Last month I attended a refugee ministry conference that gave me much to consider. I went into the meeting with several questions concerning work among refugees. I was skeptical about the scope of this work but was really seeking answers to questions I had about refugee outreach as part of a larger work among internationals coming to the US. Those questions came out during the conference as questioning the value of this work but were my expression of a deep desire to understand the importance of assisting refugees and the impact of that this means for individuals served and those serving while communicating the gospel. Let me state upfront, the meeting laid to rest my concerns and I gained a strong sense that ministry among refugees offers a rich format to fulfilling Christ’s demands that we care for the oppressed of the world and share the gospel with them. I was especially impressed by the work and knowledge of the World Relief team and the conference organizers of the Refugee Roundtable.
Here is a short list of things I learned and several items I saw as opportunities for ministry.
1. Around 54,000 people will be granted refugee asylum in the US this year. They all arrive through a very demanding screening process that can drain them of their personal dignity and self worth. Those who arrive without an English language skill-set are at a major disadvantage for overall community/country assimilation.
2. Many refugees have been tramatized by the displaced people camps they come from. They arrive having been abused by multiple people and without the hope of ever returning to the country they loved. Some have been tortured and live with fear. Torture has the effect of destroying community so trust is a major issue.
3. People receiving refugee status are guaranteed to live in the US but are not guaranteed much help beyond the first three months. They do receive minimal financial assistance during those months but without the firm security of a job, their hope for ‘normal’ living conditions is impaired.
4. Every refugee who does not know English is required to sign up for English classes within 10 days of arriving in the US. However, depending on when people arrive, there may not be any classes available to attend. Each refugee is required to attend 20 hours of English per week. What an opportunity for college students to take a summer assignment to lead an English class. Summer is a very difficult time to find available classes. A church could easily work with college students to offer space and create classroom environments and volunteers.
5. Hospitality is a phenominal way to engage refugees. The offering of hospitality is a Biblical injunction for Christians and is also a well received act of kindness. It is always important to encourage a refugee as it shows respect and opens the door for a trusting friendship. Refugees and refugee communities will alway remember those who assisted them when they arrived in the US.
6. Because refugees have been through so much, it may take years and lots of energy to help them trust their new countrymen and to undertand the cultural nuances that are embraced within that change.
7. Local churches have the means to conduct refugee ministry and are in the best position to advance it. The church has the long term ability to meet the physical, emotional, and spiritual human needs of refugees without significantly draining resources. The church can easily meet many refugee needs by incorporating it into its plans with existing ministries such as events and programs.
As you can see, work among refugees embraces tons of dedicated human need ministry and will yield high impact in the lives of many people.