Refugee Ministry Part 4: A Step by Step Guide to Beginning Refugee Ministry

By Rev. Chris Cashen, pastor, Trinity Reformed OPC, Lanham, MD & Chairman, CDM Refugee Ministry Subcommittee

WARNING: The following is a step-by-step instruction guide. Much like what is placed in those boxes which contain an unassembled bicycle. Many who approach such a task, especially men (maybe even most especially deacons), will purposefully NOT read the “how to” instructions. Some even take pride assembling on their own and boasting later that they did it without looking at the step-by-step guide. You have been warned; one of those guides follows. Proceed at your own risk . . . in reading it, you may learn how to begin a ministry of mercy to refugees!

So, you want to start helping refugees. You have been listening to the news and have seen those from Afghanistan in need of mercy. You have seen the pictures of people, babies, young girls, old men, pregnant women, suffering as they fled their country, their homes. Your heart has broken over the underlying sin and evil, and you want to show the love of Christ. The only problem is that you do not know where to start, how to begin. Perfect. The following is a step-by-step guide or instruction booklet; a “how-to” manual for those who want to begin ministering to refugees. There are seven steps. So, let’s jump in . . .

Step 1: Congratulations! You just accomplished Step 1. Getting past the WARNING and starting to read this article means that you have already developed a “desire” to serve the stranger, the alien, the refugee. But before you move on to Step 2, know that this desire to serve is the backbone of several of the following steps.  Ministering to refugees is a long-term ministry. Unlike helping your neighbor fix his fence on a Saturday afternoon, the help a refugee needs will be varied, and span months, even years. Like anything else, interest in serving these needy foreigners may wane if there is not a true desire in your heart. And refugee ministry, like any other ministry which involves people (i.e., sinners), will include days when you are thinking to yourself, “It’s hard to love this person!” So as Jesus Christ held tightly to His desire to do the will of His Father as He was loving the unlovable, hold on tightly to your desire to serve the stranger.

Step 2: Training. Every worthwhile ministry requires training, right? Not necessarily. Meeting someone at the airport, helping a non-English speaking child with elementary school homework or grocery shopping for an African who has never seen an American supermarket—are basic American skills. Refugee ministry is FULL of these kinds of services, which need no special training, just the love of Christ. Certainly, becoming familiar with the plight of refugees (see example here[1]) or the path they have taken to get to the United States (see examples here[2]) will be valuable in preparing your heart and mind to serve these dear friends. Learning some words of their native tongue will also go a long way in establishing your relationship and bond. And if you were interested in helping with immigration forms (a great need for refugees), some training would be necessary (contact Pastor Chris Cashen).

However, before you run on to Step 3, there is one “training” or preparation activity that should be diligently pursued: prayer. You must pray. Ministering to refugees is a blessing, but like any other work of mercy, it must be bathed in prayer. Prayer that the Lord Jesus Christ would be exalted. Prayer that as you spend time with new friends from Ethiopia, Afghanistan, or Myanmar, that you would be the light of Jesus to them. Pray for God’s perfect provisions to be poured out according to His will, and that He would receive all the glory. Yes, prayer is the best training.

Step 3:  This might be the hardest step. Step 3 is to find a refugee to serve. In a sense, this is where the ministry begins. Like writing an English literature paper where the most difficult sentence to write is the first, Step 3, or finding a refugee to serve, may be the hardest part. To minister mercy to a refugee, you must first know a refugee. To know a refugee, you must first meet a refugee. The problem is that refugees are not issued name tags when they enter the US. None of them have “REFUGEE” stamped on their foreheads. While this may be the most difficult step of the seven, the good news is that there are people out there ready to help you meet refugees. They are called “resettlement agencies.” National “resettlement agencies,” with various offices throughout the country, work directly with government to begin the resettlement process. There are nine resettlement agencies in the United States (you can find a list here[3]). These agencies do a lot of the heavy lifting of resettlement: finding apartments, employment, schools, English classes, medical and dental professionals, and much more. In addition to resettlement agencies, in certain localities there are other organizations which provide various aid to refugees.

Resettlement agencies and these other local organizations need help . . . a lot of it. They need volunteers to jump in and assist them in serving refugees. So much so that volunteerism is your door to meeting refugees. Volunteering with a resettlement agency or local organization is a simple and guaranteed way of meeting refugees. One way to find one of those nine resettlement agencies, or other refugee aid organization, in your area, is the internet. Try entering “resettle refugee” or “help refugees” along with your city and state (e.g., “resettle refugees Denver CO”), in your internet browser search box. You might also email or call your local county or city government offices and ask for the department which oversees refugee resettlement. If one exists, they will likely have a list of those organizations serving refugees in your community.

