Refugee Ministry of the OPC

 
Through vivid news reports and video clips, we are all witnessing the refugee crisis that is currently facing the world. How pitiful to behold great masses of people, young and old, fleeing their home countries in search of a safe place to live. Dramatic photos of capsized boats that contained too many occupants, or a young child’s body washed up on shore, tear at our heart strings. Conditions in refugee camps are often deplorable. 
 
The crisis is indeed overwhelming. How should we as Christians view it? Matthew in his gospel records that our Lord, in carrying out his ministry of proclaiming the kingdom of God and healing every disease, when he saw the crowds “… had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” We may not be able to understand the ultimate reasons for the catastrophe that is unfolding before our eyes, but ought we not view this, in part, as an opportunity set before us by divine providence to do what we can to minister to these refugees, especially fellow believers who are being persecuted for their faith?
 
 

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refugee ministry?

Let us know what, if any experience you’ve had with refugee ministry and if you’d like to explore further possibly beginning a ministry like that at your church.
 

Refugee Ministry Survey

Find out more about the OPC’s involvement
in this important ministry:

Loving Our Refugee Neighbors

by Rev. Christopher Cashen, Evangelist called by Redeemer OPC, Atlanta, GA, to serve in Clarkson, GA

From the May 2018 issue of New Horizons

Do you remember the question asked in Luke 10 by the lawyer in an attempt to test our Lord Jesus Christ? In the end, it was not the Lord who was tested, but the lawyer himself. He asked, “Who is my neighbor?” but he was not really searching for his neighbor’s identity. The parable Jesus told in response—the parable of the Good Samaritan—uncovered the fact that the lawyer was having a problem discerning the depth and the breadth and the width of the comprehensive love of the living God for his people.

In July 2017, the congregation of Redeemer OPC in Atlanta, Georgia, began a ministry that caused them to probe the depth and breadth and width of God’s love as they endeavored to shine forth Christ to their new neighbors from all nations called refugees.

Many things may come to mind when you hear the wordrefugee: you may think of places of turmoil around the world, the work of terrorists, or the politics of responding to such issues. But what does the word actually mean? There is certainly a legal dfinition when the title is used in the context of immigration. But more broadly, refugee simply refers to men, women, and children who are seeking refuge.

The reason why they must seek refuge varies from family to family. They each have their own story. Many are fleeing war. Some are fleeing persecution. According to the 1951 UN Convention, a refugee is one who is seeking refuge “outside the country of his nationality” due to a “well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion.” Importantly, a refugee is also one who is “unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country.”

Redeemer OPC’s pastor, Zecharias Weldeyesus, is himself—along with his wife and five children—a political asylee from the Horn of Africa. Under his leadership, Redeemer began reaching out to its new neighbors in Clarkston, Georgia, last summer, including calling me to serve as an evangelist there.

31.8% of the residents of Clarkston were born in another country

Clarkston is a small city about seven miles from Redeemer, on the edge of the sprawling metropolis of Atlanta. It has been referred to as the “Ellis Island of the South” because of the significant concentration of resettled people from all nations. When you walk through the farmer’s market or on the grounds of the many apartment complexes, you see people dressed in clothing from all over the world, speaking languages that are foreign to our American ears. The Atlanta Magazine described downtown Clarkston as extending “a total of just three city blocks, give or take. And yet there may be no place in the country as kaleidoscopically, vibrantly, viscerally diverse” (“Ellis Island South,” January 2017).

Where do you start when reaching out to a city like that? Redeemer began by seeking to gather information about the field: who was already working in Clarkston, what their beliefs were, and how our vision would fit in with these existing ministries. We attended orientation classes for volunteers with resettlement agencies and parachurch groups and began to help the local PCA mission work. In September, we joined an English as a Second Language (ESL) program held in an Atlanta PCA church. Through these contacts, we have begun to meet and minister to several families from Syria and Afghanistan.

The language barrier has proved challenging but has also opened doors for ministry. One widespread difficulty for parents who do not speak English is helping their children with school work. We were given the opportunity to begin an after-school program two days each week for elementary school students at one of the many apartment complexes. The children receive help with homework, practice writing, sing songs, are taught Scripture, create crafts, and play games. On Monday evenings, we also hold an ESL class at the same apartment complex. Throughout the week, we are beginning to schedule in-home visits with our ESL students to teach and establish more personal relationships.

All of this is intended to show forth the love of Christ, to establish sincere and lasting relationships with individuals and families, and to enable the sharing of the gospel. We are praying that the Lord would be pleased to plant an OPC church in the heart of Clarkston in the near future.

Why would the church choose to begin this kind of ministry? Simply put, the Word of God is clear concerning the duty of God’s people toward aliens, strangers, and thus, toward refugees within our land. Moses, as he was moved by the Spirit, wrote that:

“you shall treat the stranger who sojourners with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God” (Lev. 19:34).

