We live in a time of an unprecedented global exodus as people flee from violence and unspeakable atrocities in places like Myanmar, Syria, El Salvador, Iraq, and South Sudan. More than 65 million people have been displaced globally. It’s staggering and complex. Twenty-five million of those are refugees and asylum-seekers, which is the highest number since World War II. Half of all refugees today are children.
António Guterres, UN High Commissioner for Refugees, said, “We are witnessing a paradigm change, an unchecked slide into an era in which the scale of global forced displacement as well as the response required is now clearly dwarfing anything seen before.” As Guterres said, the crisis requires a response and this is where the church must act. We must discern the times we are in and pursue opportunities to help these people during their time of crisis and greatest need. Our unwavering commitment to the Great Commandment must shape and inform our response.
Throughout the Bible, we witness God’s heart for the foreigner and are instructed to love and care for them as well. “The Lord watches over the foreigner, and sustains the fatherless and the widow” (Psalm 146:9). Our faith compels us to “welcome the stranger,” an undeniable ethic for those who follow Jesus who was forced to flee the murderous reign of King Herod as a refugee himself. Jesus even went so far as to say that when we welcome a stranger, we welcome him.
Refugees are vulnerable individuals who have been forced to leave their homes under duress during extreme circumstances. The refugee crisis is the culmination of injustices that have been happening for many years, so our response must be more of a marathon than a sprint. Are we ready?
How we respond may define the church for a generation.
We hear politics mixed with fear while some Christians are encouraging people to respond. This crisis demands a faith-driven, not a fear-driven response. Jesus went to the marginalized. He served the hurting and saved the lost and commanded us to love our neighbors as ourselves (Luke 4, Luke 19:10). We must think biblically along the lines of Micah 6:8 where we are told that the Lord requires us to “to do justice, love kindness, and to walk humbly with our God” and the parable of The Good Samaritan where we are expected to come to the aid of the person who is helpless regardless of our different cultures or backgrounds. Compassion is more than an emotion. It compels us to act.
The United States has settled around three million refugees since 1975. While the United States has resettled a large number of refugees, this still constitutes less than half of one percent of the world’s refugees. David Miliband, president and CEO of the International Rescue Committee, recently wrote in a Washington Post editorial that the number of refugees the U.S. resettled has been drastically reduced and if current trends continue, the U.S. could have no refugee resettlement program.
Only refugees who cannot return home or locally integrate in the country to which they fled can meet the qualifications for resettlement. The United States government decides who will come as refugees usually through the United Nations. The rigorous screening process often takes eighteen months. No refugee in the U.S. has ever committed a terrorist act. The State Department partners with nine resettlement agencies. One of the agencies, World Relief, was started in 1945 as the War Relief Commission when evangelicals wanted to help refugees fleeing war-torn Europe. While resettlement does not solve the global refugee crisis, it can provide an opportunity for people to rebuild their lives in freedom and safety. As World Relief states, “Resettlement is not just about a place to live, but a place to belong”.
Practical ways to respond
Educate your congregation
Many evangelical Christians are not shaped by the Bible in their views on refugees, but by the news. A recent LifeWay Research survey reveals a disconnect between our faith and our practice within the American church. While eighty-six percent of pastors affirm that we have a responsibility to care for refugees, only eight percent say their churches are actively involved in serving refugees locally, and less than one in five are involved in meeting the needs of refugees overseas. Financial support and prayer are the main ways churches get involved.
Serve and reach out to refugees in local communities
Get specific information for your area. Find out the needs of refugees and what organizations are already doing. Our family helped refugees through World Relief.
Pray for refugees
Anglican Prayer for Refugees
“Lord Jesus Christ, our Refuge and Deliverer, Who as a child sought refuge in Egypt while fleeing from those who would persecute and harm You. Remember those today who must flee in the same manner, and find themselves in foreign and strange lands, granting them your Presence, your protection, and your provision. Illuminate us to be a shining light upon a hill amidst the dark evil in our world, that we may do our part with hospitality and resources, and that all who are refugees might be led to the brightness of Your redemptive love made present by Your glorious Incarnation, who lives and reigns with the Father and the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.”
Advocate for them
God may call individuals to advocate for refugees. Jenny Yang, Vice President of Advocacy and Policy at World Relief, defines advocacy as speaking up to government officials and using the influence we have to protect the vulnerable. “When we see too many beaten by the side of the Jericho Road,” Yang said, “we must ask, ‘what is wrong with the Jericho Road?’ When we welcome people the world wants us to hate, we are advancing the kingdom of God.”
How to Start a Ministry to Refugees
(Jamie Aten, co-director of the Humanitarian Disaster Institute)
One on one, family to family, churches to churches, churches to organizations
Help with humility
Refugees have a lot to offer to us as well. We can learn from them. Don’t just see refugees as a concept or a cause; see their humanity.
The church is here to care. Challenge churches to think scripturally. Churches can ask agencies how to stock their new homes with food and other needs.
The biggest help and challenge are volunteers. Volunteer in a way that helps by getting to know local organizations and plugging into their systems. Resources need to meet real needs.
Create a good neighbor team
World Relief’s website has guidelines.
Don’t reinvent the wheel
People on the ground often meet to determine what to do, but resources exist. Tap into them.