Acting As the Church
The Church and Refugees: Part 3
So far in this series on the Church and refugees we've discussed engaging the Church and educating the Church. Engaging the church involves building relationships within your church community in a way that will provide the platform and credibility necessary to challenge the church to consider serving refugees. Once a church's interest about refugees has been piqued, educating them about refugees is the next step. Finally, after sufficient interest and education, the congregation can begin acting as the church as they serve and minister to refugees in practical ways.
Most churches are not actually acting as the church toward refugees. While some rural churches may not have refugees present in their communities, many churches that do are simply unaware of them, unsure how to get involved in serving them, or fearful of them due to misinformation. Engaging these churches is the first and most important step to soften the hearts of the members and leadership to refugees and immigrants in the community. Educating the church is also necessary to progress from interest and concern to effective ministry and service and should be an ongoing process. Patiently working with your church through those first two steps will result in sustainable involvement in refugee ministry that will help and not hurt both the church and the refugee community.
Acting as the Church: Ideas and Resources
Instead of going into great detail about ways that churches can serve refugees, I'll simply list some resources and ideas that you can explore. Every church is different and the refugee communities in every city are also very different, so ultimately you will have to decide what services, events, etc. will be best for your church and community.
Refugee Resettlement Agencies: The best way to become more formally involved in working with refugees is to volunteer with a resettlement agency. They will know exactly how many refugees are in your community, where they are from, what neighborhoods they live in, what their greatest needs are, and almost anything else you'll need to know to effectively minister to them. Some agencies are faith-based as well and regularly partner with churches. Do a quick search to find out if there is an office for one of the following agencies in your area:
- Church World Service
- Episcopal Migration Ministries
- Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services
- US Conference of Catholic Bishops
- World Relief
Continuing Education: Educating your church about refugees and God's heart for them on an ongoing basis is part of acting as the church toward refugees. By teaching our churches about refugees we ensure that they will not become invisible to those who are supposed to be known for caring about "the least of these." For a list of resources to educate your church about refugees, see part 2 of this series.
Most Refugees are Overseas: While the focus of this series has been to challenge and encourage the Church to minister to refugees living in their local communities, many rural churches will not have that opportunity. However, understanding and sharing God's heart for the stranger is still important for them. Once they have been educated about refugees they can act as the church toward refugees by seeking ways to support churches overseas who are serving refugees. Countries like Jordan and Lebanon are the first place refugees flee for safety, and most of them never leave to be resettled in a third country or to go home. The churches that serve them in various ways need financial and other material support to continue their work. World Relief partners with many of these churches and can help you learn how your church can support them too.
Employ Refugees and Immigrants: If members of your church are small business owners or hiring managers, encourage them to consider hiring refugees and immigrants. This doesn't mean hiring unqualified workers, but finding ways to intentionally make your job openings and applications accessible to refugees and immigrants. It can be very difficult to find work, even after learning English well, and many refugees have large families with children or elderly relatives that they need to support.
For some more practical ways that you can make a difference, check out this article: Four Ways to Change the Refugee Crisis