For over a year now, the media has been calling attention to the growing refugee crisis. The statistics are overwhelming — 60 million displaced persons globally, half of all Syrians forced from their homes, the average stay in a refugee camp greater than 15 years and many with no hope of ever getting out.
These communications call us to welcome, advocate for and aid refugees. For Christ-followers, there is the biblical mandate to serve the widow, orphan, homeless and destitute. We also have an opportunity to share the good news with those from countries closed to Western missionaries.
Evangelical churches are responding to this call. World Relief, the NAE’s humanitarian arm, is seeing more U.S. churches partner with them to help settle refugees than they have since 1999. This article tells the stories of three evangelical churches that are serving refugees with great creativity and compassion.
Grace Fellowship Church – Community Gardens and Welcome Teams
Picture yourself as a peasant farmer who is suddenly transported to a high-density urban environment. Imagine not having enough money to buy food, let alone fresh fruits and vegetables and some of the “exotic” foods that were part of your daily diet.
Now imagine that a church offers you a plot of land to grow your own food. This is the experience at Grace Fellowship Church in Brooklyn Park, Minnesota, where over 100 refugee families now have their own gardens. The church does not just provide a plot of land, church members also garden alongside the refugees and often provide them with transportation to and from the garden.
Church volunteers offer gardening advice, as Minnesota’s climate is much different than tropical Southeast Asia. Working side-by-side produces friendships in which refugees feel more comfortable asking for help with other areas of adjusting to life in the United States. The gardeners and greater church community celebrate an annual Harvest Festival. Last year 1,365 pounds of surplus food were donated to a local food shelf.
One refugee from Laos said, “I’m very thankful that Grace Fellowship is able to give me a plot. It reminds me of home. I’m able to garden like I used to. Working in the garden makes me feel good. It reduces my stress and isolation. I can cook for my family and share the food with friends and neighbors. I am happy to be here.”
Grace Fellowship also formed a refugee welcoming team to support a family arriving from the Middle East. The church, a Converge Worldwide congregation, was connected to the family through Arrive Minnesota, a local World Relief affiliate.
In preparation for the family’s arrival, team members prayed for the family, collected household items for them, and welcomed them at the airport. Team members also provided transportation and sat in with the family on appointments with medical and government officials. Team members called or visited the family daily and regularly invited them to their homes for meals and fellowship.
Rose Hill Alliance Church – Classroom Space
Rose Hill Alliance Church, a Christian and Missionary Alliance congregation in St. Paul, Minnesota, has welcomed refugees with welcome teams and community gardens for several years. Through this outreach, the church leadership developed good relationships within the local Bhutanese Community Organization of Minnesota.
During a meeting with them, a Rose Hill Alliance leader asked, “In what other ways can we help you when we are not in the gardens?” After some hesitation the community leader shared that they needed a place to host their English Language Learning and citizenship classes. The church jumped at the chance to provide rooms and transportation for immigrants for the classes.
Ministry leader Rick Wallace said, “In many ways it seems like we are just getting started as God shows us next steps. I’m not sure how God may want you to serve, but if you are willing to listen and look at the resources God has given you, opportunities will become obvious.” And now there is a new congregation of Nepali believers who meet regularly at Rose Hill.
College Church – Lending a Hand
College Church in Wheaton, Illinois, started small by allowing World Relief to use their building for English as a Second Language (ESL) classes. That quickly blossomed to several projects and most recently led to a College Church team that travelled to Greece where they helped people off rafts as they arrived from Turkey.
Hosting the ESL classes led to developing a preschool program for children while parents were in class. Church members volunteered for the program and then added optional adult and family Bible story times — a great opportunity for refugees to practice English and make new friends. College Church’s outreach expanded to providing welcome kits for new arrivals, forming welcome teams, and providing one-on-one tutoring in English and academic subjects. One College Church member started a nonprofit called Re:new Project, which teaches sewing skills to refugee women and sells the crafts and products to fund the center.
Last summer College Church members met refugees on the shore of Lesbos, Greece, with smiles, food and water, and compassion. The church members felt like they were literally “giving a cup of water in [Jesus’] name.”
In each of these churches, church leaders and volunteers share that they have been blessed as they are able to serve “the least of these.
This article originally appeared in Evangelicals magazine.