DULUTH — With more than 1,000 Afghan evacuees on their way to Georgia by month’s end, Georgia churches are gearing up help them acclimate to life in the Bible belt.
“World Relief tells us we’re going to see more refugees in the next three months than we’ve seen in the past three years,” said Lorna Bius, mobilizer for Mission Georgia, a ministry of the Georgia Baptist Mission Board. “Many of our churches see this as a great opportunity to share the gospel.”
Bius said churches will play instrumental roles in the resettlement, helping the Afghans find homes and jobs and adjust to life in a new country with vastly different customs. In doing so, they’ll be able to build solid relationships that can open doors to gospel conversations.
The first wave of 37,000 Afghans being resettled were evacuated from their home country in the final turbulent days of the U.S. withdrawal. The State Department let governors know last week how many of the evacuees they can expect. Georgia will receive 1,069 of the evacuees by Sept. 30 with more coming later.
In many cases, the new evacuees requested Georgia for resettlement because they already have family and close friends in the state and because jobs are plentiful. Most will settle in the Atlanta area and Savannah.
The resettlement process is lengthy because the evacuees have to go through security vetting and health screenings before going to their new homes.
Each of the Afghan evacuees is slated to receive $1,225 to help with rent, furniture and food. The State Department wants Congress to take action to ensure that the recent arrivals have access to the same benefits as refugees. If that happens, the evacuees will be eligible for food stamps, cash assistance through the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program, and health benefits funded through the Department of Health and Human Services.
Bius said Georgia’s 3,600 Southern Baptist churches, with 1.4 million member, have the potential to make resettlement smoother for Afghans moving into the state, home to more than 1 million immigrants, including refugees who came here to escape persecution in their home countries.
“We have Georgia Baptist churches that have been doing refugee ministry for decades,” Bius said. “They’re ready to step up and minister to the Afghan evacuees.”