The presence of refugees is a reality in many communities. However one might feel about refugee policy as established by governments, the fact is that our refugee neighbours, like all of the rest of our neighbours, are people God has put into our lives to experience His love and grace through us.
Roof, role and relationship
The needs of refugees fall into three categories: roof, role, and relationship. Unless your assembly, or a group of friends, has a specific program to reach out to people in UN refugee camps to bring them to North America, the chances are that the refugees you meet already have a roof.
That is, through public or private sponsorship they have been set up with a place to live. While not all refugees are characterized by poverty, most are in the position of having to start over with nothing.
Even those who were professionals or owned businesses in their country of origin have to establish themselves with the basic material things most of us take for granted. Local churches can often contribute significantly to fulfilling this need with household furniture and appliances.
Loving them for who they are
Many refugees are overwhelmed and sometimes embarrassed by their needs. We need to remember that we are helping them for their sake, not so we can feel good about what we are doing.
Once, people are living in your community they need a role: a meaningful place in society through which they can contribute to the collective good. At first, many refugees are in the role of student, learning English and the customs of the majority culture.
But as time goes by that role will shift. They need employment. They need acceptance in the community to fulfill their role as neighbour. This is where individual believers can reach out. Some Christian businessmen are in a position to provide jobs, but the rest of us can help with this, too.
Many think that dealing with refugees is all a one way street, but that is not the case. Many refugees have expertise, skills, and abilities that they long to use in their new communities. One way we can minister to refugees is to invite them to help us, which I have found they are invariably eager to do.
Relationship is the most significant area where individual Christians and local churches can have an impact on the life of refugees. Simply providing friendship: including them in our social circles, eating together, laughing together, going to our favourite places together, enjoying music together, anything you can think of, as long as it is “together.”
Don’t forget simple, inexpensive things like going to a park, attending a local soccer game, inviting them to a birthday party, the kind of activities that you would do with any other neighbours or friends.
Refugees on your corner
Because of where I live, I have relatively low integration with the refugee community. I actually have to go out of my way to even find refugees with whom to interact. That’s not true for many Canadians, who can find refugees on their street, in the stores where they shop, picking up their children from school, and so on.
Whether or not we feel government policy is good or bad regarding refugees, the fact is that all of the people in our sphere of influence present us with opportunities to be living examples of the love of God. Are you prepared to be God’s feet and hands?