Good Neighbor Partners – Doing divine work with human hands

Blog by Becky Jennings*, Dale City Reception & Placement Case Manager

The motto of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America is “God’s work.  Our hands.” LSSNCA tries to live out that motto through our Good Neighbor Partners (GNP) program, drawing together community organizations to collaborate with us on welcoming families to Maryland and Virginia. 

For 14 months, our Dale City office was blessed to have GNP support a recently arrived Afghan family.  The GNP consisted of Congregation Ner Shalom synagogue and Dar Al Noor Islamic Community Center.  LSSNCA approached Rabbi Lizz Goldstein of Ner Shalom in early 2019 about the possibility of the synagogue serving as a GNP. Since Ner Shalom is a small congregation, Rabbi Lizz asked Taalibah Hassan, Interfaith Chair at Dar Al Noor, if the mosque might want to join in on the GNP commitment. With agreement from their congregations, Rabbi Lizz and Taalibah decided to be a Level 1 GNP, promising to supplement LSSNCA’s support of a client family for at least one year. 

For the rest of 2019, the congregations recruited volunteers for the GNP, who underwent background checks. In February 2020, LSSNCA assigned the GNP an arriving family:  the Nooris, a family of eight from Afghanistan. LSSNCA staff and GNP volunteers met to plan out an airport greeting for the family; provision of furniture and household supplies for the townhome they would rent; and a welcome dinner at the mosque. 

When the Nooris arrived, everything unfolded as planned. But three weeks after their arrival, the COVID-19 pandemic shut down life in Virginia, and the Nooris, like all Virginians, were suddenly confined to their new home. Yet through the confinement, the GNP strove to make sure the Nooris felt remembered, cared for, and supported. Rabbi Lizz recalls, “We maintained close contact with them via text and made sure to drop off supplies as needed or pay their bills.” Dar Al Noor delivered Halal groceries from its twice-monthly food rescue program to supplement the family’s SNAP benefits. Ner Shalom kept the Nooris stocked with paper products and cleaning supplies. Most beneficial to the family was ongoing rental and car loan assistance, as well as meeting practical needs like for a computer and printer. 

The GNP was so devoted to supporting the Nooris through their resettlement process that they applied for, and won, a $5000 community sponsorship grant through Refugee Council USA. The GNP also decided to support the family for two extra months beyond their original one-year commitment. 

In April 2021, as the GNP support ended, Rabbi Lizz and Taalibah met with the Nooris for a wrap-up meeting. They discussed the progress the family had made with finances, employment, and education, and they encouraged the Nooris to reach out to the congregations if crises come up and they need unexpected help. Taalibah made sure the Nooris were informed about mosque activities their family could become involved in once the pandemic waned. 

Through a translator, Mr. Noori expressed his family’s gratitude for helping them begin their lives here in the U.S., where they were “starting over from zero.”  “I am very happy that this thing happened,” Mr. Noori said of the GNP.

Becky Jennings (center) pictured with Rabbi Liz and Taalibah.

Rabbi Lizz, Taalibah, and I feel the same. Of the Nooris’ welcome dinner, Rabbi Lizz wrote, “Our opening meal at Dar Al Noor was very welcoming and everything felt so exciting and hopeful.” Privileged to be there representing LSSNCA, I felt that sense of welcome and shared in the excitement and hope, even as the pandemic came to complicate the Nooris’ adjustment to American life. I have been moved over and over the past 14 months that Jews, Muslims, and Christians (like myself) could come together and find common ground not only in doing divine work with human hands, but in praying with each other to entrust that work to God. Our GNP gatherings began with a prayer by Taalibah or an imam, and closed with a prayer by Rabbi Lizz, or vice versa. I have never felt so hopeful about the welcome that people of all faiths can be to each other, and to newcomers in our community. The GNP program can be the vehicle for welcome, collaboration, and hope.   

Becky first volunteered in refugee services intending to practice Spanish by working with Latin American clients.  She was assigned instead to work with Afghan clients.  She was immediately hooked on Afghan hospitality, humor, language, and food!  She was an ESL tutor and volunteer driver with MRS for a year, then met the Dale City LSSNCA staff and began interning with their office.  She has been working as the Dale City Reception and Placement case manager and Match Grant job developer since April 2020. 

The Biden Administration has made it clear that refugee resettlement will be a major immigration priority over the next four years. The Administration has raised the refugee admissions ceiling from 15,000 to 62,500 for the remainder of this year and promises up to 125,000 in 2022. While this is all exciting news, we need to prepare our community and agency for an influx of refugee individual and family arrivals. To do so, we are recruiting organizational and congregational partners to help us welcome as Good Neighbor Partners. To ease this transition and provide an extra layer of care and support, we match families with local congregations and groups as GNPs. To inquire about becoming a GNP, visit our website Watch Dar al Noor and Congregation Ner Shalom discuss their experience in this recorded GNP Info Session.

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