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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Coming Together to Aid Ukraine

by David Nakhla, Administrator for the Committee on Diaconal Ministries

The OPC Committee on Diaconal Ministries is committed to using the gifts given to the Ukraine Crisis Fund for ministry to those affected by the war in Ukraine, ideally through Presbyterian and reformed avenues—those with whom we share similar understandings of God’s word and the proper uses of diaconal funds. In seeking to determine where the funds might be used the best, we have grown in our understanding of the number of reformed and Presbyterian churches, missionaries, and organizations ministering to Ukrainian refugees in Eastern Europe.

Planned Assessment Trip of the Ministries to Refugees, May 10-16
Further, I am planning to travel to Eastern Europe for a whirlwind assessment trip of the various ministries, accompanied by Rich Bout, the URCNA Missions Coordinator.  The dates for this trip are May 10-16.  Please pray for the Lord’s blessing on this trip.

Mission to the World (MTW, the PCA’s mission organization), has had a presence in Ukraine since the early 90s, following the fall of the Soviet Union and communism.  As a church-planting mission, MTW birthed the Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Ukraine (EPCU). There are now 16 EPCU churches and/or church plants sprinkled throughout Ukraine (and one outside of Ukraine in Krakow, Poland), as seen on the map below.

Locations of Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Ukraine Congregations
Prior to the war, MTW had teams concentrated in three cities: L’viv, Odessa, and Kiev.  At the outbreak of war, MTW determined to relocate most members of the team in L’viv about 200 miles west to Krakow, Poland.  The team in Odessa moved its operation 350 miles west to Brasov, Romania. The team in Kiev has been dispersed to various places.

MTW established the Ukraine Crisis Church Fund with the goal of raising $4 million.  In less than 8 weeks, they raised almost $4.5 million ($75,000 of that is from the OPC’s Ukraine Crisis Fund). 

With the L’viv team now in Krakow, and the Odessa team now in Brasov, MTW has been able to use these funds for the facility, material, and personnel expenses related to housing, feeding, transporting, and clothing refugees in those locations.  For some refugees, they have also had to provide medical care and counseling.

The funds have also been used to enable a ministry to the many sick and elderly who have been left behind in many of the cities in Ukraine.  Through the faithful, tireless, and heroic efforts of some of the saints in the EPCU, truckloads of humanitarian supplies are being purchased and driven to eastern Ukraine to help care for the sick and elderly.  When the vehicles return westward for more supplies, they do that transporting more refugees out of the more dangerous areas of Ukraine.

We look forward to seeing the work of MTW in Krakow, first-hand on May 12.

Please continue to pray for the safety, comfort, and care of many EPCU church members who have been left behind in many dangerous areas of Ukraine, especially the city of Kharkiv near the Russian border in the Northeast.

The Reformed Presbyterian Church of Central and Eastern Europe (RPCCEE) is another young denomination, now almost 25 years old, located in Hungary, Romania and Western Ukraine.  The OPC enjoys a healthy fraternal relationship with the RPCCEE, delighted in seeing these like-minded brothers prosper in their work to establish a faithful witness in that part of the world.  Being next door to Ukraine and having 3 of their 27 churches in Ukraine, the RPCCEE has been actively receiving, hosting, and helping refugees coming to their churches in Hungary.  Many reformed/presbyterian churches and organizations are seeking to come alongside the RPCCEE, given their strategic location and their faithful efforts to organize in a trustworthy fashion.

According to a recent update, refugees are now being routed to detention camps by the Hungarian government.  As a result, the RPCCEE reports the following: “As things stand now, it is very probable that our focus will change, from offering shelter for Refugees, to helping those who remained in Ukraine and those who settle in Hungary. There are of course many unknown factors which may turn this plan upside down, and the influx of refugees might increase again. Then we will have to make the necessary adjustments.”

We have asked how we can participate and they have invited us to send $9,900, designated for “Post-War Needs”.  Those funds have been sent.

Visiting the RPCCEE labors in Budapest and Miskolc, Hungary, are our first scheduled stops, May 10 & 11, respectively.