And as the fifth and last book of the Pentateuch was recorded, the Israelites were informed in no uncertain terms that God:

“loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing. Love the sojourner, therefore, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt” (Deut. 10:18–19).

Refugees are certainly our neighbors before whom we, as the church, need to shine as the light of Christ. Their presence in our country gives the church a unique opportunity to meet the physical needs of our friends while we share the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ with them.

Webster’s Dictionary (1828) defines “refuge” as that “which shelters or protects from danger, distress or calamity; a strong hold which protects by its strength, or a sanctuary which secures safety by its sacredness; any place inaccessible to an enemy.” Redeemer OPC began this ministry because the church knows that true refuge can only be found in the One who said to his disciples:

“I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” ( John 16:33).

With all the press on the topic of immigration and with the acts of terrorism being committed throughout the world, questions about safety abound. Is it “safe” to serve, to minister, to those from Islamic and other countries? The short answer is that even though our experience in this ministry is quite short, we have been sincerely welcomed into several refugee homes and never felt anything but genuine hospitality. Is it safe? The broader answer is that as Christ called his disciples to make disciples, he also promised to be with them. He is with us each time we go out.

Diaconal and gospel ministry to refugees is certainly not limited to Clarkston, Georgia. Our new neighbors are being resettled across the United States. Resettlement agencies are always looking for help. Volunteering is an excellent way to be introduced to refugees and to begin to love your new neighbors.

If you would like more information about starting a refugee ministry in your area, or would like to receive a periodic update regarding the Clarkston ministry, please contact Chris Cashen at allnations3799@gmail.com.

 

Chris and Grace Ann Cashen with Zecharias and Bethel Weldeyesus


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Refugee Relief: Good Samaritans in Greece

by David Nakhla, OPC Short-Term Missions Coordinator (May 2017)

“And who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:29)

Sampach used to get up at 4:30 a.m. every morning to open his supermarket in Iraq. Within 24 hours of being told by ISIS to convert, pay up, or die, he left his supermarket and chicken farm behind and fled with his wife and children. Their journey took them to Greece, where for months Sampach had to restlessly idle his days away while waiting for the call from the UNHRC for the completion of their resettlement. But, at least they were safe from the violence and threats.

Sampach’s is just one of the many stories I had the opportunity to hear during my visit to Greece last month. I travelled there with Rev. Al Tricarico and OPC deacon Bob Fales to visit the various regions where the Greek Evangelical Church (GEC), a reformed Presbyterian denomination, is actively carrying out a ministry of Word and deed to the refugees passing through Greece.

The testimonies of both the refugees and those seeking to minister to them were moving. The active participation of the church in this ministry has changed the hearts of refugees and church members alike. It was delightful to watch the face of Savas, a GEC elder, light up as he showed us photos on his phone of the refugee families that are being hosted by his church in Milotopos, or to hear Meletis Miletiades, pastor of the GEC in Volos and moderator of the GEC, share the story of a Muslim man who, after crying for 15 minutes prior to entering the home the church had provided for his family, looked Meletis in the eye and said, “I thank God for putting love in your heart!”

The future of the refugees in Greece is uncertain. What is certain, however, is that the providential hand of the Lord has placed thousands of refugees within reach of various GEC congregations. These churches have sought to be faithful stewards of this opportunity, often going far out of their way to help out.

The ministry began in August 2015 when refugees on their way to Germany began to back up on Greece’s northern border in a small forgotten border-crossing called Idomeni, about 30 minutes from Milotopos. The church in this small rural town began to fix and provide sandwiches (often 1,000 at a time!) for the refugees who were living in tents. As the weather grew colder, they provided firewood to help them keep themselves warm outside their tents. One GEC elder, an electrical engineer, built a charging station for their phones and set up Wi-Fi so they could re-connect with family members who were behind or ahead.

Soon the whole GEC was on board, participating both physically and financially. This ministry represents a significant expense (each sandwich supply trip to the border cost ~$1,500!), but the Lord began to provide the funds through the gifts of many (including at least $18,000 from the OPC in 2016), and has continued to do so every step of the way in this journey of faithful service to the Lord’s command to love our neighbor, show kindness to the stranger, and protect the vulnerable. The positive witness to many Syrians, Iraqis, Afghanis, Iranians and others, many of whom may never have been exposed to Christians before, has been tremendous through the various ways in which “a cup of cold water” is being given in the name of Christ. But the impact in the lives of the believers who are responding to their Savior’s voice by doing unto others as they would have done to themselves has been immense as well.

