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Helping Internationals: From the Middle East to Fort McCoy

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Matt Cline

Matt Cline leads an informational seminar for potential Ft. McCoy volunteers at Bethany Free Church in La Crosse.

Matt Cline flashed a quick smile as he talked about his work among the Afghan refugees at Fort McCoy.

“The vast majority of them are grateful to be here. They just want a friend to tell about the incredible trials they’ve been through,” he said relaxing over lunch. “There’s lots of incredible stories.”

And Cline likes making friends. At 31, he’s already garnered a lifetime of experience working in the Islamic culture. But ironically, like the refugees at Fort McCoy, his arrival there was totally unplanned.

For the past seven years, Cline and his wife, Amy, hosted an English as a Second Language club and helped a small church in a Middle-Eastern country. But due to family health problems and residency issues, their life’s direction changed. “It was a hard decision,” said Matt. But after much prayer and discussion with their home pastor, they packed their bags.

When the family arrived back in Onalaska in July, they were still wondering what was next. Suddenly, Afghan refugees began pouring into For McCoy and Matt knew his prayers were answered.

“I started looking for opportunities to help in late August,” he recalled. “By Oct. I was volunteering with the base community centers and Catholic Charity programs.”

Cline splits his time between working at the base, holding volunteer recruitment seminars, and helping Amy with their three young children. On base he relates to both kids and adults. “I just try to show the love of Christ,” he said. “When the parents drop off the kids, I tell them I’m glad they’re here and welcome hearing about their lives.”

And while on base, it’s not unusual for Cline to have a gaggle of kids in tow. One of Cline’s old schoolmates, Tony Campbell of Onalaska, noted that he wasn’t surprised. “He’s the type of guy people want to follow,” said Campbell.

Campbell remembers that during their high school days, “music and movies” dominated their interests, but when Cline took a trip to Turkey while at Iowa State University, his fate was sealed. “Every person I interacted with on public transportation had never met a Christian,” Cline recalled about his trip. “I decided I wanted to do something about it.”

Cline, who spent his early years in West Salem, looks for ways to connect cross-culturally. And with kids, games top the list. “The kids are happy to play games. They’re trying to put behind them some pretty incredible things,” said Cline.

Language is another connection. Cline pointed out that while a quarter of the refugees at Fort McCoy speak fluent English, about half need translators. So he practices English with them. Although he doesn’t speak Dari or Pashtu, fluency in one middle eastern language endears him to the Afghans.

“Most Muslim cultures share some vocabulary,” Cline said. “I enjoy listening for the overlap – and they enjoy these cultural connections.”

And then there’s food. Cline was surprised to find that the Afghan culture shares similar tastes with Pakistan and India with regard to tea and curry.

“We’ve had a lot of conversations about the one Indian restaurant in La Crosse,” laughed Cline. After one family was released from Ft. McCoy, Amy cooked an authentic middle eastern dinner for them.

Cline is currently studying for ministry in the Presbyterian Church and hopes to plant a church in an area with a large population of internationals. He says more volunteers are still needed at Ft. McCoy. He can be contacted at matthew.cline@postaca.net

“The vast majority of them are grateful to be here. They just want a friend to tell about the incredible trials they’ve been through.”

Matt Cline

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