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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CDM Meeting in Clarkston, Georgia

The Committee on Diaconal Ministries met for their

stated bi-annual meetings on April 7–8. This year, they met at

Redeemer OPC in Atlanta, Georgia, the hosting church for

the Clarkston Refugee Ministry, which the CDM supports.

This meeting was an opportunity for many of the members

of the CDM to visit the refugee ministry for the first

time. “[Pastors Weldeyesus and Tamirat’s] fervor for the gospel

and their heart for people was wonderful to experience.

Clearly they have a gift for reaching into the lives of those

who have lost country, home, and precious relationships,”

shared committee member Ron de Ru.

CDM member Seth Long agreed. “I was most impressed

with sitting in the living rooms of families who have fled persecution

and danger . . . and the ways they are desiring to now

provide for their families in a land and culture much different

from their own. It was truly wonderful to see how the Lord in

his good providence is gathering families to be connected to

the gospel outreach work of the church, caring for the spiritual

and physical needs of the stranger in our midst.”
[This article was originally published in the June 2022 Edition of New Horizons]

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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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