The Poignant Plight of the Asylum Seeker

by Pat Hatch, Refugee and Immigrant Ministry Director, PCA Mission to North America

Imagine: 

You work as a lawyer in a developing country, and your work exposes the fact that government officials are raping civilians in your community.  As your work becomes known, you begin to receive death threats.  Not long after, you are beaten, causing permanent partial hearing loss. As soon as you are recovered, you begin your work again, undeterred. But then you get a note saying: “We know where you are, and what you are doing. This time, we will not leave you alive.” This time, you know you have to flee. 

When you arrive in a nearby country, you find out that your homeland government is still tracking you for reprisal. You flee to yet another country, where you go into hiding. 

Eventually you manage to escape to the US on a visitor’s visa, and you begin the difficult process of applying for asylum. For two years you sleep on couches, never far from homelessness. In order to survive, you frequently have to beg for food and shelter.

This is the TRUE story of one of the more than 432,000 asylum seekers* currently in the US. A significant number of them are believers in Christ. Many of them were professionals in their homeland. In the majority of cases, the reason they have had to flee is related to a value that we as Americans hold dear (freedom of speech, religion, political opinion, etc.) Regardless of their previous occupation or religion or ethnicity, they are all persons created in the image of God and of great value to Him. 

From a humanitarian standpoint, they resemble refugees in many ways. But there is no nationwide public/private infrastructure to support asylum seekers while they wait many months or years for their case to be scheduled for a hearing. Unlike refugees, they are not allowed to even apply for a work permit for at least 6 months, and it can take additional months to several years for the permit to arrive. They are not eligible for any safety net benefits. They must survive during this time without any income or access to any basic social services.

The reality is that many have no choice other than to beg food or shelter from any person they might know or meet, or to work “under the table,” in order to survive until their case is eventually heard. This makes them vulnerable to many kinds of abuse (including sexual exploitation.) They struggle with hunger, and homelessness always imminent. Some resort to homeless shelters and may become victims of crime. These hardships compound the severe trauma most have experienced before arrival, as well as their separation from loved ones for the indefinite future, and the psychological burden of being in limbo for an undetermined length of time as they navigate the complex, time-consuming, and unpredictable asylum process. 

Asylum seekers have urgent, very basic needs—particularly sustainable housing and food. But as of 2022, there are virtually no government services for asylum seekers and only about a dozen independent non-profit organizations in the entire country (only a few of them Christian) which are trying to assist asylum seekers with these needs. A total of only approximately 400 beds are available at any given time for more than 400,000 asylum seekers. 

Churches and individual believers have an incredible opportunity to welcome asylum seekers in practical ways and walk with them as they continue their long and arduous journey of finding a new place to belong after fleeing their homelands due to fear for their lives!

To learn more about refugee ministry in the OPC and how your local congregation can demonstrate mercy toward refugees and asylum seekers, visit our Refugee Ministry Page.

*The American Immigration Council defines an asylum seeker in the US as “any person who has fled from their home country for fear of their lives being jeopardized due to their race, religion, nationality, gender, membership in a social group, or political opinion, and has asked the United States to grant them asylum.” 

(For more true stories of asylum seekers, visit https://www.dashnetwork.net/who-we-serve/real-stories-testimonies/).

**For more on the differences betweenrefugees and asylum seekers, visit DASH’s helpful webpage on the topic: https://www.dashnetwork.net/who-we-serve/asylum-seekers-vs-refugees/.


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A Summit Not To Be Missed!

by Trish Duggan, Communications Coordinator, OPC Committee on Diaconal Ministries

“Please don’t use the expression, ‘I’m only or just a deacon,’” Rev. Bill Shishko strongly and lovingly cautioned the men at the 4th OPC National Diaconal Summit. “Hopefully that will be knocked out of you if you’ve used it in the past.” Shishko went on to share his experience at his former church, the OPC of Franklin Square, and how he worked to build the diaconate there. Diaconal work is hard work, he admitted, but, “I just came to revel in the work, the variety of the work, the excitement of the work that deacons do. I love and esteem the work of the diaconate, and I’m hoping that I can bring some of that love and excitement to you this evening.”

That type of wind of blew throughout the three-day event. Plenary sessions as well as workshops gave practical and spiritual encouragement to lift each deacon brother. Just like Aaron and Hur lifting the arms of Moses, one man lifted another in training and in fellowship. The Bible teaches that “Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.” There was no lack of that this year.

Registration began early on Thursday, June 2. One group arrived very early in Chicago, coming from California; they had taken the red-eye. Each one registered and some made their way up to take a quick nap before the events of the day officially began. Slowly, and steadily the nearly 200 men, deacons, deacons-in-training, elders and pastors coming to support their deacons, arrived; smiles and greetings to all, thankful for this special occasion.

It didn’t take long before the smells of barbecue filled the lobby of Fischer Hall, drawing the participants out of their rooms. The unseasonably beautiful weather enabled the use of outdoor picnic tables spread across the lush green grass that lined the small slope of the dorm lawn. Soon the seats were filled, and a loud hum of conversation and laughter filled the air. And this was just the beginning of the warm comradery that developed as friendships were established and re-ignited.

The schedule was full; dawn till dusk. Immediately following the first main session on Thursday evening, its content described by one deacon as “steak for breakfast”, it was time to cross the campus to the gas-lit firepits where dessert and fellowship began to stir. Handshakes and hugs animated the scene as small groups gathered to catch up, further confirming the appreciation to again be face-to-face.