World Witness, the foreign missions agency of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church, has missionaries in several strategic locations in Europe.  They are in Warsaw, Poland, 150 miles from Ukraine’s western border.  They are also in Lithuania, just north of Poland.  Others are in Germany and Spain.  Each of these outposts are either receiving refugees or ministering to those in their area.  In Warsaw, their focus has been to teach Polish to those Ukrainians desiring to settle in Poland.

Lord-willing, we will observe the work of the ARP in Warsaw on May 13 and their work in Kaunas, Lithuania, on May 14.

Hearts of Hope:An OPC deacon and his wife live in the very corner of Southwestern Ukraine, just next to the border with Romania, by the Black Sea.  Greg and Bonnie Harrison have adopted some children from Ukraine and are providing foster care for others.  Since the start of the war, they have been relocated into Romania, where they live as refugees and also minister to others with lodging and care, as well as providing translation assistance at the border. We will not be able to visit this family on this trip.

Tolle Lege: Another ministry located in Warsaw that has reformed connections is that of Tolle Lege and its director, Dariusz Brycko.  While the focus of their ministry has been in translating reformed works into the Polish language, Tolle Lege has sought to rise to the occasion in playing a role in trucking humanitarian relief from its strategic location in Warsaw to Ukraine.

In a recent newsletter, they shared the shocking news that one of their drivers came under gunfire on his way home from a delivery in the Kharkiv area and was shot and killed, leaving behind a wife and six children.  These brothers are carrying out these deliveries at great personal risk.  They covet continued prayers on their behalf, for courage and safety.

Lord-willing, we will visit Tolle Lege and this operation on May 13.

There are many other ministries sending funds over.  But, at this point, these are those of which we are aware at this time.  Please pray that the Lord would continue to guide and direct.


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Lighting A Lamp for the Stranger

by Rev. Chris Cashen, pastor of Trinity Reformed Orthodox Presbyterian Church in Lanham, Maryland, and member of the Committee on Diaconal Ministries.

Taken from the February 2022 issue of New Horizons magazine.

As Jesus opened his first sermon to his disciples, he told them:

You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. (Matt. 5:14–16)

That was the imagery given by our Savior: a light on a lampstand. Those who follow Christ are to shine before others.

How can the church today set up such a radical light on a stand that it cannot be hidden?

There are likely many possibilities and many answers to that question. Certainly, the first is being faithful in worship. But that might not be what Jesus meant when he likened his followers to a lamp on a stand for all to see “your good works.”

Light of the World

How can your local church be a collective light in your community, so bright that many are drawn to gaze upon the work of Christ and give glory to the Father? What is the most complete, well-rounded, full-orbed ministry of works and Word for your local church? What ministry can any church, regardless of size or gifts or talents, pursue that responds to the call of the Lord Jesus Christ to be light and, at the same time, builds up the people of God and their love for their Savior?

This article is going to ask you to consider a ministry to refugees. Taking it a step further, this article will challenge you to consider whether any other ministry of outreach can accomplish what a ministry to refugees can accomplish.

Lighting the Lamp

What is refugee ministry? Or better yet, who is a refugee? Here care needs to be exercised: casual definitions of refugees in news or social media can often be misleading. A refugee is a person who has been invited by the federal government to come and live in this country. As defined by the laws of this nation, a refugee is a person who has fled his or her native land in fear for his or her life. Each refugee, accurately defined, arrives in the United States with permission to stay—legally. Many times, refugees spend years in camps outside of their home country waiting to be resettled. And because refugees have fled—usually quickly—from some kind of persecution, they often have little to no personal property or wealth when they arrive on US soil.

Think about this from the perspective of a refugee. You have run for your life, crossed the border out of your beloved home, and lived in a tent with your family for months or even years on end. Finally, your status as a refugee is recognized and approved by the United Nations, and you arrive in a foreign land with a very different culture where almost no one speaks your native tongue. Now you need to find an apartment, find beds, find the bus stop, find work, find schools, find grocery stores, find doctors and dentists, and, in your spare time, learn English. That is the plight of the true refugee.

