Article  Human Dignity  Immigration

Hope for Our Neighbor

When Eric Costanzo was first installed as pastor at South Tulsa Baptist Church in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in 2016, the Syrian crisis dominated the news. The tragic plight of those fleeing persecution drew international attention as the topic of refugee resettlement was debated throughout the country. 

As Eric and others prayed about how their church might serve those affected, they discovered a surprising opportunity right in the church’s own neighborhood.  

What they did not know was that a Syrian refugee family lived within walking distance of their campus. As church members began to reach out and minister to this family, God began opening doors for relationships with dozens of families from Asia, Africa, and Latin America—all living nearby. 

As they became aware of more and more international families around them, South Tulsa Baptist Church reached out to their local school district asking how they could help their English Language Learner (ELL) students and families.

“The school was eager to involve us, as they had very few volunteers serving in that area,” said Eric. “We began providing snacks and resources for their after school ELL programs, and quickly began meeting several new families.”  

In those first few months, God grew the newly formed “International and Refugee Ministry” to the point that individuals from more than 30 countries were attending classes led by their church members. 

“It was here that the ERLC first joined our story,” said Eric. 

“Because immigration and refugee issues had been so contentious in both political and public discourse, we faced some initial conflict in the church as we began to step into this new ministry. Throughout 2017 and 2018, I utilized preaching, teaching, and writing opportunities to educate our congregation on how the Bible guides us in ‘welcoming the stranger’ and about true vs. false narratives surrounding the topic of refugee resettlement. The ERLC helped with providing us materials and in conversations, and even gave me opportunities to write about our work.”  

Since those early years, the work of the ministry has grown, extending into new areas of the city and new avenues of service. They built a weekday ministry that provides meals and international Bible study on Sunday mornings. They have been able to hire more and more staff, partner with other Southern Baptist churches, and even local businesses in their endeavors. Additional ministries have been started to meet tangible needs and teach job skills. For refugees who have already surrendered to Christ, the ministry prepares them to be on mission in their city.

And when an unprecedented number of refugees arrived from Afghanistan after the fall of Kabul in 2021, South Tulsa Baptist Church was asked to be the front lines for welcoming these men, women, and children to their city. 

“This means that out of the 1,000 Afghan refugees who came to Tulsa, our church met 850 of them and provided both their airport welcome and transportation to temporary housing and their first cultural training classes,” said Eric. 

“The ERLC was also very helpful during this time, because of its very public support of the Afghans who were being brought to the United States. We always felt we could point to a cooperative Southern Baptist effort to welcome these families because of the communication coming from the ERLC, and also the networking of Southern Baptist churches who were also helping to serve Afghans.”

Along the way, an important part of this work has been advocacy, as individuals and families in their ministry are affected by policy changes in their immigration process.

“We often need to contact and work with elected officials,” said Eric. 

“Once again, the ERLC has helped us for several years in making those connections at the national, state, and local levels. The ERLC has also provided us with helpful tools and resources to do advocacy well while helping to inform our congregation and our partners about important issues related to public policy and the needs of our immigrant and refugee community.”

The International and Refugee Ministry has become one of the primary mission emphases of South Tulsa Baptist Church. “The ultimate goal,” Eric said, “is to bring hope to our immigrant and refugee community as they see the love of Christ displayed through the love of his people.”

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