If you live in a larger metropolitan area where there are many refugees living in close quarters, there will likely be organizations, churches or NGOs (non-governmental organizations), offering English as a Second Language (ESL) classes. Those that are providing classes are usually looking for people to volunteer to help teach, or just enter into conversations with those who do not speak English as their native tongue. This is a convenient way to meet refugees and a great way to establish relationships which grow over time.

Step 4: Now that you have met a refugee, what do you do? Practical things like helping to set up an apartment, teaching the use of an oven or thermostat, shopping, providing clothing, and offering transportation for appointments to doctors, dentists or the social security office – all essential. But be sure to be a friend. You don’t need to always do. Take the time to listen and interact. Serving in refugee ministry takes time, but perhaps not in the way you might think. To serve refugees, you need to fully understand the varied understanding of time. American time is much different than African time, or Syrian time, or “pick any other country than the United States” time. It’s not even spelled the same way. In America, time pursues us on our wrists and on our smartphones. We are constantly aware of time. It tells us when to go, when to arrive and when to leave. But you need to realize that almost none of the refugees you serve will understand the American version of time—and they really don’t want to. To those from the Middle East, from Africa, from even Central America, time is different. Time does not direct their day. Relationships do. 

Think of the disciples. Their understanding of time was very different from Jesus’. The disciples didn’t think that there was enough time to feed those 5,000 people. It was about to get dark. So as the disciples focused upon the time, they told Jesus to send them away: “Send the crowd away . . . for here we are in a desolate place!” (Luke 9:12). But Jesus had them sit down and He fed them. All of them. Jesus wasn’t focused on time, but on serving and loving the people. As you serve refugees, Step 4 is to enjoy establishing that relationship which will come to govern your interaction.

Step 5: Now that you are in the middle of serving, what’s next? Step 5 is food for the soul! Give them nourishment! As stated above, refugee ministry is relational. It is nothing if it is not relational. Through your interactions over time, through the mercy being poured out, you will establish a relationship. Building trust is essential if those to whom you are ministering are to receive the Word of God and, hopefully, believe the words that you speak to them. As these relationships grow, along with these deeds of mercy that you are pouring out, give them the very word of God—true nourishment. Of course, you don’t need to wait to Step 5 to give your new refugee friend the reason for the hope that lies within you. And, if you are not careful, the physical part of this mercy ministry can easily become the only aspect of your ministry. The physical mercy ministry is important, but remember, Jesus called His disciples to feed the 5,000. The physical ministry should never become the main target. Jesus used the stomach to get to the heart, and that is your aim[4]as you minister to refugees.

Step 6:  Receive blessings. What? Yes . . . this next-to-last step is to receive blessings—many blessings. You may have thought that refugee ministry was only about the refugees. But this ministry is also about you. This ministry is all about how God changes you. It is about how God works in your heart. It is about how God reveals to you things which were deep in your heart, which were unknown and undetected until you engaged in ministry to refugees. Yes, this Step 6 is big. You recognize that you are the one who has been blessed in so many ways as the Spirit has poured out grace upon you, given you the desire to follow after Jesus Christ, and allowed you to see how Jesus has served you, and ministered to you—a stranger to Him.

Step 7 (praise God). The final step, or Step 7 is to praise God! 

Now that you have read this short step-by-step guide to beginning your own refugee ministry, please know that the full step-by-step guide is actually contained in two volumes. The first is called the Old Testament and the second is called the New. In this two-volume set, the Lord Jesus Christ not only gives us the original step-by-step guide to loving your neighbor, but also gives us many excellent examples of how He ministered to strangers and aliens and how He loved the unlovables (such as you and me!). Use the above seven step guide only after you’ve gone through the two-volume set, the original guide to loving your neighbor. Praise be to God.


[1] Incitement.com [Incitement]. 2021, June 16. World Refugee Day: The Worst 10 Refugee Crises in 2021; YouTube. {https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=miK22Hsan5o}

[2] World Relief; 2021, October 27; {https://worldrelief.org/category/stories/}

[3] The UN Refugee Agency; United States Resettlement Partners, {https://www.unhcr.org/en-us/us-resettlement-partners.html}

[4] Capill, Murray; The Heart is the Target: Preaching Practical Application from Every Text; P & R Publishing; 2014, April 28.