When the borders north of Greece closed and it became clear that no more asylum-seekers would be allowed through, there was suddenly a need to house families longer term. The GEC in Milotopos began renovations on several properties to make living quarters available. They now have 5 families housed. Not only are they providing the rent, utilities, and a good bit of their food, they are also taking them to appointments, helping them with the immigration paperwork, teaching the adults English, and providing tutoring for their children (some of whom have not had the opportunity to be in a school for as many as three years). This new form of ministry, while a more extensive investment, allows for the development of relationships. And through these relationships, the GEC has had the privilege of seeing at least one Muslim-background family profess faith in Christ.

Sampach’s refugee trek was completed last year when he and his family were resettled in Spain. But how the Lord will use this Christian witness in and through our brothers and sisters in Greece remains to be seen. Some plant, some water, but the Lord in his time will bring the fruit. Soli Deo Gloria!


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Refugee Relief: Foreign Missions at Home

by Rev. Al Tricarico, Associate General Secretary, Committee on Home Missions and Church Extension

From the October 2016 issue of New Horizons

 

In July 2016, David Nakhla and I attended the annual Refugee Roundtable sponsored by the Refugee Highway Partnership of North America. Representatives from more than fifty churches and Christian agencies gathered in Toronto to discuss ministry in the present migrant crisis.

We learned about the many ways in which people are reaching out to refugees whose population worldwide is large and rapidly growing. Currently there are 65 million, and the number is rising at a rate of over 30,000 souls per day. One out of every 113 people living on this planet is displaced. One Christian leader observed that if the Syrian refugee crisis were to take place proportionally in the U.S., the entire population west of Ohio would flee from their homes.

About two-thirds of the 65 million are internally displaced. Some of the others have found their way to North America. One result of this is a growing intersection between home missions and foreign missions. The nations are coming to us. We should be ready to receive them, serve them, and bring the gospel to them.

A wide range of activities was represented at the conference, from the operation of refugee houses and resettlement processing to stand-by services ready to collect people from the airport when needed. We were amazed at the number of Christians actively involved in ministry to refugees. And we were pleased to observe that all of the participants were committed to serve with a focus on gospel witness.

The Call to Love

We are called by Christ to love as he loves, and to love all people—those who are in the household of faith and those who are not. We are to identify with them and do good to them (Gal. 6:10).

At the last judgment, love will be tested. The goats will hear the rebuke of Jesus, who will expose their failure to feed and satisfy the thirst of the needy, clothe the naked, visit the sick, and serve those in prison. The sheep will receive the approval of Jesus, who accepts the love delivered to others as love directed toward him. “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me” (Matt. 25:40).

Among the commended acts of love is welcoming the stranger (Matt. 25:35). A person who welcomes the stranger, welcomes Jesus. The current migrant crisis provides many opportunities to welcome Jesus in this way.

While the king’s brothers (believers) are in view in verse 40, there is no reason to think that Jesus means for us to exclude a broader reach. He wants us to love all people (Luke 6:35). We have been rescued from stranger status and have been welcomed by Jesus into the home of his Father. Let’s remember that and gladly welcome strangers.

We should also keep in mind that while we are to love all people, there is a special household love that applies to the present crisis, in which many displaced people are fleeing persecution because of their Christian faith. They are the king’s brothers.

And think about God’s love for the sojourner as you consider how you might deliver that same love. Why should we so love? Because we were sojourners, enslaved to sin and in need of the grace of God (Deut. 10:17–19; 15:11; Lev. 19:33–34).

These great realities (God’s love for the stranger, along with our duty to love Christ by welcoming strangers) beckon us to engage with special interest at this moment when opportunities to serve refugees are on the increase.

How to Engage:

There are many ways to welcome strangers, from a handshake and smile when meeting one, to full-throttle engagement in the resettlement process. While we can’t all do everything, it is good to do something. Those who want to do something can consider the following suggestions, beginning with some self-reflection.

Deal with your fears. Most honest people will admit to feeling some uneasiness when it comes to interacting with people from other cultures. We need to identify our fears, repent of them, and start loving our guests. Test yourself the next time you see a woman wearing a burka or hijab. What is your immediate response? Do you look away? Do you speed up your step? It may not be a moment to engage with substance, but your smile or greeting may be the first positive attention that person receives that day.

Refugees are not terrorists. While it is possible that someone you meet may wish you harm, it is unlikely. It is also irrelevant. There are no exceptions to the command to love, and Jesus never promised that love would be risk-free. It wasn’t for him, and it isn’t for us. Most refugees are positive souls who want to live at peace and provide for their families. The spirit God gives us is one of power and love, not fear (2 Tim. 1:17).

Be a good neighbor. A lawyer once asked Jesus a good question with a bad motive. “But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor?’ ” It was a question that Jesus did not answer, at least not directly. His response was the Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25–37).

The Samaritan saw a beaten victim and delivered the needed help that was not given by those who knew better. He found a neighbor in need, had pity on him, and generously gave of himself to bring healing. But at the end Jesus suggested that the lawyer really asked the wrong question.

