner
For the Salisbury Post

Tony has a big smile as he talks about his new family he’s met through the Circle of Welcome program sponsored by Lutheran Services Carolinas: Pastor Jim Simonds and his wife, Cheryl; Tom and Carole Brooke; Clark and Anne Corriher; and Libby Staton.

All but Libby are members of Mount Zion United Church of Christ in China Grove. She is close friends of the Brookes and the Corrihers.

The group has been charged with welcoming the new family to the area; helping them get set up in a rental home with furniture and appliances; transporting Tony back and forth to work until he gets his driver’s license (which hopefully has happened by the time you are reading this); and taking his wife Maria to the local elementary school, where two of their three children are enrolled and doing well.

There’s a lot of love in this circle; you can tell. Even with the language barrier, the Americans use their cellphones to translate English to Farsi and back again.

There’s also a lot of laughter as the group gets to know one another.

It wasn’t always like this for the family.

They waited eight years in Turkey before they could come to the United States. In order to leave Afghanistan, where they were in hiding from the Taliban, Tony and Maria walked in the snow for 22 days. Their oldest child was 8 months old.

“I carried her all the way,” her dad says.

While they waited in the United Nations refugee camp, Tony found work making ductwork. He worked 8 a.m. to 10 or 11 p.m., six days a week, with no benefits.

“They were long days,” he remembers.

Back home, Tony was one of eight children, four brothers and four sisters. One of his brothers was a police officer.

“The Taliban killed him for helping Americans,” Tony said.

He and his young family left one month later, after hiding in his mother’s house.

As they listen to their father, Tony’s children munch on popcorn and drink from mini cans of ginger ale they’ve passed around. His oldest child shows off her bright pink glasses and ginormous purple bow accenting her ponytail. She’s learning English quickly, Anne points out.

Tony lost a sister to the Taliban in 2010, killed in a bomb blast near a school. Now he has a brother and sister in Turkey, a sister in Germany and a brother and sister in Afghanistan with their mother. His dream is to bring his mom to the United States.

Since he’s arrived in Rowan County three months ago, Tony now employed at a local manufacturer. The shop manager is pleased with his work, and the human resources manager who hired him says he’s going to be a fine employee.

Tony now works 7 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., with better hours and more pay.

“I’m really happy,” he says.

At first, the family of five lived at Hood Seminary. Other families Lutheran Services Carolinas has brought to Salisbury are still waiting for housing.

The Mount Zion family is among the first to attain permanent housing. The family lives in a safe, quiet neighborhood near the church.

Pastor Jim and their landlord were at a meeting last fall at Main Street Marketplace, when he mentioned he needed housing for the family.

Diane was just getting ready to put the house across the street from her on the rental market.

“God just worked all that stuff out,” Pastor Jim says. “Then our team pitched in to help.”

The comfortable home has three bedrooms, one bathroom a living room, dining room, kitchen and laundry room. It’s as neat as a pin. Lutheran Services Carolinas pays rent, electricity, and water for six months.

Maria, who at 28 has never been allowed to go to school, is taking online classes at Rowan-Cabarrus Community College.

“I want to speak English, read English and write English,” she says. “I was teased a lot because I could not read or write my own language. I want to be a teacher or maybe a doctor.”

Her smile says she will accomplish whatever she wants to accomplish.

Maria is five years younger than Tony, and they share the same birthday — Jan. 1.

That’s common of many refugees. After 50 years of war, they don’t have birth certificates and their mothers can’t remember when they were born, so many folks simply choose New Year’s Day.

Pastor Jim found out about the New Americans Program — which Lutheran Services Carolinas sponsors locally — through another pastor last year. He went to the office at St. John’s Lutheran Church and said, “Tell me more.”

“Jim was our motivator,” says Carole, who lead’s the congregation’s outreach committee.

“I just wanted to make a difference,” Pastor Jim says.

The family has been going to church with Clark and Anne.

“We have the same God,” Tony explains. “We are brothers.”

“This has been a joyous experience,” Carole says.

“It’s been delightful,” echoes Tom.

“We have been blessed as much as they are blessed,” Cheryl says.

“It’s like any other missions work,” says Clark, who has patiently been teaching Tony to drive. “You get so much out of it.”

For more information about the New Americans Program, contact Quinn Rizzo at [email protected].

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