Hundreds from across metro flock to northern Overland Park church for vigil in support of immigrants and refugees

People from across the metro area came to the interfaith vigil in support of immigrants and refugees at Overland Park Christian Church Sunday.
People from across the metro area came to the interfaith vigil in support of immigrants and refugees at Overland Park Christian Church Sunday.

Literally hours after the Trump administration issued its executive order temporarily banning travel for people from seven Muslim-dominant countries, the leaders of KC for Refugees, a group started last year to help provide services to Syrian families coming to the Kansas City area, started organizing a vigil to stand up for the immigrants and refugees they felt were improperly targeted by the ban.

On Sunday, the group was overwhelmed by the show of support they received.

More than 1,000 people crowded into three different listening areas at Overland Park Christian Church Sunday to hear speakers representing a wide range of backgrounds and faiths — from Catholic Charities of Northeast Kansas to the Council on American Islamic Relations to Jewish Vocational Services — call for increased tolerance for immigrants and better access to services for refugees. Parking in the church’s main lot as well as the American Legion lot across the street filled quickly, sending attendees who came from across the metro to park on the street blocks away in the surrounding north Overland Park neighborhoods.

Sofia Khan, MD, the KC for Refugees co-founder who spearheaded organization of the vigil, called the event “beautiful.”

“We are Americans,” she said. “And when we see a disconnect between what politicians say is best for us and what we as Americans feel, we are going to stand up peacefully and say something. We wanted to show that we are united as a diverse community.”

With seating areas set up in the main sanctuary as well as the dining hall and adjacent courtyard, it was difficult to get an accurate headcount on the number of attendees at the vigil’s peak. But KC for Refugees board member Mandy McKinney said she estimated around 1,300 were on hand at one point. The speakers worked in two shifts to ensure attendees heard each speaker’s message regardless of where they were seated in the facility.

One of the speakers was a man named Majid Mourad who moved to the United States with his wife and daughter six months ago after having served as an interpreter for coalition forces in northern Iraq. Mourad’s brother was an interpreter as well. A group of men who were upset that Mourad and his brother were aiding the coalition troops killed his brother and targeted Majid as well, he told the crowd.

Seeking safety, Mourad eventually emigrated to the United States with his family last year.

“For me, for the first time of my life, I feel safe,” he said. “And America is my home now.”

As he’s gotten settled in Kansas City, Mourad has found a way to help others in similar circumstances adapt to the stressful transition to a new country. He currently works as a case specialist for refugee families from Iraq and Syria for Jewish Vocational Services. KC for Refugees will donate the more than $7,000 currently raised through its new Go Fund Me campaign along with more than $3,000 raised at the vigil Sunday to JVS, Kansas City Della Lamb and Catholic Charities, three local agencies that work to resettle refugee families here.

“I wanted people to know that it’s important not just to support national groups like the ACLU, which are very important, but also the local agencies here,” Khan said.

You can find video of Sunday’s speakers addressing the sanctuary crowd below:

Majid Mourad told the crowd in the church's dining hall of his experience working as an interpreter and refugee aide in Iraq before moving to the U.S.
Majid Mourad told the crowd in the church’s dining hall of his experience working as an interpreter and refugee aide in Iraq before moving to the U.S.