Stevenson reaches out to Afghan refugees in San Francisco suburb
By Carla Wynn Davis
FREMONT, Calif. – Fran Stevenson has some new friends – some very educated friends who don’t know how they will make a living, who worry that their relatives may be in danger because of them, and who miss the country they formerly called home. With physical threats on their lives, five families fled Afghanistan as refugees and now these former medical students, teachers and other professionals have arrived in Fremont, Calif., with little more than each other.
“I have been fortunate to sit and really talk with [them] and understand more deeply how difficult it is to leave your life and come here to start with nothing,” said Stevenson, one of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship’s field personnel who lives and serves in Fremont.
As part of her ministry to welcome internationals to the United States, Stevenson works mostly among Afghan women and children, helping with immigration paperwork, the U.S. citizenship process, and English as a Second Language classes. She also works with children on homework and other school projects.
Many of these women have experienced traumatic life events. They’ve seen their homeland slowly destroyed by the Taliban. Some have watched family members and friends killed or kidnapped. Others may have been sexually assaulted or discriminated against because they are female. They’ve seen war, crowded and chaotic refugee camps, and finally the United States – a safer, yet unfamiliar environment.
In places like Fremont, everything is different – the language, buying food, schools and driving. Many times refugees feel isolated because they can’t speak English and have trouble finding community in an area where everyone is a stranger. People who were doctors, lawyers or successful business owners in Afghanistan might become taxi drivers or have no job at all in the United States. Often, they arrive with nothing more than the clothes on their back and maybe a small bag.
“When a refugee family first arrives and they’re just fresh off the airplane, I go and I deliver a meal,” Stevenson said. “Inside there are bowls and plates that I can leave there so that they can at least feel welcome into America.”
What starts as helping with physical needs often turns into a friendship with Afghan women, who likely wouldn’t find another American friend otherwise. Despite language differences, a relationship forms, fellowship happens and God works. It’s a ministry that not only touches refugees but also people like Stevenson, who said she can’t imagine not being involved.
“When I’m around my Afghan friends and we’re dancing and drinking tea and sharing, I feel so alive,” she said. “I would never change that.”
Fremont, a suburb of San Francisco, is home to the largest Afghan-American population in the United States. Stevenson has lived there many years but didn’t connect with refugee ministry until a few years ago when CBF field personnel Lita and Rick Sample started attending the same church and asking for people to welcome Afghan refugees.
“God leading me into this ministry was a slow process,” said Stevenson, who was commissioned as one of the Fellowship’s field personnel in 2007. “When I realized how much God loves these beautiful Muslim people, it became such a joy to step out and serve in that area.”
Wishing the same fulfillment and purpose for other Christians, Stevenson often connects her friends with Afghans. She introduced one friend from church, Mini, to an Afghan woman. Both women have a similar experience – they had both been raised by fathers who had multiple wives.
“The two of them started to share stories and became good friends,” Stevenson said. “And through their friendship, Mini was able to share Christ.”
Sharing the gospel is such a vital part of Stevenson’s ministry. It’s a message of equality and freedom many Afghan women have never heard. And it’s a message many of them would not hear without field personnel living and serving in Fremont.
“The ministry here is like a small pebble in a pond, but those little ripples end up a huge wave,” she said. “Families here talk to families back in Afghanistan. They are hearing all of the amazing things the Christians are doing here. We’re not just saving souls here; it’s global.”
And that’s one reason Stevenson is so passionate about Christians across the United States reaching out to refugees and other internationals in their own community.
“My prayer is for others to catch the wind of the Holy Spirit, to get out of their box and to join us,” she said. “I have a deep concern that more churches realize the mission field is in America, right now, today. Don’t you want to be a part of something so passionate and powerful that God has brought to your doorstep? It’s just exciting. It’s being alive. It’s wonderful.”
To learn about partnership opportunities with Stevenson’s ministry, contact Chris Boltin at (800) 352-8741 or firstname.lastname@example.org
CBF is a fellowship of Baptist Christians and churches who share a passion for the Great Commission and a commitment to Baptist principles of faith and practice. The Fellowship’s mission is to serve Christians and churches as they discover and fulfill their God-given mission.