ORLEANS — In 2003, Iraq felt the fire and fury of an American-led invasion. In 2017, on Cape Cod, Iraqi refugee families enjoyed the fun and friendliness of a Cape Cod weekend arranged by the Nauset Interfaith Association.
On Friday, host families from Brewster, Eastham, Harwich, Orleans, and Yarmouth welcomed 18 refugees who have settled in the Worcester area at St. Peter's Lutheran Church in Harwich. They had come to America from Iraq, Liberia, and Somalia.
“All of these families have suffered terribly in the wars and oppression that have afflicted their home countries,” the Association's convener, Fr. Ken Campbell of Orleans, wrote in an email. “Nauset Interfaith has formed a relationship with Worcester Interfaith so that we can find ways of supporting refugees in our state even though none are settled on Cape Cod at present because of the cost of living and scarcity of jobs. In this way we hope to build friendships with our new Americans and also help educate ourselves about the gifts these families bring to America.”
The visitors enjoyed a Chatham Band concert, a “Sharks and Seals” ranger walk at the National Seashore, swimming at bay and ocean beaches, a visit to Eastham's Red Barn for pizza, and a trip to Cape Cod Light in Truro.
“Everyone attended a church [St. Peter's in Harwich and Church of the Holy Spirit in Orleans] on Sunday, including a few who were Muslim, and all were well received,” Campbell wrote in a subsequent email. The weekend concluded with a meal at the Community of Jesus in Orleans hosted by the COJ's youth group, some of whom had already visited Worcester to meet their peers who were coming to the Cape.
“Many new friendships were made by all ages,” Campbell wrote. “It is hoped that we can arrange a visit sometime this fall or next spring by a singing youth group of high school students from Worcester, all of whom were born in other countries and are now Americans.”
In an interview Aug. 9, Campbell said the Nauset Interfaith Association, which represents 15 to 20 faith communities from Brewster and Harwich to Provincetown, sought ways to express members' desire to “stand with those in our local communities who are at the edges or who are in need or are not being heard. One of the early concerns raised was that of religious minorities, particularly those who are Muslim, on the Cape.”
That led, he said, “into a recognition of the controversy over immigration and refugees, and our conviction that there's nothing more American than people coming here from across the globe. We wanted to support those coming to our country and help them in the transition to becoming citizens, new Americans.”
Through its Refugee Support Team, chaired by Rev. Rod MacDonald of Brewster, the Association contacted the Worcester Interfaith Association in the city “that has the largest population of immigrants and refugees in New England,” Campbell said. “We got a list of things refugees needed: kitchenware, pillows, blankets, sheets. We had a collection center at the Eastham Methodist church and got so much stuff, good stuff, that we had to stop it. People volunteered to bring it to Worcester and distribute it through a couple of churches. We also had donations of money and food cards.”
Last year, an Algerian woman from Worcester and her family attended the Nauset Association's Thanksgiving interfaith service. When asked if she'd like to come back for a weekend, she'd said she'd love to, and so would others. That prompted the idea of sharing Cape Cod with families struggling to recover and get started in their new nation.
“I was really amazed that I had 20 families here volunteer to have someone stay in their home,” Campbell said, “without even really trying hard. In July, families from Algeria and Syria visited for a weekend.
“They had a wonderful time,” Campbell said, with the Algerian family staying in Orleans. “The family that stayed in Harwich were from Syria, a mother and sister and her two children. The husband is still stuck in Europe. Often, a husband or father has been killed or arrested. The couple they stayed with in Harwich has already been to visit them in Worcester.”
The “underlying thing,” said Campbell, is to get to know each other and to form some friendships and to have them know they're welcome. We want to support them, get to know them, and learn from them.”
For more information, contact the Rev. Ken Campbell at email@example.com or 413-478-5719, or the Rev. Rod MacDonald at firstname.lastname@example.org or 774-323-3989.