Editor’s note: During the next week surrounding World Refugee Day, we will be spending some time highlighting the opportunities for Christians to be engaged in ministry among this group of marginalized and vulnerable people. Keep an eye out for more information about how you can be involved in showing them the love of Christ.
Opportunities to engage the nations are likely much closer than you think. My church learned this firsthand thirty years ago when a microcosm of the entire globe began to grow in a neighborhood less than two miles from our corner of north Dallas. If you were to visit this area today, you would find that within a 3.3 square-mile neighborhood live thirty-five thousand internationals speaking fifty languages. This area now hosts the highest population of UN resettled refugees in the United States, and 99 percent of the residents live below the poverty line.
Beginning with a small Bible study for Spanish-speaking women three decades ago, our lives have intersected more and more with the myriad of people groups in our own local “Little United Nations.” Out of that initial Bible study grew a weekly Sunday morning service on our campus, resulting in hundreds of people professing faith in Christ and being baptized. Entire extended families have come to Christ where there were formerly no believers at all.
An opportunity to engage the nations is likely much closer than you think.
As the ministry has grown and expanded, a helpful set of principles have guided our outreach and strategy. As your church considers the best ways to love and serve the foreign-born in your neighborhood, these touchstones may also encourage and steer your church.
Called to the Rule of Love
Augustine spoke of the profound unity of Scripture, reflected in his famous “rule of love.” According to Augustine, whoever “thinks that he understands the Holy Scriptures, or any part of them, but . . . does not tend to build up the twofold love of God and our neighbor, does not yet understand them as he ought.”
If we have truly been transformed by the love and grace of God, we will express our affection for him by how we love and care for those in need around us. Love of God and love of neighbor is our final exegesis. It is, in fact, the final proof that we are followers of Jesus (John 13:35).
God’s love for the neighboring community of refugees has led us to start the Community Care Center where we train refugee and immigrant pastors and host ESL classes and after school care. The center has been a springboard for church planting, family resource classes, and healthcare. It has allowed us to open Healing Hands, a Christian clinic for the uninsured. Last year Healing Hands served twelve thousand patients, nearly all refugees and immigrants. More than one hundred people have come to Christ through this ministry, and pastoral leaders are ready to plant a church for the new believers.
Love of God and love of neighbor is our final exegesis. It is, in fact, the final proof that we are followers of Jesus.
There are many ways your church can demonstrate the compelling love of the Lord to your refugee and immigrant neighbors. Some helpful tools to get you started are the North American Mission Board Simple Start Guides. These resources can help you discover ways to love the internationals in your community and begin planting churches among them.
Called to Identify with Outsiders
As Christians, we know that we are citizens of another kingdom, and we are ambassadors of another king. As we follow our King Jesus, we are to invite the stranger in. We are to give to the hungry, the thirsty, and the stranger who is sick or needs clothes to wear. In fact, Jesus so identifies with outsiders that he says when we serve them, we are serving him (Matt. 25:35–36).
One of the ways we identify with outsiders is by adopting a people group of refugees. You can check with refugee resettlement agencies in your area to learn the best way to do the same. There are many ways to connect with new arrivals and help meet their needs:
- Welcome a family at the airport.
- Invite them over for dinner.
- Volunteer to tutor them in English.
- Help get their children registered at school.
- Accompany them on their first Walmart shopping experience.
Called to Generosity
Our church family is constantly aware that we have been entrusted with a stewardship of resources (Luke 12:48). We are compelled by the generosity of our heavenly Father to freely share what he has placed in our hands. Our church is filled with Christ-followers who are eager to share their blessings with others.
One avenue we’ve found to extend generosity is providing school supplies and medical exams to our neighbors in need. At the beginning of this past school year, we provided backpacks, teacher supply boxes, eye exams, athletic physicals, and immunizations. We have also hosted teacher appreciation lunches and breakfasts in school systems that are home to refugee communities. Our congregation provides spring cleaning, refurbishing, and landscaping in the refugee and low-income housing complex near our church.
Take a look at the unique needs of the immigrant families near you and prayerfully consider what strategic ways your church community can share its resources. Meeting tangible needs such as household supplies, clothing, or language tutoring will pave authentic inroads for gospel impact.
Called to Work for the Good of Our Whole Community
Our church recently hosted a city-wide leaders meeting for those who serve refugees and immigrants. Our purpose was to equip government and ministry leaders with accurate information, resources, and best practices for caring and serving the internationals in our community. The mayor of Dallas, our county judge, pastors, ministry organizers, and volunteers all contributed to the discussion.
It was a wonderfully diverse gathering for educating many who desired a better understanding of refugee and immigrant resettlement. We heard from a refugee family who shared the struggles of leaving their homeland, learning a new language, seeking a job, and placing their children in new schools. Ministry leaders shared best practices and presented opportunities to get involved.
Consider starting a similar discussion with leaders in your district. Create an open forum to promote understanding of resettlement issues, to trade ideas for community development, and to discuss ways leaders of various agencies can work together to serve this vulnerable segment of the population.
I eagerly encourage every pastor, church planter, ministry leader, and church to pray, look around, and consider how God is calling you to serve refugees and immigrants.
A Bible study was the initial catalyst to our efforts to live out God’s call to love the immigrant and refugee. It could be a catalyst in your community as well. I eagerly encourage every pastor, church planter, ministry leader, and church to pray, look around, and consider how God is calling you to serve refugees and immigrants.
We care and serve in the name of the one who was himself an immigrant living in a foreign land. He came from the very throne of heaven all the way down to where we are, to lay down his life so that we might live. The gospel drives us to go and do likewise. May we follow him and be salt and light to the misplaced and marginalized, to the immigrant and the refugee.
Dr. Jeff Warren is the senior pastor of the Park Cities Baptist Church in Dallas, Texas. He has a doctorate of ministry from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary with an emphasis in apologetics, and he has a passion to unite and mobilize the larger body of Christ around the mission of Jesus. You can follow him on Twitter @Jeff_Warren.