From there it rolled: sessions, food, and fellowship. Plenary talks by fathers of the OPC, Bill Shishko, Al Tricarico, Ron Pearce, Craig Troxel and Nathan Trice, were given to the whole group, while workshops, taught by pastors, elders and deacons, were attended in smaller groups. 

Rev. Al Tricarico, associate general secretary of the Committee on Home Missions and Church Extension, and former missionary to Uganda, reminded the group of God’s grace, “Brothers, you know Christ. You have been rescued from stranger status. And have been welcomed by Jesus into the home of his Father. Now, remember that and gladly welcome strangers in. It’s hard. It’s uncomfortable. People who are not like us or not known to us can make us feel uneasy. But if God has welcomed you, how can you withhold your welcome when others come into your life and orbit?”

Challenging workshop offerings such as Rev. Eric Watkins’, “Mercy Ministry in a Social-Justice World” gave insight to what is missing in secular, social justice arguments. After carefully protected directness, Watkins said, “I feel like our deacons are one of our most underused resources in our church as it relates to confronting some of the challenges of Mercy Ministry that the world calls social justice. Who carried out the heart and compassion of God, not only in the church but outside the church in the Old Testament? It was to be the priest. How does that ministry translate in the New Testament? It comes to the office of Deacon… “[Deacons need] to be the sort of frontline of engaging some of the things that are now popping up in a social justice context, and we’ve got the best tools and the best resources. “This is what mercy, justice and compassion really looks like. It’s gospel-centered, it’s church-oriented.  It’s the hands and feet of Jesus reaching our communities where the pain actually is…”

Rev. Chris Cashen in his workshop, “Refugee Relief”, also focused in on the need to love the stranger, and how the deacons can encourage their congregations to love and minister to the refugee community. “For deacons, ministry to refugees is such a practical way to encourage your congregants, to engage the congregation, [and] to participate in Mercy Ministry.” He reminded them that they are to lead the charge, but encouraged them not to do all the work. 

All five plenary sessions and nine workshops were squeezed into the limited time allotted, offering much wisdom and ability to share experiences and challenges; something that can’t be done by phone or on a Zoom call.

The three-day conference came and went quickly, but not without leaving a lasting impression on all who attended. “Attending the summit helps you understand the best practices as a deacon and reminds you that you are not alone. Getting good instruction is vital to being a good deacon. The food and fellowship is an excellent way to be refreshed and excited to return to church life,” according to Peter Heinisch, deacon at Providence OPC in Rockford, IL. 

Luke Fawcett, deacon, Resurrection OPC, Matthews, NC said “If you haven’t been to a Summit, you got to do it,” and his deacon-mate, Nathan Brinkerhoff, agreed, “There’s one thing you can’t experience by watching the videos, and that is the singing. If you’re not ready for it, it will almost take you by surprise. It is wonderful— it’s that good.”

If you missed it this year, you’ll have to wait several years for the next, but in the meantime, go to OPCCDM.org to check out the videos of the sessions. It’s truly not the same, and in the future, we hope you’ll make plans to attend in person. No doubt, the food and training you’ll receive will be great. But the infusion of encouragement from the fellowship and the obvious strength in diaconal numbers you will find irreplaceable! 

 


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Meet Your Fellow Deacon Pete Hybert

By Allison Hill, Administrative Assistant for the OPC Committee on Diaconal Ministries

Pete Hybert has been a deacon at Bethel OPC, Wheaton, IL since 1993, and privileged to have a front-row seat to watch the Lord work in many people’s lives. His take-away from it all? Amazement. He says, “You get to see the Lord work. Sometimes it’s not what you expected, but it’s still amazing.”

Pete’s stint as a deacon includes a period when he was the sole deacon. He’s helped walk-ins with various short-term needs, church members with long-term needs and those seeking assistance with a tragedy or disaster. Each situation poses a unique opportunity to see the Lord’s hand of mercy work through the local church. For Pete, this is even true in situations in which it seems there is little headway and temporary discouragement.

Pete knows that it is a privilege to be a small part of demonstrating mercy in tangible ways. That is what he says drew him to mercy ministry. “What I like about diaconal work is the practical side of it.” Pete currently works as a full-time consultant but describes himself as a “jack-of-all trades”. From fast food to working in construction, Pete has found that his wide background and the diverse experiences of his fellow deacons helps them all minister and relate to many.

Mindful of the power of sacrificial giving Pete says with humble confidence, “It’s not that we are genius deacons, and it’s not about trying to do it all. It’s about doing what you can.” “[If] you are able to share time with people, do something that matters to them in the immediate term, and you can talk to them while you do it. That’s what I like about it.” While the goal is to foster independence, “Getting to know people and have them understand their God-given value as an image-bearer [is] something only speaking with them can do [and] it gives you a heart to pray for their salvation.”

Though there have been memorable times of fellowship in helping people move or pumping out flooded basements, Pete has a heart for serving those with disabilities. He and his wife, Faith, a former special needs educator assistant, both have considerable experience caring for and working with people who have long-term needs and disabilities. Serving those individuals and helping them succeed in their own capacities is one of the most enjoyable types of mercy ministry for him. “I try to encourage them and end up being encouraged by them. It’s been rewarding to do what is in our reach to come alongside them.” There is one member of the congregation with long-term needs Pete gratefully says, fuels his work.

“Of course we are willing to help others that we may never see again, but it’s nice to serve people you see and can continue to minister to, physically and spiritually, even when there is little hope of their situation changing.” The ultimate goal is building biblically-founded relationships with people over time.

“It’s always great to see results: growth or even change,” Pete says. As deacons, there is great joy in observing the hand of the Lord in the lives of those you serve.


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