Even as immigration policy continues to be a contentious point of debate, the United States is nonetheless settling tens of thousands of refugees within its borders every year. Against this backdrop, Scripture repeatedly reminds us that “the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’ ’’ (Galatians 5:14, NIV). In both a spiritual and a (very) literal sense, refugees are your neighbors!
We’ve already explored how you, on your own, might take your first steps into the realm of refugee ministry. Volunteering as an individual is great, but volunteering as a church is even better. When it comes to the challenges associated with resettling refugee families, there is strength in numbers.
Many volunteer agencies (VOLAGs) will partner with church groups to “adopt” specific families during their first days in the United States. These church groups can help in a variety of ways, from donations of clothing and household supplies to assistance with writing a resume, navigating an American supermarket or just helping families become familiar with the quirks of their new community.
If you’ve ever moved to a new city, you know that it takes a while to adjust to the new surroundings. Imagine how much more challenging it would be if your previous “home” was a refugee camp in Africa or Bhutan!
One of the most effective ways for churches to be involved is through church-based ESL (English as a Second Language) programs. Numerous denominations, including the Southern Baptist Convention and the Presbyterian Church in America, offer guidance and training on how to set up a church-based ESL ministry.
Another way to embrace refugee families is through the process of cultural mentoring (different terms may be employed depending on the agency). This is a longer commitment (typically six months) involving groups of four to six volunteers. A cultural mentoring team invests up to 16 hours per month helping a refugee family adjust to life in the United States.
Of course, getting your church on board with refugee ministry may seem intimidating at first. Before moving forward, you might want to find a few like-minded congregants and discuss the matter with them. Do some research to determine whether refugees are being resettled in your area, and whether volunteer opportunities are available through a local agency. (See “What Can You Do to Help Refugees?” for specifics on this.)
Once you’ve got your facts, approach a deacon, elder, pastor or your church’s missions committee or outreach coordinator to discuss the possibilities. Help everyone involved remember that this isn’t about engaging in the national debate over immigration policy. It’s about ministering to real people and meeting real needs in your neighborhood and city.
There are countless ways church groups can offer practical support, but in the end, meeting basic needs might not be the most important part of the equation. In coming alongside refugee families, churches are extending Christ’s love, compassion and mercy to those who are the very definition of “strangers in a strange land” (Exodus 2:22, KJV).
Beyond help with navigating bus routes and figuring out how to shop at a mega-sized supercenter, refugee families need friends and advocates. They need Americans to put an arm around them and let them know that they are loved and welcomed. This is where relationships are formed. This is where community is built. This is where ministry happens.
This is how your church can #StandWithRefugees.