We passed the second anniversary of the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan in January. We also observed International Women’s Day last week. Both markers are meaningful to me as the minister of a church in New Hampshire that welcomed a refugee family with five daughters from Afghanistan following the fall of Kabul.

The impact of welcoming this family has been positive for our small church and community. At a time when America faces another election, and our politics divides us more than ever, this act united us. It holds valuable lessons for the country, and I hope that when they hear about it, other pastors and community leaders across America decide to follow our lead.

After seeing desperate families crowd the Kabul airport, our church volunteered to welcome refugees through a pilot initiative from the U.S. State Department that expands beyond the excellent work refugee resettlement agencies are already doing. You only need five people in your community to come together and agree to welcome a refugee family. Through the State Department’s program Welcome Corps, our church partners with Community Sponsorship Hub and WelcomeNST, organizations that empower and train people like you and me to be in private sponsor groups all over the country.

This work is a bridge in our community. It offers hope for divided communities across America. We have seen people on different sides of the political spectrum unite to help refugee families. For example, March 28, 2022, was the first day of school in New Hampshire for the two teenage Afghan girls. On the same day, the Taliban announced the end of school for girls in their country. Their parents cried as the doors closed on the yellow school bus. For those on different political sides, this story of the first day of school for the two Afghan girls here began to unite them.

To begin with, some members of our church were concerned about welcoming immigrants, even from war-torn countries. And yet, when they met the Afghan family, they recognized a family like their own. One of our church members is a good example of what I mean. By his own admission, he is conservative on immigration, and his social media offers the latest hot takes. Still, he agreed to teach the Afghan father, Mohammad, to drive. The two men found respect for each other, and a friendship bloomed. Months later, the conservative church member went in for surgery, and when Mohammad heard the news, something remarkable happened. Mohammad drove to the hospital, brought flowers, and sat with his new friend through his recovery. Now, the two men have inspired others in our community to see past labels and division. Theirs is a story about two people finding a common connection. It transcends lazy soundbites and partisan politics.

Whatever our politics, most of us aspire to be kind, generous, and have the depth of character to help vulnerable people. But living in America in 2024 can make that difficult. Welcoming refugees has helped our community to be generous and kind. It’s a simple act, but it has turned us into better people.

Worried about increasing divisions in our church and community, we asked: What do we want to stand for? Welcoming the stranger is our answer, drawn from Jesus’s teachings. In the Gospel of Matthew, he also talks about giving food to the hungry, drink to the thirsty, and clothing those in need. These are things all of us can stand for if we have the simple courage to follow through. It might seem easier to sit on the sidelines and hang back, but to do so would be a missed opportunity. When our church members saw the collapse of Afghanistan, we realized that by aiding a family to escape war-torn Kabul and welcoming strangers, we could more deeply embody our faith.

When I emailed the picture of the Afghan women getting onto the school bus to our community, they rallied. Now, more than 160 people, many unrelated to our church before, have come together to support and welcome eight more refugee families from Afghanistan, Ukraine, Haiti, and Guatemala to New Hampshire over the last two years.

I can’t tell who benefits more from this kind of activity. Obviously, the families in their new homes benefit a great deal. But welcoming these refugees has helped our community write a more positive chapter, and we’re looking forward, together, to a more positive future, still. I’m certain that other communities around America are poised and ready to write more positive chapters for their futures, too.