Author the Rev. Trula Hollywood is rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Owego, New York.
What to do with the empty rectory? That is the question that we’ve asked for several years. On many occasions, parishioners at St. Paul’s and Mother Trula had discussed welcoming a refugee family to our rectory. Early summer of 2021, the vestry agreed it was time to begin the process to house a refugee family. In the meantime, a local family who needed to leave their home before the sale was complete on a new home came to live there temporarily. How wonderful to have the home occupied with a family!
Little did we know that the Presbyterian Church in Owego was having the same conversation. And then the manmade crisis in Afghanistan caused nearly 700,000 Afghan people to be displaced. The needs of those fleeing the crisis were acute. A committee of persons from St. Paul’s Church, First Union Presbyterian Church, and other community members was formed and started to discuss the next steps. Unexpectedly, on September 2, 2021, a family of 5, the Hussains, arrived in Owego in need of shelter. Members of the committee worked together and managed to assure they were housed through the Presbyterian church. Members of St. Paul’s went into action. Food, household goods and clothing were gathered and donated to the family. Teachers in our parish met with the children and helped with getting them enrolled in school, continuing to this day to provide tutoring. The two churches have become allied in a mission to welcome Afghan families to Owego!
Once St. Paul’s rectory became available, work began to get it ready for another family. Once again, both churches and the community provided everything necessary for comfortable shelter as the committee continued to meet along with a group in Binghamton to locate a family. A budget was created and applications were submitted. We became aware that the original plan to bring extended family of the family current residing in Owego was not going to happen for many months, if at all. Families living on military bases slated to be closed soon became a focus since their needs were imminent. We expected to welcome a new family sometime in late February or March.
Last week, we were informed a family had been identified and would be arriving soon. Some last-minute plans were being made. Then we received word that a family of seven were on their way! On Friday night, we were informed of their arrival would be Saturday, February 19th at approximately noon. A plea was sent out by email to have beds put together immediately since this was a family of seven. Parishioners from St. Paul’s responded! The house was ready but essential foods needed to be stocked. A member of the Presbyterian church shopped at the Halal supermarket to provide spices and other items. She also made a large pot of vegetarian pilau which was warm when the family arrived. Other food items, fresh fruits, and flowers were purchased. The rectory was stocked and ready to welcome a new family by Saturday morning. Welcome signs to have at the airport were made in English and in the family’s language.
A missed flight and other travel problems made the Saturday arrival time questionable. But by 8:30 p.m., we were all at the Binghamton Airport awaiting a bus transporting the family from JFK. At 10:30 p.m. on Saturday night, a caravan of vehicles from the two churches and the community arrived with luggage and a very tired family at the rectory. Those tired faces were immediately glowing with smiles. They were all thrilled to be at their new home. The children were checking out their new bedrooms as the father, who is American and speaks English, discussed immediate plans. All the Sadiq family (father, mother and five children; two boys age 8 and 15 and three girls age 10, 7, and 4) were thrilled to be in a safe and warm home! They all went shopping at the Halal market with members of both churches on Monday. They also met the father of the Hussain family and had a nice visit.
There is much to do to get them settled. Our first priority is to get all the paperwork in line to make referrals to social services, report to immigration agencies and to secure much-needed medical care. Mother is due for a new baby in July and one of the children has a concern with her eyes that needs to be addressed as soon as possible.
Welcome to the Sadiq family!! An amazing journey is just beginning in Owego for two new families, members of the two churches and the community. Thanks be to God!
I am so proud of all the folks who prepared and settled the Sadiq family…it certainly takes a village!!
What a terrific use of rectories that are empty. The wonderful members of these two congregations deserve all our thanks.
how wonderful!! blessings to all.