How Your Church Can Care for Refugees

This article was originally published in Church, Law, and Tax on March 27, 2017. 

Resources to engage your church in responding to the refugee crisis.

The local church has a critical role to play in caring for refugees. Loving the stranger is core to our calling as Christians—and it’s part of the church’s DNA. The Bible is full of commands to “love those who are foreigners” among us (Deut. 10:19) and to care for the vulnerable (Matt. 25:40).

Long before the refugee crisis started dominating the news, Christian organizations were partnering with local churches to serve the people affected by this worldwide humanitarian crisis. Many Christians have long been committed to serving refugee populations both here and abroad as extensions of God’s call to pursue justice for the oppressed and to welcome the stranger in our midst.

As a ministry leader with limited time and resources, you fortunately don’t have to start this process from scratch. Christian organizations, researchers, and ministries have been doing this work for decades, and they’re eager to share what they’ve learned with local churches and equip them to take up this call to serve one of the world’s most vulnerable populations. At the Humanitarian Disaster Institute, we have carried out research projects in refugee camps and developed partnerships with various aid and relief organizations. Here are some resources I use in this work that I hope will help you, too.

Books

If you’re looking for a deeper dive into the subject, start with these books.

  • Seeking Refuge: On the Shores of the Global Refugee Crisis (Stephen Bauman, Matthew Soerens, and Issam Smeir): In this book, experts from refugee resettlement organization World Relief offer a practical, well-rounded, and well-researched guide to the issue.
  • The Middle of Everywhere: Helping Refugees Enter the American Community (Mary Pipher): I’ve had friends and family read this book as an introduction to the topic of refugee resettlement, and refugee care teams from my church have found this book to be a helpful glimpse into the lived experience of refugees.

Statistics

Reliable, relevant information is a key starting point for any ministry. With the recent surge in “fake news,” finding facts from trusted sources is more important than ever.

  • The UN Refugee Agency: The official United Nations office created this interactive tool with detailed, country-by-country data and summaries. Though we hear the most about Syrian refugees, there are also 15 significant refugee areas worldwide, including areas in Somalia, South Sudan, Nigeria, and the Mediterranean.
  • The Pew Research Center: In late 2016, Pew published an analysis of key refugee statistics to contextualize the data on the current refugee crisis and how the situation has developed over time.
  • World Vision: Last year, the Christian humanitarian aid group conducted a study on “Americans’ willingness to help refugees,” finding that only 19 percent of American Christians said they were praying for refugees.

Videos

Refugees aren’t just statistics—they’re real, individual people with unique stories of loss, trauma, resilience, and hope. Videos are a great way of understanding the depth of their stories and how our work can enter into those stories.

  • Clouds Over Sidra: This virtual reality documentary puts a human face on these issues as it follows 12-year-old Sidra through her home and life in Jordan’s Zaatari Refugee Camp.
  • The White Helmets: An Oscar-winning short documentary, this film looks at the Syrian war and the refugee crisis through the lens of a group of first responders.
  • Welcoming Strangers Into Your Home: Through the story of a couple who decides to come alongside a newly-arrived refugee family, this short video from Deidox Films demonstrates what it means to follow God’s call to serve refugees.

Advocacy Websites

When you’re looking to take action and aren’t sure how to proceed, these websites offer practical steps you can take.

  • WeWelcomeRefugees.com: Here you can sign a solidarity statement and order yard signs to display as visible demonstrations of support. The site is also filled with helpful information and resources.
  • The Refugee Highway: Learn more about the church’s role in responding to the refugee crisis, including ways to pray and specific opportunities in which churches can get involved.

Ministry Resources

These ready-to-go resources will offer helpful guidance as you start refugee ministries in your church.

  • A Church Leader’s Toolkit on the Syrian Refugee Crisis: This toolkit from World Relief is a practical, downloadable guide that walks through issues of discernment and engagement, separates myths from facts, offers next steps, and includes a sermon outline for preaching about refugees in your church.
  • International Association for Refugees (IAFR) Toolbox: This webpage contains downloadable resources, maps, discussion guides, videos, books, and useful links for helping people to understand, discuss, and value the issues at stake from a Christian perspective.

Christian Organizations

Many organizations that work with refugees have been partnering with local churches for decades, and their official websites are filled with valuable information and resources.

  • World Relief: This organization helps resettle refugees once they arrive in the United States, and they have many opportunities (with varying levels of commitment) for churches to partner with their work.
  • International Association for Refugees (IAFR): IAFR has established relationships with churches and pastors in refugee camps and is doing influential work with refugees— both before and after resettlement.
  • World Evangelical Alliance Refugee Task Force: This task force is focused on “facilitating a coordinated response from the global to the grassroots level,” which includes mobilizing churches and advocating on behalf of refugees.
  • World Vision: World Vision’s strong fundraising ability and their presence in developing countries allows them to offer assistance to huge numbers of refugees internationally. The organization also has a robust church engagement arm.
  • Medical Teams International: This organization sends medical supplies and care to vulnerable people around the world, including refugees and displaced people.
  • MedAir: This organization provides international emergency services to meet physical needs in crisis areas and to assist in recovery efforts.
  • Preemptive Love Coalition: If you’re looking for opportunities to donate to international, on-the-ground aid, PLC has a large presence in Syria and is supporting people displaced by violence all over the world.
  • Humanitarian Disaster Institute: At the HDI, we have partnered with IAFR on conducting trauma and theological training in the Kakuma Refugee Camp in Kenya, and we have worked with World Relief on a number of projects over the years—both here in the Chicago area and globally. Last year, we cohosted the GC2 Summit, an event to help the church show the love of Jesus Christ to refugees and refugee communities. Refugee care was a focus of our 2016 annual conference and will be again at our 2018 Disaster Ministry Conference. In addition, we’ve published research and trainings around multiple refugee care and humanitarian aid topics.

With these resources at the ready, you have access to many effective ways to engage and equip your church for this important work. May you be blessed in your efforts to fulfill this command and demonstrate God’s love for the most vulnerable “strangers” among us.

 

Dr. Jamie D. Aten is a disaster psychologist and the founder and executive director of the Humanitarian Disaster Institute and Disaster Ministry Conference at Wheaton College (Wheaton, IL). He is also the co-author of the Disaster Ministry Handbook. He got his start in disaster ministry after moving to South Mississippi just six days before Hurricane Katrina. You can follow Jamie on Twitter at @drjamieaten or visit his website, jamieaten.com.