Neighbor to Neighbor: Birth of a nationwide effort

What do Neighbor to Neighbor community sponsors do?

Through Neighbor to Neighbor, Episcopal Migration Ministries (EMM) directly trains and provides ongoing support to faith communities who serve as community sponsors for asylum seekers or Afghan arrivals. Community sponsors welcome their new neighbors by offering friendship, fostering community connections, and providing practical support such as housing, assistance in accessing services and navigating the community, enrolling children in school, supporting adults in learning English and securing employment, and more.

The birth of a nationwide effort

In an EMM “HomeTown” podcast conversation about Neighbor to Neighbor, the Rev. Chris McNabb, who serves as program manager, attributes the start of the program to the courageous actions of Cristina Rathbone, an Episcopal priest who served as the border chaplain between El Paso, Texas, and Mexico, accompanying asylum seekers who were waiting entry into the United States.

As she continued with this work, many asylum seekers throughout the country began reaching out to her with requests for help with tasks like enrolling children in school and figuring out how to sign up for programs and resources. Rathbone realized she did not have the nationwide connections to help with the flood of requests. She reached out to EMM, with the hopes that a nationwide network of Episcopal churches and faith communities could unite in continuing the critical work of sponsoring asylum seekers.

The Neighbor to Neighbor program was created to train and equip congregations and organizations with the skills they need to positively impact their communities with the arrival of new neighbors.

Building Beloved Community through communities of welcome

Neighbor to Neighbor is built upon EMM’s foundation and tradition of welcoming all. For McNabb, what comes to mind is St. Augustine’s vision of “the City of God versus the City of Man,” and the notion that “we have the possibility to literally be heaven on Earth…but we so often settle for mediocrity.”

He continues: “It’s really this opportunity to live our faith out loud…I think for me Neighbor to Neighbor is really about creating community that God would recognize.”

Two tracks, many opportunities

Neighbor to Neighbor invites congregations and faith organizations to consider two options for community sponsorship: Track 1 works with asylum seekers, and Track 2 works with newly arriving Afghans. Track 2 connects and works with the Community Sponsorship Hub, through a newly created program called Sponsor Circles.

Neighbor to Neighbor and its two-track program paths exist not only to respond to the situations and crises at hand, but to invite individuals to feel encouraged and empowered to respond to this ongoing work of welcome.

Support every step of the way

“There will be mistakes, there will be mishaps, there will be things that go awry. And the real gift is that you’re not in this work alone,” notes McNabb.

He acknowledges that sometimes this work can feel overwhelming. “Sometimes I think it can feel like a drop in the bucket. It feels like, ‘Well, there are so many asylum seekers. There’s so many people who need a sponsor. Why, why now? Why start, it’s not worth it.’ And here I think Mother Teresa is very helpful. She says just start with the one in front of you. Start with the person in front of you, love them well. And God does the rest.”

When individuals decide to join in this work with Neighbor to Neighbor (NtN), they commit to a process that includes the following phases:

  • Discernment: Prospective teams complete an initial interest form and attend a Neighbor to Neighbor information session led by program manager Chris McNabb (held online Thursdays at 7 p.m. ET). This allows the prospective team time to ask questions, understand more about the program, and organize to begin training.
  • Training: During the training phase, NtN teams are granted access to EMM’s Neighbor to Neighbor on-demand training videos and resources, as well as other training materials, so they can learn, plan, and prepare to welcome the new neighbors.
  • Readiness Assessment: During this phase, NtN teams provide EMM with detailed descriptions of their plans to welcome their new neighbors. EMM reviews these plans and schedules a meeting with team members to discuss their readiness to welcome a family. Once the plans are approved, EMM then works with other partner organizations to match a new neighbor to the NtN team.
  • Matching & Sponsorship: During this phase, the team welcomes their new neighbors and follows their detailed plan – arranging housing, assisting with basic needs, enrolling children in school, introducing the family to the local community, and much more. There are regular check-ins with EMM, through one-on-one conversations with the program manager, participation in monthly Communities of Practice calls with other NtN teams, and through submitting reports on the team’s activities. EMM is here to support the teams, every step of the way.
  • Conclusion: The ministry of community sponsorship is vital and time-limited; the purpose of community sponsorship is to empower your new neighbors toward independence and self-sufficiency. During this phase, EMM provides each NtN team with resources and coaching on how to bring the community sponsorship relationship with your new neighbors to a close. We reflect with you on the experience and celebrate your work as you, in turn, mark the conclusion of this chapter in your relationship with your new neighbors.  

A Prayer for Individuals Doing the Work of Welcome

“When we are afraid, give us courage. When we have doubts, or if we’re stuck and not sure if we feel called to this work, give us clarity and discernment.

We pray especially for each and every asylum seeker who is trying to call this country their home. We pray for each newly arriving Afghan, and all those who have come together to support them. Pour out your abundant blessings and grace upon us in this time.

Allow your light to shine forth as we build communities of kinship, such that you might recognize them. In your holy name we pray, Amen.”

– The Rev. Chris McNabb

How to support and follow this ministry

To support this ministry of welcome, make a gift to Episcopal Migration Ministries. With your help, we will continue to welcome and resettle refugees in communities across the country, offer support to asylum seekers, and create beloved community for all our immigrant siblings. Visit episcopalmigrationministries.org/give, and be sure to follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram where we are @emmrefugees.

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