A Message from Dean Thomason
Responding to the Afghanistan Crisis
Dear friends,
I suspect you, like I, have viewed the news coming out of Afghanistan with a measure of shock, horror and dread for the well-being of those caught in the web of chaos stemming from the withdrawal of American forces, the collapse of the Afghan government and the sweeping return of Taliban rule. It’s all a bit much, and it prompts our hearts to grieve the outcome of a long war in which so many lost so much, and it’s difficult to find an assessment of the whole ordeal that does not leave us dissatisfied, even disillusioned, and certainly distraught by the prospects of those who are now caught in the maelstrom of a tragic reversion. This grief weighs on our hearts already heavy with so many other griefs borne in the last several months and years. What shall we say and do in this moment?

Though my purpose for writing today is pastoral, not political, the events of recent days should at least give us pause, as a nation, to consider what we might learn from yet another iteration of American war that did not bring expected outcomes. There will be time and occasion to reflect on the cultural competencies we as a nation still have to learn as we seek to influence other peoples, even with good intentions. But in pastoral ethics, where a life-changing decision is being weighed, one might ask three questions: (1) What outcome are you hoping for? (2) What realistic probability do you think that outcome will happen? and (3) Are you willing to incur the cost to achieve that outcome? (These are variations on questions related to just war ethical theory, by the way, and the disquieting analogy is not lost on me here.)

Beyond that though, our grieving hearts need to respond to terrible situations like this. I would say such responses ideally are crafted in ways that offer us hope rather than resignation or cynicism, and ideally take the long view, rather than an emotionally reactive response which might assuage the immediate sting of fear or loss but does little to sustain a transformative perspective framed by the loss. With that in mind, here are two ways we can be responsive:
1. Support Sahar—Education for Afghan Girls. Saint Mark’s member Ginna Brelsford (daughter of the late Rev. Diane Brelsford) has served for twenty years leading this initiative, and recently stepped aside for Afghan women to assume primary leadership. I spoke with Ginna this morning, and here is a bit of her report:

  • Sahar’s work is based in Mazar-i-Sharif, Balkh Province, Northern Afghanistan. Over 250,000 girls have been educated by Sahar since 2001. Eighteen schools were built and repaired and programs on early marriage prevention and men as gender allies were underway for several years. Since Mazar’s takeover by the Taliban over the weekend, our staff of 21 are in hiding. They are extremely vulnerable given their work on human rights, girls’ education, and early marriage prevention. Schools are closed again for now and Sahar is working on a safety and extraction plan for the team. The fallout from the Taliban takeover will become clearer as these days progress. They have been to the office and taken the vehicles.
 
Ginna said the need in this moment is threefold: our prayers, donations to help continue paying the staff their salaries while they seek solutions to leave the country, and take the long view. Two hundred fifty thousand women and their allies will change the landscape. I find hope in that! I sent money this morning to Sahar on behalf of Saint Mark’s Cathedral, from the Clergy Discretionary Fund, to help cover the staff salaries in this difficult crisis. Your generosity makes such emergency aid possible. If you want to donate additional funds, or to learn more about this remarkable NGO, go to the Sahar website.

Ginna has also agreed to lead a forum conversation about Sahar on Wednesday, September 8, 7–8:30 p.m. via Zoom. To register for this forum, click here. I will share more about that in the coming days.
1.      Refugee Resettlement Office (RRO) of the Diocese of Olympia. We have long supported RRO, and in fact, it was founded and incubated at Saint Mark’s some forty years ago. Through the years we have sponsored and hosted refugee families, most recently in 2016 with a family from Syria, before the Trump Administration stifled much of that relief work. I was in touch with RRO director Greg Hope last evening, and here is what he shared:

  • [RRO has been processing Afghan families as refugees relocating to Western Washington in recent months.] Just yesterday, flights from Kabul were canceled so a family of nine and a family of seven that we expected did not arrive… I do not have a crystal ball but expect another wave of arrivals that because of their teeming numbers could significantly degrade the level of service we can provide. If a group of volunteers is interested, during our hiatus in arrivals, to meet with our sponsor developer Kristen King we can promise a lot of training in all that it takes to find housing, jobs, school and all the rest. If sponsoring or volunteering as an individual is not in order we can always accept money for rent. A family we placed in Lynnwood that will soon be facing rent of $1,400 per month with income of $500 comes to mind.

I made a donation to RRO to help with this family’s rent. You can visit their website to learn more, donate additionally, or if you are interested in volunteering and attending training as Greg mentions, email me at sthomason@saintmarks.org and we can see about coordinating a team from Saint Mark’s. Again, prayers for these refugees and taking the long view are key.

I know this is all a lot to take in, and I beseech you to be gentle with yourself in all this. Take care, and monitor your intake of the news these days. It can become consuming. Debrief with friends in constructive ways. Contact me or other clergy if you need to chat. We will make our way together. I am,

Yours in Christ,
The Very Reverend Steven L. Thomason
Dean and Rector
A Prayer offered by Presiding Bishop Michael Curry for the people of Afghanistan
Eternal God, hear our prayer for the peoples of Afghanistan. There is a profound humanitarian crisis. Countless people, mostly women and children, are now fleeing and vulnerable. The lives of many are now endangered. The hopes of many are forgone. Send your Spirit, Lord, to rally the resolve of the nations of the earth to find pathways to save human lives, protect human rights, and to resolve the hardships of those seeking refuge, asylum, and safety. Hear our prayer for the peoples of Afghanistan. This we pray as followers of Jesus, the Prince of Peace. Amen.

The Most Rev. Michael Bruce Curry
Presiding Bishop and Primate
The Episcopal Church