Dear People and Friends of the Diocese of New Jersey,
How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help? Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.—1 John 3:17-18
Who could witness the unfolding catastrophes of this past week and not be heartsick? Last Saturday, at 8:20 a.m., a 7.2 magnitude earthquake rocked Haiti, wreaking devastation across the southern peninsula. According to ReliefWeb, a humanitarian information service sponsored by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, 2,189 people have died, 12,268 people were injured, and 332 are missing. At least 61,000 houses were destroyed and more than 76,000 were damaged. 137,000 families have been affected and it is estimated that 650,000 people—40 percent of the total population in the affected communities—are in need of emergency humanitarian assistance. Four health facilities were destroyed and 32 were damaged, 12 of them severely. All of this in the context of political turmoil, including the very recent assassination of Haiti’s president, that has plagued the island nation for too long. Haiti is a country that has endured tremendous suffering for much of its history.
On Sunday, August 15, one day after the earthquake in Haiti, the Afghan city of Kabul fell to the Taliban, just as every major city in Afghanistan has fallen in short order following the announcement of the American withdrawal from the country and the beginning of a Taliban offensive this past May. While some will argue about the politics and point fingers back and forth to assign blame, the events of this past several weeks in Afghanistan represent another humanitarian crisis of mammoth proportions.
Just a month ago, the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), warned of an “imminent humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan,” but even at the time of this warning, a colossal humanitarian crisis already existed. According to the UNHCR July 2021 report, an estimated 270,000 Afghanis had been displaced within the country since January, fleeing the increasing violence and insecurity across the country, “bringing the total uprooted population to 3.5 million. The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan reported a 29 percent increase in civilian casualties during the first quarter of 2021 compared to the same period last year, with an increased targeting of women and children. 65 percent of the Afghan population, in and outside of the country, are children and young people. At present, there are more than 2 million displaced, registered Afghan persons being hosted temporarily in Iran and Pakistan.
This past week, we have all been hearing about the dilemma of those persons in Afghanistan who served as translators for the United States and its allies, who partnered with this country and its allies in other critical ways. They are particularly threatened.
In July, through our Office of Government Relations, The Episcopal Church called on the Biden administration and Congress “to develop comprehensive plans to evacuate and provide green cards for our Afghan allies who have supported the U.S. armed forces after U.S. armed forces leave Afghanistan on September 11, 2021.” The statement made clear the reason for urgency in this, stating, “Many of the individuals who have worked for the U.S. armed forces as interpreters, drivers, and other support roles face dire situations once the United States completes the pullout for the region, including potential violent reprisals targeting them and their family members.” Of course, this statement was written before last week’s fall of Kabul and many of the other major cities in Afghanistan.
The plight of those who are being left behind as American forces are evacuated is dire. In early August, The Episcopal Church’s Office of Migration Ministry (E.M.M.) outlined some of the steps that had been taken and was also clear about what steps needed to be taken, writing:
As the United States faces the challenges of evacuating Afghan allies, the administration and Congress have taken some steps to assist with these efforts. President Biden signed a bipartisan emergency supplemental budget bill that established more funding and added 8,000 visas for Afghan nationals eligible for the Special Immigrant Visa program, which allows certain individuals who served with U.S. forces and their families to immigrate to the United States. The U.S. State Department announced on August 2 a Priority 2 (P-2) designation that allows certain Afghan nationals and their family members who do not meet the requirements of the Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) program to arrive to the United States as refugees. Nevertheless, significant challenges remain for evacuating our allies that requires additional measures needed to ensure no one is left behind. For instance, 18,000 Afghan allies and 53,000 family members remained in the SIV processing backlog earlier in 2021, showing that the challenge is daunting and requires a swift response from the United States and the rest of the global community to protect them.
This past week’s excruciating images make clear the challenge is daunting indeed; many Afghan allies and their families are in great danger. They demand our prayers and advocacy. This country is called to create a haven for as many of these refugees as we can. There has been so much anti-immigrant rhetoric in our country and around the world that it will take a significant change of heart to accomplish this. Still, we have a moral, humanitarian obligation to welcome those who come out of the maelstrom that is Afghanistan.
Haiti and Afghanistan, both among the poorest countries in the world, both in desperate need, demanding a response from us as people of faith and followers of Jesus Christ. Many want to respond to these situations but aren’t sure how. I recommend two possible courses: one for Haiti and one for Afghanistan.
Episcopal Relief and Development has long been involved in Haiti and is experienced in meeting the many challenges present in that country. Working with trusted partners, they know how to get help where it is most needed. For additional information and a way to offer financial assistance, follow this link.
Episcopal Migration Ministry is already doing the work of relocating Afghan refugee families to this country and is asking for financial support to provide desperately needed housing. For more information and to contribute to this effort, follow this link.
The images coming out of Haiti and Afghanistan can seem overwhelming. What difference can we possibly make? Former Archbishop of South Africa and Nobel Laureate Desmond Tutu, a person with an intimate knowledge of the world’s suffering, addresses us with faithful guidance in his book God Has a Dream. He writes:
Dear Child of God, do you realize that God needs you? Do you realize that you are God’s partner? When there is someone hungry, God wants to perform the miracle of feeding that person. But it won’t be through manna falling from heaven. Normally, more usually God can do nothing until we provide God with the means, the bread and the fish, to feed the hungry. When a person is naked, God wants to perform the miracle of clothing that person, but it won’t be with a Carducci suit or Calvin Klein outfit floating from heaven. No, it will be because you and I, all of us, have agreed to be God’s fellow workers, providing God with the raw material for performing miracles.
My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples, Jesus said to his first disciples and says to us today. Bearing fruit, being his disciples. Yes, it’s about being partners with God and performing miracles.
God bless you and keep you.
Faithfully in Christ,
The Right Reverend William H. Stokes
12th Bishop of New Jersey
Please note: Bible Study with the Bishop, on hiatus for the summer, will not return in the fall. Instead, the bishop recommends the NJ School for Ministry’s Morning Prayer at 10:00 daily and Evening Prayer at 7:30 daily. Every service includes group discussion on the daily readings.
 See “Haiti Earthquake: PAHO Situation Report No. 3 (19 August 2021) – found at ReliefWeb – https://reliefweb.int/report/haiti/haiti-earthquake-paho-situation-report-no-3-19-august-2021
 See “UNHCR warns of imminent humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan” on the UNHCR website – 13 July 2021 found at https://www.unhcr.org/en-us/news/briefing/2021/7/60ed3ba34/unhcr-warns-imminent-humanitarian-crisis-afghanistan.html
 See “Episcopal Church Statement on Afghan Evacuation” – The Episcopal Church Office of Government Relations – July 7, ,2021 found at https://www.episcopalchurch.org/ogr/episcopal-church-statement-on-afghan-evacuation/
 See “Support Our Afghan Allies” on the Episcopal Migration Ministries website at https://episcopalmigrationministries.org/afghan-allies/
 Tutu, Desmond God Has a Dream: A Vision of Hope for Our Time (New York: Doubleday, 2004) pp. 59-60 (Kindle edition)
 John 15:8