The refugee crisis being faced today is historically unprecedented. The question is: What can we do about? It’s one thing to be convinced that we as the church need to do something. It’s another thing to know what to do.
When God called Moses to lead the Israelites out of slavery, Moses was overwhelmed by details. The Lord focused him by asking, “What is that in your hand?” (Ex. 4:2, NIV). Moses replied, “A staff.”
I pose to you the same question: What is in your hand? In which ministries does your church excel? What skills do your people have that make those ministries such a success? Start there. Build your response from the platform and giftings God has given you.
When I was the volunteer coordinator for a refugee resettlement program in New England, people would ask me what the program’s needs were, and I would have them take a gifts test. This worked well because they were operating out of a place of affirmation and provided quality services to my refugees. Using a tool such as a gifts test is a great place to start. Here is one example of a “Hand, Head, and Heart” test from Episcopal Migration Ministries that you can download (PDF). Another option is StrengthsFinders, which is $15.
Once that’s done, you have something to work from. You know what is in your hand. How you plant your staff will come from education. You do not have to be the expert—they already exist, and they want to meet you! One idea is to request a refugee resettlement representative to come speak at your church on any Sunday, especially on Refugee Sunday.
There is a lot of information out there. Here are a few suggestions to get your search engines going:
- World Relief’s wewelcomerefugees.com website
- The International Rescue Committee
- Read refugees’ stories on the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants site
- At the Cultural Orientation Resource Center, you’ll find background information on all the different populations entering the U.S., orientation activities for the people in your church, and orientation to the U.S. for refugee families you might get involved with.
The single best thing you can do is pray. Prayer works wonders. The first miracle prayer performs is changing our hearts. It humbles us and causes us to realize we have more to learn than to teach, more to receive than to give.
As you educate yourself, it is easy to get overwhelmed, angry or frustrated for a variety of reasons. God isn’t scared of these emotions, and you’re not a bad person for having them. Ask the Holy Spirit to reveal truth, light and the perfect love He has for you and each refugee.
You don’t have to go it alone. There are some small group curriculums, such as this one by International Association for Refugees (PDF), on the topic of refugees so you can pray, learn and grow with fellow believers. Many people in the Bible were refugees—perhaps you can create a study around each one. It is definitely a lens most of us did not use in Sunday school or seminary.
Remember, God cares more about your heart than any action you may ever do for the benefit of refugees. Get that right first. It starts with you.
Your staff and the collective staff of your church will be unique, and that’s God’s design. It is important to be innovative without reinventing the wheel. Choose a point person who can network your church with a local affiliate agency already doing the work.
Here are some helpful guidelines to look into before you begin:
- Best Practices for Congregations Engaging in Refugee Resettlement Ministry by Episcopal Migration Ministries
- Checklist for Congregations by Episcopal Migration Ministries
- You can find the closest agency to you by visiting the Office of Refugee Resettlement website and their list of nine international agencies that work as the bridge to bring refugees into their designated countries of resettlement. The social workers at your local resettlement office will be able to give you specific needs for the populations being resettled in your area.
As a former volunteer coordinator, I can tell you that the following items were always on my wish list: toilet paper, paper towels, cleaning supplies, sheets, towels, comforters, blankets (gently used is fine) and footwear.
Ninety percent of the refugees I picked up came in flip flops. Even if you live in Florida, you’ll need a pair of closed-toe shoes eventually. Boots were a big deal in New England.
Also needed are pots and pans. Gently used is fine, and the bigger the better because when the “family” eats dinner together, that expands beyond immediate family to grandparents, aunts and uncles, and neighbors.
Mentors are also needed: English tutors, homework helpers, job hunting and interview preparation—each refugee has only six months to become economically self sufficient. Individual-to-individual and family-to-family mentors are needed to go grocery shopping, visit the park or attend a festival. Whatever you or your family are doing, share with them or their family. This is the best cultural orientation they can receive.
Could it be that God is reawakening the faith of America by bringing to her a population that has truly lived by faith alone and has seen God work miracles before their eyes on their behalf?
It starts with you. Let’s welcome refugees with our hearts and actions.