[Cherie Gray is the Executive Director of the Tucson Refugee Ministry in Tucson, Arizona. Her website is Tucson Refugee Ministry. I consider her one of the foremost experts on refugee assimilation in the U.S.]
Have you watched the news lately, feeling helpless as streams of ragged, bewildered, desperate refugees flood the screen? Until recently, these forcibly displaced people have been mostly hidden from mainstream society, although nearly 70,000 are accepted legally into the U.S. annually! How many are resettling in your city?
The nations are not far away anymore, confined to forgotten islands or forsaken bush country. Bringing hope and sharing truth with least-reached and unengaged people groups is no longer reserved for the valiant and few super-saints – the selectively “called” that we send overseas.
God is now tapping “average” church members on the shoulder – those who have never applied for a passport, nor speak other languages! He is inviting soccer moms, school kids, businessmen, fitness instructors, grandfathers, spelling bee winners, board presidents, techies, photographers, football stars and politicians to love God and love our neighbor.
And it’s really easy to get started! Here are some first steps…
- Connect. Look up your local refugee resettlement agency. Sign up to be a volunteer, attend their training, and determine where God wants you to serve. There will be a variety of opportunities and different levels of engagement – one time projects and short term commitments. Ask if you can greet a newly arriving family at the airport when they first land in America, and give them a hero’s welcome with signs, flags, flowers, etc.!
- Meet and Invite. If your city doesn’t have refugee resettlement agencies, consider visiting international markets, food stores or ethnic restaurants to meet foreigners. In many countries, it is not uncommon to be invited to a stranger’s home for tea/coffee. If you have a divine encounter while shopping, don’t be afraid to extend an invitation to your home.
- Pray. Begin praying for your international friend as soon as you learn their name. Research their country – learn about their language, culture, religion and traditions. Continue to be a learner and a listener. Ask God to show you how to build bridges and be the Good News!
- Together is better! Recruit your friends to join you in an airport welcome, hosting a meal, or another special project. Embrace one refugee family together, taking turns making visits. Engage your entire family in ministry. Kids are great connectors – they are non-threatening, provide universal commonalities, and are often better at building bridges with international neighbors than we adults are.