How your church can minister to refugees

March 27, 2017

It all began with a call from a local mechanic to my friend, Lucy. A Muslim woman from Tanzania was returning from delivering donations to a refugee family. Her tire blew on her way home. Once her mechanic arrived to repair the tire, they began talking about the African refugee family she had been serving. The mechanic later called his friend Lucy for help. He knew she was fluent in the family’s language and had experience in bringing people together for fellowship.

The two of them visited the family and learned there were other refugee families in need. That’s when Lucy reached out to her church to see what could be done. One thing led to another, and many of the people at my church, including myself, began caring for, loving and befriending the refugee families from Africa. We now have a ministry team and dozens of people from our church and surrounding community that are involved in the lives of our refugee friends.

Beginning a ministry to refugees in your church

Although, not everyone is able to meet refugees as naturally as this, you are probably aware of refugees in your town. So how can everyday Christians like you and me start ministering to these neighbors? Forming relationships with refugees might be challenging at first. If you’re uncertain where to start, you can use the Refugee Processing Center’s Affiliate Directory to find out about agencies in your city. It may take some time, but with perseverance, you’ll likely find these agencies helpful.

Once you begin to build relationships with refugees and have made your intentions known to the agency supporting them, I encourage you to share your desire with your pastor. Having the blessing of the leadership of your church will prove to be invaluable to your ministry—it becomes everyone’s ministry. In addition, there are a few things you can do to enhance this kind of ministry in your church:  

1. Seek to know the person: At my church, we refer to “our friends who came as refugees,” because we want to recognize that they are more than refugees. They are people with hopes and dreams just like you and me. They have feelings, experience victories and make mistakes. Since many of us are fixers and doers, we can sometimes turn people into projects. My best friend, after traveling to Berlin to work with a refugee ministry, wisely said, “Remember the person, not the problem. Remember the name, not the need.” Of course, she didn’t mean to shove their problems aside or ignore the needs, but before all of that, it’s important to remember refugees are fellow image bearers whom we are called to love, help and befriend.

2. Recruit a team: When I first met our friends from Africa, it was through a small group of people from my church that had been ministering to them. When I joined the team, it was made up of three Americans and two others representing different countries. I can’t imagine doing any of this without them. Recruiting a team is vital. Teammates will encourage and build one another up, spurring one another on in love and good deeds as the Word says. Having a team will better enable you to love and empower the people you’re befriending.

3. Build a “house”: Once you have a few people who desire to minister to and befriend refugees, the team can start to bring structure to their efforts. I would recommend building a figurative house together. Here are the essential parts:

The church has a unique opportunity to love boldly and serve the sojourners that have come to America. At my church, our mission is to be “For the Gospel and For the City,” which means we are committed to reaching every person in our city with the good news of Jesus. Lucy was living out this mission when she decided to serve the refugee family. Lucy never dreamt that her actions would lead to an official church ministry. Her example shows that when you advocate for refugees, your actions will likely move others to act as well. So be encouraged and remember Jesus’ words, “As you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me” (Matt. 25:40), as you go to the nations without ever leaving your city.

Jen Stewart

Jen Stewart is currently leading a team of people from City Church in Tallahassee, Fla., as they love, befriend, and help empower 70 refugee adults and children. Her experiences on the international mission field, in church ministry, and seminary have proven invaluable in this ministry. Jen is married to Craig … Read More