Pew Research recently released some interesting information concerning the shifting trends in refugee resettlement in the United States. In light of the situation on our southern border, there is a renewed interest in the refugee situation in the country. For those us called to the ends of the Earth, this data is particularly relevant to our mission.
I’ll not bore you by regurgitating the information in the article. Instead, I encourage you to go read it for yourself here.
Here are some significant highlights:
- 3 million refugees have resettled in the United States since 1975.
- Over the course of this resettlement, the largest numbers are from Burma and Iraq.
- In 1980, the US Refugee Act opened the gates to increased refugee resettlement.
- In the 1980s a notable amount of refugees were from Vietnam and Cambodia.
- In the 1990s a large amount where from Kosovo and the Soviet Bloc.
- However, in 2001 the gates were closed after the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center.
- But in 2004, with the crisis in Somalia, refugee numbers began to increase again.
- Then in 2008 Burmese and Bhutanese were granted refugee status.
So why does any of this matter for the young church planter in the United States or some local church in the suburbs?
The reasons are many.
It only takes a quick look around you to realize the face of America is changing. Now, more than ever, it appears that our large urban centers (and even our not-so-large towns) are more international than ever. America has always been a melting pot, but nowadays, there are neighborhoods in our cities where it is harder to find English than Hindi or Amharic. Notice, I said nothing of Spanish there.
If we are about the Great Commission, as we say we are, then this new social landscape is a really big deal. Regardless of your stance on immigration, your stance on lostness should be that you share the gospel and love of Christ with the unreached, even if they are different from you. So churches in America must pick up the charge to these unreached peoples that now live down the street. We now find ourselves with some unlikely neighbors
Refugees come from rough places
There is a reason these people are coming here as a refugee. They are fleeing oppression, famine, war, or a small list of other atrocities. This means that refugees are frequently from the hardest places for us to reach with the gospel. Note that the largest number of refugees are from places like the Middle East.
Every immigrant is not a refugee
Even though the number of refugees coming to the United States declined significantly after 2001, it is important to realize that overall immigration has not. International people groups land in the United States for many reasons, and turmoil at home is only one of those. Many come here as students, or simply as immigrants who want to make a way for themselves in a new land of opportunity. Do not see this chart as decrying an end to international peoples in our cities. To the contrary, we are only seeing the beginning.
Keelan leads the Peoples Next Door project and is a Senior Church Consultant with the Union Baptist Association in Houston, TX. He is working on a PhD in Missiology at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. In previous years, he spent time as a church planter in West Africa with the IMB and doing ethno-graphic research in Washington, DC with NAMB.