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Working Together Stories: Constance & Her Companions and the Afghan Resettlement Project

Working Together Stories
Nina Nicholson, Kirk Petersen & Allison Davis

This video describes how six churches in the Constance & Her Companions Regional Ministry Network worked together to renovate two unused buildings to provide homes for Afghan refugees. (Time: 5:41.)

Read about this story:

Video editing: Nina Nicholson
Narration: Kirk Petersen
Audio editing: Allison Davis

Video Transcript

Don MacGowan, St. Peter's, Mountain Lakes: I watched at home here, like we all did, back in August and September when the Afghan refugees were just, you know, piling on to airplanes, just anything to get out of Afghanistan and out of that situation. And you know, and I went and talked to Mike and said, you know, we got to do something, and I'm the chair of the outreach committee. So I have a little bit of that also as my interest. And I was saying to Mike, we got to do something.

Narrator: In 2021 and 2022, six churches in the Constance and Her Companions region worked together to renovate two unused church buildings to house Afghan refugee families. The Reverend Michael Muller of St. Peter's, Mountain Lakes, said that the project was inspired by a Mission Minute video shown at the 2020 Annual Convention, in which St. Paul's, Englewood renovated an unused sexton's apartment to house a homeless family. A table discussion with his fellow "Connies" led them to realize that there was a church in their region with two unused buildings. They also knew of parishioners in construction related fields, and they saw an opportunity to make a difference together.

They reached out to homeless solutions of Morris County, but there were state regulations they couldn't meet. So the idea stayed on the backburner for a year and a half, until the Afghan refugee crisis prompted them to revisit it.

Seeking guidance on refugee resettlement, McGowan and Muller connected with Church World Service, a faith based organization that has been helping refugees around the world since 1946. Currently, their most pressing need is housing for refugees. Five other churches in the region joined with St. Peter's, Mountain Lakes in what they call the Afghan Resettlement Project. They are St John's, Boonton; Church of the Saviour, Denville; St. Mary's, Sparta; St. Davids, Kinnelon; and Christ Church, Pompton.

Church World Service told them they could expect an Afghan family to arrive in December, so they got to work preparing the first building, an unused rectory, to receive them. They did a deep cleaning of the rectory, touched up paint, made small repairs and gave the yard a thorough fall cleanup. They also collected donations of gently used furniture and outfitted the kitchen with small appliances and supplies. On December 4, 2021, the churches welcomed a family of seven to their new home.

But even before the first family moved in, the churches began eyeing the second unused building, formerly used for church offices. It had no kitchen and only one bathroom, so it needed more extensive renovations - six figures worth, they estimated. Muller says a "string of miracles" made that work possible, with money and talent appearing just as they were needed.

First, there was the angel donor. A woman in their region heard about what they were doing and said she'd like to help. When she was told that at least $100,000 was needed to start work on the second building, she said, "In fact, I could do that." St. John's came up with $20,000 and an ACTS/VIM grant of $20,000 also helped.

Then three parishioners with the perfect blend of experience stepped forward to take on the work of project management. A general contractor and an electrician who were both willing to go above and beyond agreed to join the team. Several other parishioners in construction related fields provided replacement windows at cost, and donated architectural drawings and paint. The youth of St. Peter's, along with some friends, helped with the painting as a summer mission trip. Even the town pitched in by waving $2,400 in permit fees.

The quick completion of the renovations in a time of supply chain issues seemed like yet another miracle. Work on the second building started in April 2022, and a family of nine was able to move in on August 3. The second family is being sponsored by West Side Presbyterian Church in Ridgewood. The two groups agreed to work together, with the Episcopalians providing the housing, while the Presbyterians handle the ongoing responsibilities of helping the family get settled.

Two years ago, there were just two unused buildings in need of repair and the spark of an idea. Now those buildings are completely renovated, and two families who were forced to escape from their homeland are starting new lives in comfortable American homes. That is a miracle indeed.