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How to Help a Refugee

By Lydia Gingerich

According to the UN Refuggee Agency, 28,300 people each day are forced to leave their home because of conflict and persecution. Whether or not you believe that it is our country’s obligation to house these displaced people, there is strong biblical language urging followers of Christ to care for the lost and the hurting in our world – showing them the love of Christ at a time when they need it most.

Glen* responded to this call and traveled to the Middle East in February 2017 to work alongside an organization that aids refugees through building housing and providing community. During his six-month internship with RMM, Glen helped with a preschool class, taught English, played soccer, learned new card games, went on picnics, listened to stories of brokenness, and saw a lot of hope.

The organization that Glen worked alongside focuses on creating a place where refugees can look to the future rather than dwelling on the past by building “communities of hope.” Every physical community contains approximately twenty houses – each with their own kitchen and bathroom. This arrangement provides privacy, normalcy, and a sense of ownership for each family. The families can think less about missing the comforts of their old home, and instead work to make their new living space a home. Schooling and job opportunities are also provided so that families can make money and continue their studies without being set back by their refugee status. Lastly, the organization focuses on meeting more than just the physical needs of an individual. They provide trauma counseling, community support, and spiritual care for anyone who is interested.

The impact of these intentional choices provided Glen with firsthand testimony to their effectiveness, “I heard stories from other camps of people just sitting around and dwelling on the past. But when people are able to continue working or continue their schooling, they have more of an idea that they are working for the future and working to make things happen. The emphasis on forgiveness in the trauma counseling sessions was also an important part of moving forward.”

“If you are only doing things for people, you are missing out on giving them what is most important: the knowledge that they are worth spending time with.”Glen often found himself kicking around a soccer ball or just hanging out with a group of kids instead of teaching English to children who had just gotten out of school and were not in the mood to learn more. Conversation was limited by the language barrier, but “it’s amazing how you can build relationships with people just through interactions.”

Many times it was important just to be with people. “If you are only doing things for people, you are missing out on giving them what is most important: the knowledge that they are worth spending time with.” Glen wanted to show people that he was helping them not out of obligation, but because of their great worth as individual humans. He found that the best way to do this was to spend time playing, talking, and laughing – letting them know that “they are cared for just because of who they are.”

After his experience in the Middle East, Glen sees refugees in a new light. He knows refugees as those who were forced to leave their home. “It was their last chance – the alternative to leaving would have been imprisonment, captivity, or death.” These are vulnerable people living in a new place, building their lives from the ground up.

“I guess when I think about the church and our reaction to that, I think that if we say we shouldn’t do things for them or accept them, I think we are going completely against what Jesus taught and the heart of God throughout all of Scripture. We need to be serving them however that looks. We don’t all have the opportunity to go overseas, but there are many that are coming here that need to be served and that need relationships formed. We need to be committed to serving them and spending time with them and finding ways that we can be helping them out.”

Listed below are three categories and some examples of ways we can help a refugee:

1. Go build hope

The organization that Glen worked with, and many others like it, are looking for people to come and volunteer at refugee camps. They need counselors, teachers, doctors; men, women, and families who are willing to offer what we have. Basic skills like construction, teaching English, and listening are in high demand.

To serve these displaced people does not always require crossing the ocean. Find out if refugees are located nearby and try to be a vessel of hope in their lives. Hope is knowing a ride will be available to a doctor’s appointment. Hope is an extra hand to move furniture into a different apartment or home. Hope is a neighbor listening to your story. Hope is an advocate speaking the local language. Hope is a friend.

2. Support hope-givers

Individuals and groups need encouragement and financial assistance to continue bringing hope to the many displaced people all over the world. Look for ways to empower those who are trying to help. The 2017-18 REACH program is sending a group to Eurasia who will spend time living and working in the same location as Glen. To learn more about how to support this team or the organization they will be working with, contact info@rmmoffice.org.

3. Pray for hope

Another important way to be involved from afar is through prayer. Glen asked for prayer for forgiveness, soft hearts, and that God would be revealing himself to these people. Try using a portion of the Apostle Paul’s prayer in Romans as a guide: “I pray that God, the source of hope, will fill [these displaced people] completely with joy and peace[…]Then [they] will overflow with confident hope.” (NLT, Romans 15:13, brackets added)

*Name changed for security