5 ways your church can help immigrant and refugee communities

June 29, 2019

Recent news has continued to bring to light the harsh realities of many in other countries and the need to reach out to those who have come to the U.S. for refuge. Many believers and churches are trying to find ways to reach out to immigrants and refugees locally, nationally, and globally. A great first step that our church took was to reach out to the North American Mission Board, the ERLC, and World Relief. Each of these organizations provided us with excellent resources to welcome, serve, and advocate for immigrants and refugees through the love of Christ. 

Some of these strategies included greeting newly arriving refugees at the airport, delivering welcome baskets to homes, and developing simple English-based programs to teach the Bible and other subjects. They also provided us helpful tools for talking and teaching about immigration-related issues in our church.

More than two years ago, our church began what we call our “International and Refugee Ministry.” Along the way, we have learned a few things that weren’t in the first-steps resources we received. Our hope is that the ideas below will help you and your church establish long-lasting relationships with your immigrant and refugee community.

1. Connect with international families by partnering with local schools. 

As is true in any community in the U.S., families and schools go together. We’ve found that each of our local school districts are thrilled to have support for their international students and families. We’ve connected with these families through providing snacks and volunteers for afterschool programs, involving students and families in our music programs, teaching English to parents, teaching parenting classes, hosting family gatherings, and offering events in their apartment complexes. In many cases, the initial connection through the schools leads to invitations into the homes and lives of our immigrant and refugee neighbors.

2. Offer opportunities to learn and practice English as often as possible.

You will likely be surprised at how English-learning opportunities will become a draw for your international neighbors. Oftentimes, our international neighbors will come in groups to our services, classes, and events to listen in English together and then discuss later. If only all of our English-speaking members were willing to put in so much effort to understand the Scriptures!

We offer several English as a Second Language (ESL) classes. From ESL, our students are invited to join one of our multiple Bible study classes that are taught in simple English, using either story method or video-driven content with subtitles. Though we are happy to offer translation helps in many situations, we try to do as much as we can in English with printed or projected words available.

One important thing to note, however, is that the most effective ministry is usually done in a person’s “heart language.” If you do not have someone in your congregation who speaks a person’s first language, look for a minister or strong believer in your community who does.

3. Make friends, and get to know others just as you would with anyone else.

Many of our American-born members have been hesitant to invite internationals to their classes or events because they are afraid things will get awkward. I tend to ask those members, “How did you get to know any of your current friends?”

They usually respond, “I asked them about their family;” or “I asked them about where they grew up;” or “I asked them about their job or their hobbies.” 

My reply is: “Yes, yes, and yes. Do those things. Everyone loves to talk about their children. People always appreciate when someone shows interest in their lives or the things they care about. Jump in there, and make lasting friendships—and remember that the language barrier and awkwardness go both ways!”

In order to facilitate these kinds of friendships between our American-born and foreign-born people, our church hosts recurring events including family dinners with both American and international cuisine. You will never have better and more diverse meal choices!

4. Focus on family strengthening like you would with American families.

All of our churches are proudly pro-family. Our ministries and programs are highly focused on both attracting and equipping families in the gospel. We should invest in strengthening immigrant and refugee families with the same goals. 

A great example of this is our “Mommy and Me” group for Burmese refugees in a local apartment complex. Many of the Burmese new mothers are overwhelmed after having their first child in the U.S. because they have never been taught how to nurture a baby using American resources such as disposable diapers, plastic bottles, and car seats. So, a group of our American-born moms began the group to teach basic infant-care skills along with Bible songs and simple Bible stories in English for the moms to use in their homes. The American and Burmese moms also take field trips and do activities together.

5. Look for ways to help immigrants and refugees generate their own income or resources. 

This one might sound harder than any of the others, but it need not be. It could be as simple as starting a food co-op, opening a clothing exchange, or helping others learn a trade or technique. Our church partners with a wonderful organization called Rising Village (RiSE), which teaches refugees how to operate sewing machines of all types—from simple machines to commercial and industrial machines. Through this program, women have learned how to make clothing for their children and other items used in their homes. Some have made items for resale, or even gained full-time employment in local businesses because of the skills developed through RiSE. (See this local news story (KJRH) about RiSE and our church).

Many immigrants and refugees can also provide services for pay, even if they are not hired as a permanent employee. Several of our paid translators come from our English classes, and we simply pay them weekly on a contract basis as 1099 workers. Even if a person is not yet a U.S. citizen, those with a legal immigration status can work with a green card, certain types of visas, or other form of employment authorization provided by USCIS. Though these positions only pay a small amount of money, they provide the translators with an official connection to our church and help them establish employment history in the U.S.

Each of these strategies are part of a few greater goals: to treat our immigrant and refugee neighbors with dignity and respect, to help meet their needs in ways that build up and strengthen families, and to point them to the God who created them so that they might know the Savior who came to meet their greatest need, salvation in his name. 

For more information about our church’s ministry to immigrant and refugee families, or to learn more about immigration related issues, visit Eric Costanzo’s site.

Eric Costanzo

Eric Costanzo (Ph.D.) is lead pastor of South Tulsa Baptist Church in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and executive director for RisingVillage.org, an organization with initiatives to help marginalized people become full participants in their communities. Eric is also co-author of Inalienable (IVP, 2022). Eric’s other publications are available from his website. Read More

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24