FIRST-PERSON: Refuge for refugees
PENSACOLA, Fla. (BP) -- He's right in front of you in the grocery line. She's the new girl in your child's school classroom. You've read about immigrants or refugees who are moving to your town but you're not sure what to say or do.
What is a correct Christian response to strangers in your community? When we see immigrants as individuals who are dearly loved by God, it's easy to truly care. Your Bible class, women's ministry group or entire church can impact eternity when you accept this new "mission field" in your own backyard.
Seek out refugees or immigrants and ask God to guide you to minister to them. Read local news and study census statistics. Ask church members to pay attention in their workplace and neighborhood. Obtain information from governmental leaders and entities. Drive the neighborhoods where immigrants live.
Your method of ministry will vary widely to fit the needs of individuals and people groups but the goal is the same: to show God's love and share His plan of salvation.
Some of these simple ideas may help you get started:
-- Begin an ESL class in your home or church to assist with language. Personally invite each refugee to the class.
-- Help them find a place to live. Some may have few possessions, so offer help with furnishings, box fans, refrigerator, clothing and food.
-- When you see a need, find a way to meet it. Don't make it a one-time touch. Assist with children's school registration, finding medical or dental care, connecting utilities or basic skills such as grocery shopping.
-- Offer help with employment, such as job leads, interview tips, wardrobe assistance or computer skills. Some may be professionals, so pair them with church members in similar vocations for assistance.
-- Be a true friend. Learn his name. Pronounce it correctly. Invite her to your home. Take time to hear their story. Observe interests and skills. Give a baby shower for a new mom. Give a Bible in their native language.
-- Show love to their children. Give a backpack of treats, school supplies and clothing. Invite them to play with your kids and provide a safe place to play. Help with homework. Include them in church events. Pay for church camp.
-- Socialize with them. Assign individual or refugee families to church members. Invite them to your home, and have fun by including them in family and church holiday celebrations. Plan a barbecue for volunteers and their assigned families.
-- Bring them to church. Include them in worship, Bible class, Vacation Bible School and every aspect of church. Provide translation headphones or a worship service in their language, if needed.
-- Plan a ladies' lunch for all the ladies. Pair each refugee woman with a church member who will befriend and help her.
-- Help with preparation for U.S. citizenship requirements. Celebrate when they succeed.
Most importantly, help refugees find true refuge in God. Share Jesus. Ministry to immigrants and refugees can enliven your church.
There she is, in front of you in the grocery line. Initiate a conversation now.
As Deuteronomy 10:17-19 tells us, "[God] shows love to the foreigners living among you and gives them food and clothing. So you, too, must show love to foreigners…" (NLT).