what the church can do
Imagine if the majority of churches worldwide actively joined their voices to others in the world calling upon our nations to actively welcome, protect and integrate forcibly displaced people into our societies rather than spending millions to keep them outside of our borders. We just might be able to influence public opinion and awaken the will of our governments to meaningfully implement solutions to forced displacement.
Churches can do more than advocate for place on behalf of refugees and asylum seekers. For what local community is better suited to helping people survive and recover from forced displacement than a church? At her best, a local church is a supportive, welcoming, and healing community that offers life-giving faith in the God who sees, hears, and cares for us. We are to be communities that reflect the image of God to others – especially to the marginalized and vulnerable in the world.
The Church has a critical and unique role to play when it comes to engaging the global refugee crisis. She can do what humanitarian agencies and social services cannot. The Church can rehumanize refugees and asylum seekers while helping them integrate into their new context. Such work is central to our mission and plays to the natural strengths of a healthy church.
get informed - refugee realities
The first thing local church leaders can do to educate their congregations concerning forced displacement in the world today, is to become better informed themselves. While news headlines often do not draw attention to the global refugee crisis, there are useful resources available through which we can all be better informed. Encourage your faith community to be informed as well.
get informed - Biblical perspective
From the deportation of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden, to John’s exile on the Island of Patmos, the biblical narrative is filled with stories of forced displacement. Church leaders can educate their faith community concerning the context of forced displacement in the texts from which they teach and preach. It is especially powerful when such a passage is associated with refugee realities in the world today. It is important for Christ-followers to see the pattern of God at work in the midst of forced displacement in Scripture, so that they anticipate him at work in today’s refugee crises.
As you develop an informed understanding of refugee realities along with a deepening biblical perspective of forced displacement in the biblical narrative, be intentional about integrating this into your teaching. World Refugee Sunday is an excellent opportunity to leverage within our faith communities. By observing World Refugee Sunday, we let the world’s refugees know that the Church hasn’t forgotten them.
pray for refugees
Local church leaders can encourage their faith communities to pray on behalf of the world’s refugees. It is most natural to encourage the church to pray for refugees and asylum-seekers in our own city. When breaking news includes mention of forcibly displaced people, we should include them in our prayers.
pray for opportunities
1 in every 160 people today are forcibly displaced. We shouldn’t be surprised to find them in our daily life. So be intentional and keep your eyes open for refugees, immigrants and migrants during your daily routine. Look for them while at work, school and church. Look for them in your community. Pray for opportunities to love refugees, immigrants and migrants in your community. Don’t be surprised when God puts such opportunities in your path.
Help Overcome Challenges that Refugees Face in a new Country
If you ask a refugee or asylum-seeker, “What are your biggest challenges?” they will no doubt tell you…
- It is very difficult finding affordable housing.
- It is very difficult to find employment that is sufficient to pay their bills.
- It is difficult to learn the new language in their country of refuge.
- It is difficult to know how to access and navigate the social welfare system.
- It is difficult to understand the school system and to help their children with homework.
- It is difficult to learn how to navigate public transportation and know where key services and shops are located.
- It is difficult understanding their new culture.
Of course, newly arrived asylum-seekers and refugees often need help with things like:
- Temporary shelter/safe living space
- Basic food items
- Climate appropriate clothing and footwear
- Local transportation
- Communicating with loved ones from whom they are separated
All of these needs are things with which local churches can assist refugees and asylum-seekers. Even if a local church cannot directly meet these needs, they can often refer refugees to services that might be able to help them.
It is not surprising how their needs are mentioned by Jesus in Matthew 25:35-36: “I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.”
Forcibly displaced people also face challenges related to deep personal needs such as:
- Coping with loss
- Recovery of hope
- Making new friendships
- Finding and integrating into a local community in their land of refuge
- Opportunities to make a meaningful contribution to society
As the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said in December 2012:
“Since coming to UNHCR, I have visited refugees and internally displaced person in dozens of countries. Listening to their stories and witnessing their daily struggle in exile or displacement, I quickly understood that, for the vast majority of uprooted people, there are few things as powerful as their faith in helping them cope with fear, loss, separation, and destitution. Faith is also central to hope and resilience.
Religion very often is key in enabling refugees to overcome their trauma, to make sense of their loss and to rebuild their lives from nothing. Worship and religious traditions help uprooted people reconfirm their identity as individuals and as members of a community. Faith provides a form of personal and collective support among victims that is crucial for their ability to recover from conflict and flight. As such, faith contributes much more than many people think to the protection and well-being of refugees…and eventually to finding durable solutions.”