I have a love for working with refugees and helping them adjust to living in the United States. It is most definitely very needed, as many refugees in North America are overwhelmed with the vast amount of things they must learn to “make it” in this country.
Often local agencies are too busy to spend enough time with families and help them with all their complex decisions. It can be challenging for them just getting their children enrolled in school . Other daunting tasks might include: buying a car and get insurance, filling out a job application, understanding people on the telephone (or in person), filling out patient information forms at a doctor’s office, understanding credit card penalties, understanding how to use their link card (a government debit card for food), or meeting WIC qualifications (Women, Infants, and Children nutrition program).
So, there is a great need for people and churches to reach out and help new refugees right in your area.
First, you need to find out what agencies in your community sponsor incoming refugees. Among the best is World Relief, which we partner with. It is an evangelical Christian organization, and it has about 27 offices around the USA. Another agency that helps is Catholic Social Services. When our church first wanted to sponsor a family, the director of World Relief came to our church and told us what we would be responsible for to sponsor a refugee family. They also explained that the government only works closely with the family the first 90 days. After that, the government thinks the family should be independent (which is rarely the case!).
Working with refugees can be encouraging and heartwarming. Often, though, it can be a little frustrating. A few think the clothes or items you share with them are “not good enough,” preferring new items. We can recommend buying an older car to avoid going into debt, and explain how their insurance will be less if the car is older. But some of the refugees that we helped chose to buy newer, expensive cars. Then they struggled when they lost the car because they could not make the payments. A church must go into this with “eyes open” and understand the differences in thought processes when working with people from other cultures.
A great deal of information can be found through a normal Internet search. A Catholic Relief Services office, for example, would know about the laws in your state and could also refer you to the agency that handles the greatest amount of refugees coming into your area.
In most urban areas, local refugee assistance is a wide open door for churches to have direct, hands-on ministry with people freshly arrived from around the world, who are open to new friends and new ideas. In fact, it is our biblical mandate to love our neighbors. We can go into all the world, yes, but the world is arriving in our communities too.
Graphic courtesy of a government fact release: U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement.