By Leah Allen and Jeff Brumley
Just under 70,000 refugees from around the world were legally resettled in the United States in 2014, bringing the total to 3 million in every state since 1975.
And that, some ministers and domestic missionaries say, means 3 million opportunities to live the gospel.
“It’s about assisting the poor and the widow and the stranger,” says Kim Wyatt. She and her husband, Marc, serve as Cooperative Baptist Fellowship field personnel in North Carolina, where they are charged with ministering to refugees, immigrants and other internationals.
They do that by connecting refugees with local churches, agencies and individuals with the capacity to meet their various needs. But Kim Wyatt said churches and individual Christians can take matters into their own hands by connecting with refugee resettlement agencies in their cities or states, and asking what are the needs in their areas.
It’s a practice they’ve gotten the hang of in Texas.
More than 10 percent of the refugees from Asia, Africa and the Middle East who arrive in the United States each year settle in Texas, offering Baptists there an unprecedented ministry opportunity, an intercultural ministry specialist told a Houston-area conference.
Last year, 7,214 refugees arrived in Texas from 65 countries, and one-third of that number settled in Houston, Mark Heavener told the Refugee Ministry Summit at Chinese Baptist Church in Houston.
Heavener pointed to Psalm 107:1-9, in which God takes refugees into his arms and leads them to a safe place to settle. For many modern refugees, their safe place is Texas, and there is no better time than now to open church doors for ministry, he said.
Refugees not only respond well to churches that minister among them, but also desperately need that ministry, said “Pastor Andre” Onokoko Shango from the International Ministries for Propagation of the Gospel Church in Houston.
Enduring hardships, sufferings, humiliation
Refugees “have gone through hardships, sufferings, humiliations, running from one place to another looking for a secure place to live,” he said. Many “have lost everything and have witnessed their family members being killed. So, the only hope they can turn to is God.”
He expressed encouragement in seeing churches become passionate about refugee ministry.
Refugees “have been told that God can restore, he can vindicate, and he can bring hope,” he said. “Churches need to get involved in the refugee cause in order to give them hope that restoration is possible through Jesus Christ.”
Opportunities for ministry
Kathleen Yarborough, from West University Baptist Church in Houston, was amazed to discover all the opportunities to serve with refugees.
“Serving with these refugees can make a huge difference in our community,” she said. “Houston receives more refugees than any other city in the United States. There is room for everyone to be involved in this kingdom work. … It is a way to be the hands and feet of Jesus.”
In Texas or outside, one of the most common ways churches can help refugees is by collecting furniture and other items necessary to help those being resettled move into apartments in their areas, Kim Wyatt said.
When congregations and other agencies do not provide furniture, case workers with resettlement agencies have to go find it in thrift stores and other places.
“We just had a church provide everything for a three-bedroom apartment,” she said. “They provided really nice stuff.”
Churches can also help by leveraging their contact and influence in their communities to help refugees find jobs and other services, she said.
“Refugees have no social networks, no uncles to help them get a job or an apartment,” Kim Wyatt said. “This is us as the body of Christ using our social connections for those in need.”
Leah Allen writes for Texas Baptist Communications.