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Administrator David Nakhla Interviewed on “Christ the Center” Podcast

David Nakhla was interviewed by Rev. Camden Bucey on his podcast, “Christ the Center”, released September 24. Joined by Rev. Adam York, the three talked about the diaconate, refugee ministry, disaster response, short-term missions and the upcoming diaconal summit. Check it out on the Reformed Forum website or on your favorite podcast provider.


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Fat with Good Things

by Sarah Klazinga, Administrative Assistant for the Committee on Diaconal Ministries

 “When people are captured by the whole Word of God, it’s like a gentle rain that waters the earth; over time you see fruit.” That was Pastor Justin Rosser’s comment on how the faithful ministry of the preached Word has worked itself out into Word and Deed opportunities in the congregation. As one man has put it, “Your theology always comes out your fingertips.”

Rosser is the associate pastor at Resurrection OPC, located in Matthews, NC, which is part of the greater Charlotte area. Resurrection has had a faithful pulpit ministry since its founding in 1975, and has most recently been pastored by Nathan Trice since 1996. Trice also serves as the President of the CDM.

Resurrection is, by OPC standards, a large church with around 240 members and two pastors in the suburbs of a 1.5-million-person, southern city. Because of its proximity to such a large, diverse city in the Bible belt; its long-time faithfulness; and, the Lord’s abundant blessing in these circumstances, the congregation has become a lively bunch of people seeking out opportunities to put the Gospel into action.

For the last twenty years members of the congregation have done a weekly Bible study at a local nursing home; gathering the residents, visiting with them, and having a time of singing and Bible study together.

Some members have been involved in a once-a-month breakfast at Charlotte’s Rescue Mission, where they serve breakfast and the Good News of Jesus to men going through an intensive program for drug and alcohol abuse.

For years some of Resurrection’s members were involved in an inner-city outreach to refugee families. This ministry owns an apartment complex for refugee housing, where former members of the Charlotte Eagles (a Christian soccer team) coach and disciple the children simultaneously.  Each week the ministry gathers kids together in the complex, and area churches are invited to join them in playing soccer and talking about Jesus through small group Bible study.

Brookstone School is another area ministry that Resurrection has been heavily involved in. Brookstone is an inner-city Christian school in downtown Charlotte. They have a lunch-buddy program where men from area churches can sign up to be a lunch-buddy with a boy at the school. For many inner-city boys this is literally being “a father to the fatherless.” Resurrection also takes a regular diaconal offering designated to Brookstone School, and has historically hosted a VBS for them one week out of the summer.

Project 658 is another refugee ministry in the Charlotte area that some of the members of Resurrection are heavily involved in.

The greater Charlotte area has a very strong pro-life presence and local ministries actively seek out churches to partner with them in preaching and praying outside of the local abortion clinics. Charlotte is home to the largest abortion provider in the southeast, with women driving from as far as Florida and Maryland to terminate their pregnancies. Area churches can sign up to be a gospel presence outside these abortion clinics, praying, fasting, handing out resources to the women, and sharing the freedom found only in Christ. Some of Resurrection’s members are sidewalk counselors or volunteers with the local crisis pregnancy center, and a few of them are a regular, weekly presence outside the abortion clinic.

Rosser says that there are two main ways that churches seem to go about outreach ministries: either a church has “a thing” – they offer ESL classes, host a food pantry in their fellowship hall, sponsor a refugee family, etc.; or a church can attach themselves to someone else’s “thing.” There are pros and cons to both, but what Pastor Rosser has found is that being a part of ministries that are already going on allows the congregation to try things, and to invest where they feel burdened to serve. For some, that’s pro-life ministry, and they’ve been able to jump into what is already a well-established, Gospel-centered, pro-life presence in the Charlotte area. For others, they may feel the burden to serve refugee families, and there are several opportunities for Gospel-centered ministry already going on.

He concludes that when God’s people are “fat with good things” – full of the Word of God and the Spirit of God, it overflows in service for God.

Perhaps your congregation doesn’t seem so ideally situated, with a second pastor that can devote his time to things like this, in a city full of Gospel-centered, Christ-exalting opportunities. But as the Word of God is faithfully preached in our churches, and the people of God are stirred by His Spirit, our theology will begin to flow out of our fingertips, and perhaps this is an encouragement to each of you to see what’s going on in the places where you’ve been called to serve. God is at work in the places where we live. Let’s serve Him with our strength.


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