By Patty Lane
are some of my heros. They have endured the unthinkable and lived in fear and
in poverty for years before arriving in the United States. For the most part,
they muster up the courage to learn a new language, find a new job, create a
new home, and send their children to schools with people they know nothing
about. They do it because they have to, because they are survivors. No matter
what life has been, they have a hope of a better future.
Let’s start with the basics. What is a refugee?
According to the United Nations, a refugee is "someone who has been forced to flee his or her country because of persecution, war, or violence." My experience with refugees is that they come with only what they can carry to start life over in a country where they do not know the culture, language, and may not know anyone in the city where they are being resettled.
It is easy to confuse this term with other terms -- immigrant, undocumented immigrant. green card holder, tourist, etc. All of these terms have specific definitions but refer generally to people who were born outside the United States but who now live here.
Today, you will likely notice news about men and women from other countries who have been forced to leave their homes because of tragedy. Many congregations and individuals across the state and throughout the country are asking who refugees are and how to best serve them.
Here are some practical ways to get involved.
1. Know your local resettlement agencies
Resettlement agencies are the first point of contact for refugees. They help refugee families find housing, employment, and get acquainted in their new home. Most resettlement agencies have volunteer opportunities for individuals and churches. Catholic Charities and World Relief are two of the largest faith-based agencies. Many of the following opportunities are brokered through a resettlement agency.
2. Help connect people with employment opportunities
If you own a business and have jobs available, let the workers in the refugee community know. Resettlement agencies like World Relief and Catholic Charities are always needing employment opportunities for their clients. To work in a place with a Christian employer could be transformational for the life of an entire family.
3. Offer a ride
Transportation is a prevalent need. It takes a long time for refugees to learn to drive or buy a car. Churches can help with transportation easily because almost everyone in the church can drive and has access to a car. Volunteers are always needed. Contact your local resettlement agency, refugee congregation, or ministry and they will know exactly how to utilize you in this ministry. Don't forget as you drive your new friends around you can build relationships and share your lives together.
4. Offer health care assistance.
Does your church have members in the medical field?
Refugee communities need access to healthcare. Doctors, dentists nurses, etc in churches are all needed, especially by providers who offer transportation. Partner with a refugee church to organize a health clinic on a Saturday and you will find that you not only are a blessing to the refugees but you too will be blessed.
5. Volunteer to be a conversational partner
Many need literacy and ESL classes. You need no training for this, just a willingness to have conversation in order to practice English. Literacy Connexus is a great resource. Visit the website to learn more about how you can get involved.
Pray for refugees here and refugees around the world. Pray for their specific physical and spiritual needs and pray for them to find God in spite of all the trauma and desperation they have experienced. Pray for them to come to God and for Christians to be God's hands and feet in their lives. Pray that as we know more refugees God will change us as well - to make us more and more compassionate and caring. To have God's eyes to see the world as God does. Pray for where God would have you connect to the people in your community who have come as refugees
As you serve, remember, the most important thing a refugee needs is to be shown love and trust. This may mean just a smile or helping hand. Be friendly. A caring friend who sees them as the person they are with their own unique story goes a long way to becoming a friend and helping them adjust to their new home.
Here are some helpful resources:
Refugee Services of Texas www.rstx.org
International Rescue Committee www.rescue.org
World Relief www.worldrelief.org
Refugee Highway Partnershipwww.refugeehighway.net
Literacy Connexus www.literacyconnexus.org
Feel free to check with your local association or reach out to my office at Texas Baptists.
Patty Lane is director of intercultural ministries for Texas Baptists. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or (214) 828-5372.