5 Ways Your Church Can Minister to Refugees

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Today, across our globe, 65 million people are displaced, and we are facing a refugee crisis like none we have ever seen. Whether they are fleeing persecution based on their race, religion, political affiliation, or national origin, these refugees need our help. Churches in the U.S. should be poised to love our new neighbors coming as refugees by embracing the unique ministry opportunities and the challenges with gospel intentionality, boldness, and Christ-like compassion.

Last year’s Presidential election and President Trump’s executive orders concerning refugees arriving to the U.S. has turned refugee resettlement to a politically charged issue. While evangelicals can certainly disagree on refugee resettlement and immigration policy we must agree that when it comes to biblical teachings we are called to show hospitality to those here (Hebrews 13:2), love and show mercy to our neighbors no matter their nationality or religion (Luke 10:25-37), do justice for the vulnerable (Isaiah 1:17, James 1:27), and make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:18-20).

Scripture tells us that God’s hand is at work behind the movements of humanity (Acts 17:24-27) as the nations are placed at our doorstep. We must respond with Christ-centered compassion. These questions for evangelical churches committed to the gospel and Scripture are vital: Will we embrace this blessing as an opportunity for gospel ministry? Or will we tip-toe around it because it is too messy and complex a burden for us? Churches response must be the former. But what does this look like? Below are some practical helps for local churches to serve refugees (and other immigrants [1]) in the U.S.

1. Education

The issues surrounding arriving refugees are complex, confusing, often controversial, and now have become a political firestorm. Many churches hesitate to engage these new neighbors. Sadly, fear can overtake facts, as well as the gospel mandate to love our neighbors. Fear can also stem from wrong information on refugees.

First, we must be equipped with a scriptural approach and understanding to serve refugees and immigrants arriving in the U.S. A Lifeway survey sadly highlights that only 12% of evangelicals claim the Bible as an influence regarding their beliefs about immigrants. Another survey showed churches are twice as likely to fear refugees than to help them. As evangelicals these numbers should be alarming. If you believe that God’s Word changes minds and hearts, consider personally taking or having your church take the “I Was A Stranger” challenge of 40 days of Scripture and prayer that includes many helpful resources.

Also, learn the role refugees play in the larger piece of immigration in the U.S. and the complex and lengthy admission process they endure. The best resource explaining this, along with history and policy of refugee resettlement from a Christian worldview, is Seeking Refuge by Bauman, Soerens, and Smeir.

These resources are a start. We cannot ignore this issue as we seek to develop a robust pro-life ethic in our churches.

2. Prayer

We are facing a historical refugee crisis. With 21+ million refugees globally, the task can become overwhelming. But begin by praying for refugees: pray for their protection as they flee, pray for provision (food, shelter, etc.), and pray for peace and resolve in their homelands. Many come here believing it is the only hope of a better life or even the survival of their children. While these issues are complicated, let us focus on praying that all refugees and immigrants are welcomed with love and genuine hospitality and not fear. Pray for those in government who can help resolve issues that cause refugee situations and those that can oversee having their countries welcome refugees.

Over 5,000 migrants died crossing the Mediterranean in 2016 as they fled persecution. What if we prayed like we believed it could stop the boats from sinking (Matthew 17:20, Mark 11:22-24)? Praying for our president, the immigrants and refugees impacted by this crisis, and churches is a good starting point as we believe God does act when we call out to him. What if God used this global migration to ignite a Holy Spirit work of renewal in our churches and awakening amongst formerly unreached peoples for His glory? Let us pray like it!

3. Advocacy

Advocacy is being a voice with or for the voiceless, standing in the gap to present the realities of injustice locally and around the world to those in positions of influence to change the situation.

“Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy” – Proverbs 31:8-9

The need to “speak up” and advocate for refugees is vital. Begin by advocating in your church and community. This will often require us to be engaged in political processes that many Christians often find uncomfortable. If that is the case then please heed my friend Dan Darling’s advise here.

When refugees become a political target or government processes begin to impede churches missional roles to serve them it is imperative that we speak up. Our voice can make a difference. Note how these pastors and evangelical leaders responded by writing the president recently. Consider calling your congressman on world refugee day (June 20) at a minimum and ask about their support of refugees. You can also save the capital switchboard number, (202)-224-3121, in your phone and when you hear about another refugee tragedy pick-up the phone and call.

4. Engagement

Welcome newly arriving refugees and those who are already here. Contact your nearest refugee resettlement affiliate [2] to look for ways to volunteer. One of a refugee’s greatest needs will be to feel welcomed and experience gospel-centered hospitality. Refugees transition to their new environments better through relationships with their new neighbors. Depending on church volunteers’ availability and interests, there are a multitude of ways these relationships could be established. Churches can offer to serve newly arriving refugees, commonly referred to as “welcome teams” (or good-neighbor teams), that simply help refugees learn and do life in the U.S. from when they arrive. This could include greeting refugees as they arrive at the airport, transporting them to and from critical appointments, sharing meals and social activities, orienting them to grocery stores and shopping centers, public transportation, schools, and more.

Your church can work with, help fund, or start a local legal aid clinic to serve immigrants and refugees trying to find a trusted source of help. While some of these opportunities look daunting, start by meeting a refugee, learn their name, learn their story, and you will see how quickly the opportunity comes to share Christ’s love through welcoming and making a new friend.

5. Evangelism & Church Planting

The need to engage in “welcoming” ministries to refugees and immigrants has never been this great, but the need to share the gospel and plant disciple-making churches among migrating people groups arriving to the U.S. is even greater.

Through refugees arriving, the opportunity to make disciples with unreached peoples [3], like the Rohingya peoples, are literally at our church’s doorstep. The harvest indeed is plentiful and the laborers in this area are far too few. Will we answer the call from the Lord of the harvest (Matthew 9:35-38)? How will we respond?

We must also understand the redemptive work of God through the migration of nations to the U.S. often means refugees and immigrants come here as committed Christians. Consider having your church partner with an existing ethnic church or planting a new one.

These initial 5 practical areas are to serve as an introduction for churches but I encourage you to reach out to get equipped by the Acts 17 Initiative, Refuge Louisville, Open Arms Refugee Ministry, N.A.M.B. Send Relief, the A.R.P.’s Outreach North America or other similar ministries in your area that will have an unwavering commitment to minister the gospel with biblical faithfulness and Christ-centered compassion. These ministries are a step removed from resettlement agencies so they can equip you with a unique gospel-intentional focus. You can also contact us at: acts17initiative@gmail.com for help or questions.

With the uncertainty of the number of arriving refugees this year and in 2018, along with refugee resettlement agencies closing offices and laying off workers, this should serve as a clarion call to local churches to come alongside refugees with a loving welcome like never before. Let us remember that refugees, made in the image of God, are fleeing some of the most horrific circumstances imaginable. Let us be moved to act with the love of Christ and a gospel mandate.

[1] It is estimated there are 43 million immigrants in the U.S. and over 1 million visiting international students and scholars.

[2] Refugee resettlement affiliates in the U.S. are part of nine private agencies and one state agency that have cooperative agreements with the State Department to provide reception and placement services for refugees arriving in the United States.

[3] A people group is unreached when less than 2 percent of its population is evangelical Christian. These people groups have historically been difficult to send missionaries to serve or to get access to the gospel in their home lands.

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