How to Make a Tangible Difference in the Lives of Your Refugee Neighbors

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How to Make a Tangible Difference in the Lives of Your Refugee Neighbors

Before the Syrian refugee crisis escalated all over social media with the photo of the dead child who was washed up on shore, I had very little awareness of what these people were experiencing. Then I began reading some of the Humans of New York stories, and I couldn’t help shedding a few tears for what these people had encountered to escape the nightmare that had engulfed their hometowns.

As I read these stories, I began to wonder what I could do to help. I remembered Jesus’ words in Matthew 25:40: “Inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me” (NKJV). It wasn’t long before a couple of opportunities popped up in my newsfeed.

The first opportunity surfaced in my local babywearing group’s Facebook group. Some of the women announced they were collecting used baby carriers to send to someone who would distribute them to refugees to make their trip easier.

Wow! I thought. I have an extra carrier sitting around.

And so it was that I found myself one Friday afternoon dropping off my toddler-sized mei tai at the local natural parenting store, where the owner gladly thanked me for sharing with the refugees. While I was still in the store, another woman also brought in a baby carrier for the refugees. I was excited to be a part of a project like this! I learned later that our collection of baby carriers went to Syrian refugees in Hungary.

I found the next opportunity on Facebook as well. I learned about refugee families with children just a few hours away. One woman was expecting a baby soon. I contacted a friend who had shared this information and arranged to send her a package for these refugees. We included toys, some baby things, and a warm maternity jacket.

Since sending off our little contributions, the news has magnified the refugee situation, with parties arguing for or against bringing 10,000 Syrian refugees to the U.S. What many people don’t know is that the U.S. already brings in thousands more refugees than that per year from all over the world. For the year 2013-2014 alone, the U.S. brought in 69,926 refugees from regions all over the world, not just the Middle East.

An Opportunity for Evangelism

Most refugees come from the 10/40 window of the world, the area that is least evangelized. Muslims are only one of the religious groups that come. Other groups include Hindu, Buddhist, animist, and atheist. Has it occurred to you that this is a prime opportunity to share Jesus with these people groups who have never heard of Him?

One of my friends, Carol Reynolds, volunteers with Adventist Refugee and Immigrant Ministries, which was established in 2009 by the North American Division. It exists to build awareness and help people get involved with outreach to refugees, immigrants, and international students, wherever they are found.

The Refugee Ministries website provides ideas for how you can reach out to refugees and start a refugee ministry in your own area. Carol says, “Refugee ministry is like missions in reverse. They are coming to us instead of us going to them.”

Often displaced individuals are from areas of the world where it is too dangerous to send missionaries, so what an opportunity this is to share Christ’s love with people during a tumultuous time in their lives! Carol says, “When people are displaced, they are the most open that they could be. It’s a window of time when they are really open. They want friendship. Visit them. Find out what their needs are. Volunteer to teach them English. Begin by asking your local refugee assistance program what refugees are in your area. They may be able to provide you demographics to know the cultures in your area.”

Then use some of the ideas from the Refugee Ministries website to reach out to them and become their friend. In my conversation with Carol, she mentioned Atlanta as just one example (and there are plenty of other areas in each state). In Atlanta, there’s a large population of refugees from all over the world! Many of these people do not speak English at all, but they are thankful for friendship. You’ll find Asians, Middle Easterners, Europeans, and Africans all living together in a big community, and Refugee Ministries has a church plant nearby. Carol commutes a couple of hours to help when she can.

Maybe you want to do something tangible for the refugees. First of all, Google “refugee assistance” with your local city. Then check out the local programs that are available. I live in a small town of 10,000, so I’ll have to drive a ways to find some refugees, but I’m hoping to be able to meet some soon.

The biggest city near me, for example, is Nashville, Tennessee. Just from browsing the various refugee agency websites, I’ve learned that there are opportunities to make “welcome kits” containing items such as bedding, bathroom toiletries, child and baby supplies, kitchen items, etc. These would be fabulous for a small group or Sabbath school class to collect and assemble. There are other opportunities as well, from providing childcare for children whose parents are taking English classes, to doing cooking classes, to teaching English.

Feeling inspired yet? Perhaps you, like me, are getting excited about the potential of meeting new friends from other lands and meeting their needs. There are so many people of all different nationalities living nearby!

Related article: Meet the church that ministers in “The Refugee Capital of America”—and now has more than 60 nationalities worshipping together each Sabbath.

A Wake-up Call

Personally, I knew very little about refugees before the Syrian crisis broke all over the news, but this tragic situation has opened my eyes not just to their plight and tremendous needs, but to the potential providential leading of God to bring them to our country, which has freedom of religion where they can learn more about Him.

But maybe you need a little more inspiration, and are a little nervous about this whole idea. I’d invite you to read the chapter in Evangelism entitled “The Stranger in Our Midst.” Consider this:

God would be pleased to see far more accomplished by His people in the presentation of the truth for this time to the foreigners in America than has been done in the past…. As I have testified for years, if we were quick in discerning the opening providences of God, we should be able to see in the multiplying opportunities to reach many foreigners in America a divinely appointed means of rapidly extending the third angel’s message into all the nations of earth. God in His providence has brought men to our very doors and thrust them, as it were, into our arms, that they might learn the truth, and be qualified to do a work we could not do in getting the light before men of other tongues. (Ev 570)

Could the Syrian refugee crisis be a wake-up call for us to share Jesus with nearby refugees from many different countries? We’re familiar with Matthew 24:14: “And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come” (NKJV). There are so many ways to expedite sharing the gospel by sharing with these refugees, immigrants, and international students—who, in turn, can share with their friends and families from their home countries!

Photo: A Syrian refugee woman with her infant daughter in Jordan. By Russell Watkins/Department for International Development [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0) or OGL (http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/doc/open-government-licence/version/1/)], via Wikimedia Commons.

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Joelle McNulty is Chief Domestic Officer at the McNulty home firm. Prior to this, she worked in public relations and communication for nonprofits. She is happily married to Norman, and they have two vivacious and talkative little girls who keep their parents on their toes at all times. They live in beautiful rural Tennessee.