Syrian Refugees, Resettled in U.S., Find Solace With American Christians

A family of refugees receiving an English lesson from William Stocks, 23, in Marietta, Ga. "My job is to serve these people," Mr. Stocks said, "because they need to be served." (Dustin Chambers for The New York Times)
A family of refugees receiving an English lesson from William Stocks, 23, in Marietta, Ga. “My job is to serve these people,” Mr. Stocks said, “because they need to be served.” (Dustin Chambers for The New York Times)

William Stocks, a white, Alabama-born, Republican-leaning member of Johnson Ferry Baptist Church, arrived at the tiny apartment of a Syrian refugee family on a Wednesday night after work. He was wearing a green-striped golf shirt and a gentle smile, and he was eager to teach yet another improvised session of English 101.

Mr. Stocks, 23, had recently moved to Georgia from Alabama, states where the governors are, like him, Southern Baptists. They are also among the more than 30 Republican governors who have publicly resisted the federal government’s plan to resettle refugees from war-ravaged Syria, fearing that the refugees might bring terrorism to their states.

To Mr. Stocks, such questions belonged in the realm of politics — and he had not come that evening for political reasons. Rather, he said, he had come as a follower of Christ. “My job is to serve these people,” he said, “because they need to be served.”

But politics and faith have always had the potential to conflict in the questions about resettling Syrian refugees in the United States.

And at a time when conservative politicians, many with ties to Christian religious groups, have aggressively sought to keep the Syrian newcomers out of their states, it is conservative people of faith who, in many cases, are serving as their indispensable support system.

Here in Marietta, the English lesson began around the donated kitchen table of Anwar and Daleen, two of the 10,000 Syrian refugees who have arrived in the United States in the past year only to grapple with that political reality, one as confusing as any new language.

Anwar and Daleen are Syrian Muslims who fled the bombings of their hometown, Tafas, in November 2012. They first crossed into Jordan, and, eventually, to this suburban sanctuary, where they settled in May in an apartment with their two children; a third child was born in August.

Here, thousands of miles from civil war, they were still so fearful of reprisals against family members in Syria that they declined to be identified by their full names.

Speaking through an interpreter, Anwar, 33, and Daleen, 27, said they were aware of the American politicians who oppose the arrival of Syrians here. They mentioned Donald J. Trump, the Republican presidential nominee, who had proposed temporarily barring all Muslims from entering the United States, a position he has since modified several times.

But the political issues, they said, they knew only from television. Their closest interactions with Americans have been largely with the members of Johnson Ferry Church, like Mr. Stocks. It was members of the church, most of whom are Republicans, who outfitted their tiny apartment and showed them how to navigate America’s cavernous grocery stores.

They also steered Anwar through the health care system as he prepares for heart surgery.

“I have been here for four months,” Anwar said, “and I have seen nothing except goodness.”

Of the politicians, he said he was not afraid: “I fear only God.”

The arrival of the 10,000th Syrian refugee last month fulfilled a goal for the 2016 fiscal year that President Obama announced last September. Though they are a small fraction of the millions who have fled Syria, the concern among many conservative voters that the refugees could incubate domestic terrorism remains potent.

Gov. Robert J. Bentley of Alabama and Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas have filed separate lawsuits challenging the Obama administration’s refugee policy, but those efforts have sputtered in the federal courts.

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