Each and every year between 60-80 thousand refugees land in the United States from all over the world. The US accepts more refugees than any other country in the world, and without fail, these individuals and families move to the US and settle into our homes and communities. For many local churches, refugees are a real opportunity to proclaim the gospel. Unfortunately, most churches are missing it.
We have written before about the wave of immigration currently hitting the United States. Peoples from all over the world settling into the neighborhoods around your church building, and many of them are from the least reached places in the world. Immigration comes in several different streams. Large numbers come as international students, others come through channels attempting to naturalize and get citizenship, and finally many are refugees or people seeking asylum. According to the United Nations, a refugee is, “a person who is unable or unwilling to return to his or her home country because of a ‘well-founded fear of persecution’ due to race, membership in a particular social group, political opinion, religion, or national origin.” In other words, refugees have been forced out of their home country by persecution or fear of life. This persecution can be for a number of reasons. Regardless of reason, refugees are fleeing a dangerous situation and looking for a new life.
Consider the impact a local church could make by engaging refugees resettling in their area. I can think of three real big reasons:
Peoples from the least-reached places now living in your neighborhood
I have already explained that most of these people are coming from regions of the world where there is little to no gospel access. Remember, they are coming from countries where persecution is the norm. The top refugee sending countries are places like: Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, Somalia, Sudan, and Pakistan. It is virtually impossible to send missionaries to most of the countries on that list, at least without great difficulty and danger. As resistance to the spread of the gospel increases in places like this around the world, God is choosing to uproot thousands from these countries and place them next to our local churches. However, that is only a good thing if they hear the good news while they are in your neighborhood. And, as Paul reminds us, how are they to hear unless someone tells them? That someone may be you.
Peoples in transition and seeking a new life
Refugees are also people on the move. Consider the change that is taking place in their lives. They fled their home country and culture along with everything familiar. They planted in a new culture, a culture very different from their home. However, they made the move in search of a new life. This kind of transition makes people particularly open to gospel proclamation. In most instances, these people enter your community with no friends, no connections, and no understanding of how to function in our world. This is a perfect opportunity for local churches to practice the Great Commission and the Great Commandment. What a perfect way to make disciples of every nation while loving your new neighbor as yourself.
Peoples that are easy to find
Finally, refugees are often the easiest internationals to find in your community. Refugee resettlement is an involved process that includes the government granting refugee status. After this status is granted, resettlement agencies work with the government to facilitate refugee entry and housing. Resettlement agencies are often nonprofit organizations that help refugees with the transition to life in the states by finding housing, furniture, and employment options. These agencies are usually looking for volunteers to connect with refugees and help meet these needs. Local churches can work directly with resettlement agencies to adopt refugees. Small groups and Sunday school classes can use this as an effective means of engaging these new neighbors.
Next week, I will interview the director of one such refugee resettlement agency so he can explain some of the needs and opportunities for gospel ministry presented to churches and individuals in his line of work. Stay tuned!
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.