The direct answer is obvious. All people are our neighbors. Our duty is to love God and to love everyone. But there is a deeper question: “Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” asked the master. The lawyer said, “The one who showed him mercy” (Luke 10:36-37). Let’s not ask the question, “Who is my neighbor?” We know that answer. Let’s ask, “How can I be a good neighbor to those I am called to love?”

Let’s have compassion on those who suffer, with a view toward doing good to them in Christ’s name. Many are the suffering strangers in our midst. And if we think deeply and pray in faith, we might just discover ways to live beyond ourselves in love. A greeting, a conversation, an offer of friendship, an expression of thanks, a meal at our home, an invitation to church, a loving gospel word. These may not seem profoundly merciful, but they are acts of love to bruised people who likely feel very unloved.

Visit ministries dedicated to immigrant and refugee outreach. Once back from Toronto, I learned through minimal effort that there are many ministries in and around Philadelphia that are actively involved with outreach to refugees and immigrants. Northeast Community Church (PCA) is a good example.

Northeast Community Church (NCC) runs a successful ESL program. In addition to teaching English to the nations, they offer other opportunities to reach out to immigrants and refugees with the gospel. One is a ministry called Conversation Café, a regularly scheduled event where students are invited to come to the church for refreshments and to practice their English.

NCC welcomes volunteers to the café to mingle with the students. Friendships are forged through this ministry, and opportunities for witness naturally emerge. Any Christian can participate and offer a welcoming hand to the strangers of Philadelphia.

Discover needs that you can meet and be ready to meet them. There is a ministry in Worcester, Massachusetts, called WARM (Worcester Alliance for Refugee Ministry).WARM’s small staff stands available to assist larger religious or governmental agencies. They do what needs to be done within their limited capacities. They visit newcomers, cook meals, and provide friendship. The ministry’s director is currently teaching a young refugee how to drive a car. Surprisingly, one of their most fruitful ministries is airport pick-up. They find out who is coming and when they are landing. They collect them and take them to their temporary residence.

It may seem like a small gesture, but a simple welcome and car ride can make an enormous difference in the life of a newcomer. David and I heard the testimony of a certain refugee from Cameroon. She identified two expressions of kindness that brought healing to her soul. One was the provision of time and space to decompress after her long and stressful journey from Africa. A ministry called Matthew House hosted her. She was given a clean, quiet room and offered as much rest and food as she needed until she was ready to start ordering her life. A comfortable bed, an open fridge, and plenty of time. Just right!

But the first thing she mentioned was the love she felt through someone coming to the airport who knew her name. She mentioned it in her testimony, and when David and I spoke with her afterwards, she said it again. The more I thought about it, the more sense it made. Imagine coming to an unfamiliar place with no sense of how to manage life. What a difference it can make to receive a warm, familiar greeting. “They even knew my name!” she said.

Her name is Maria. She now serves on the Matthew House board of directors.

Be hospitable. This is a command of Scripture. We are to be hospitable in the church, for sure (Rom. 12:13). But the word itself contemplates the welcoming of strangers. You can welcome them first with a greeting, then a conversation, and then a meal in your home. It will make an enormous impact on them. There are people who are so marginalized that your friendly efforts may be the first they have ever received. I have heard stories to back this up. “I have lived here for years and have never been invited to someone’s home.” Or, “Thank you for talking to me. No one ever talks to me.”

Ask questions about family. Family history is very important to people in other cultures. They love to talk about their origins and relations. Show your interest in their personal history and you will have a friend. Tell them about yours as well.

Take your time, but be intentional about gospel witness. Immigrants and refugees expect people to speak about their faith. Those who believe in something ought to speak openly about what they believe. That is their view. So let’s share freely with prayer for a harvest of souls for Christ.

A friend gave me this statement about personal witness: “It is ordinary people, doing ordinary things, with gospel intentionality.” That is a good statement that applies to all of our interactions. And it is an especially helpful statement to those who want to reach out to strangers. Be a friend. Ask questions. Listen to stories. Share a gospel word. Bring new friends to a spiritual Sabbath feast and introduce them to your Father and to your family. This is positive Christian witness, I believe.

Link:

Click here for the PDF version of the October 2016 issue of New Horizons at OPC.org. This article appears on pp. 12-13.


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Refugee Ministry Subcommittee
After years of the Lord’s blessing on the ministry in Clarkston, Georgia, the Committee on Diaconal Ministries appointed a new Refugee Ministry Subcommittee dedicated to furthering this ministry in the local church throughout the United States. The subcommittee members include:
  • Rev. Chris Cashen, pastor, Trinity Reformed Church in Lanham, Maryland 
  • Mr. Mike DiPeppino, elder, Westminster OPC, Westminster, CA
  • Rev. Richard Dickinson, Retired Chaplain, Pilgrim OPC, Bangor, ME