Given that description of great suffering and need, surely the lamp of compassion and mercy should be lit for these new neighbors.

Putting the Lamp on the Stand

Yet this lamp of compassion is often quickly covered with a basket. Many think that ministry to refugees requires special gifts and talents, such as being a linguist or a cross-cultural expert. Certainly, those gifts are helpful, but they are not necessary. Remember, Jesus said, “You are the light of the world”—not just of Virginians, or Californians. No, once this lamp is lit, it needs to be put on a stand for all to see. There is one gift needed for refugee ministry in the church of Christ: a love for the Lord Jesus. That’s it. If you are seeking to follow Jesus, if you love Jesus, then you qualify.

Some churches might work toward sponsoring a refugee family—a higher level of commitment. Or, individual believers might volunteer with a local organization that works with refugees. Perhaps a Bible study group or a prayer group could volunteer together.

The important thing to note, however, is that putting the lamp on the lampstand is relatively simple and straightforward. If you can drive a car, you are qualified to take a refugee to the grocery store, to a medical appointment, or to an English lesson. If you enjoy drinking tea, you have the talent required to sit in a refugee’s apartment and receive their hospitality. (Even if you can’t understand everything they say, you will be encouraging them with your presence and friendship!) If you have free afternoons, refugee children usually need help with homework since mom and dad don’t understand English and are not of much help in answering US geography questions. If you are mechanically inclined, older apartments, where refugees usually begin their lives in the United States, almost always have those four-pronged electric dryer cords that need to be exchanged for three-pronged cords.

Putting the lamp on the stand, then, is doing for others that which you do for your own family.

What a joy when a local congregation engages in this kind of ministry together—demonstrating the powerful love of Christ as a community to those in need! This kind of ministry to an individual or family brings together the body of Christ in unity and oneness in a way that few other ministries do. When we share together the love and joy of Jesus, something happens to those who are serving.

Lighting the House

Once the basket has been removed and cast aside, the lamp is able to be seen by all. Indeed, it will light the house. But which house is lit? I was told many years ago, if one aims at nothing, it will be hit every time. So what are we trying to hit—what is the goal of a ministry to refugees?

When Jesus fed the five thousand, what was he aiming to hit? Was his goal to fill some stomachs? He certainly did feed the hungry, even as he fed their malnourished souls with the words of life. But in the end, it seemed that Jesus’s target that day was a bit more focused: He was preparing his disciples for future ministry. Christ was changing their hearts from ones that snapped “send the crowds away” (Matt. 14:15), to ones that professed, “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28). Through the supernatural event of feeding five thousand with bread from heaven, the disciples were being made more Christlike.

Similarly, the goal of any refugee ministry is to light the house—and the house is the church. As we approach a ministry to aliens and strangers, we might hope to fills the pews of the local church—that is, to generate conversions. And certainly, as good deeds are done in and among new neighbors who fled from Afghanistan, Syria, or the Congo, they are to be coupled with the Word and prayer that these souls would be saved. But, interestingly, Scripture does not reveal what number of souls were converted from the feeding of the five thousand. So let the light be that which shines brightly first within the walls of the local church. Watch as the ministry gets going and see how it draws in others within the body, and then take note of how you and others are changed. How infectious is the joy that comes from serving others as Christ served you?

Refugee ministry is not unique in this aspect, but it does powerfully changes the hearts of the local congregants as they love those who have experienced great hardship.

There, then, is the challenge. Refugee ministry is that lampstand upon which the light of the church can be set—a great blessing to the community, and even more so to the church.

The Democratic Republic of Congo, Myanmar, and Ukraine were the three top countries of origin of refugees resettled in the US in 2020.

Further Resources

To learn more about what the OPC’s Committee on Diaconal Ministries is doing to minister to refugees, or to read in more detail about becoming a light for refugees, find a four-part series of articles by Christopher Cashen on opccdm.org. Listen to the CDM’s podcast episode on refugee ministry at thereformeddeacon.org or by searching for “The Reformed Deacon” wherever you listen to podcasts.


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