Seventh Action: Appoint volunteers to visit the family at least twice a week for interaction, socialization, and fellowship.
As the congregation or churches become more involved, the number of these visitations will decline, but in the beginning when the family has just arrived and nothing is settled yet, several visitations during a week are normal. During this time, the church and the refugees will get to know one another and learn how to work through the peculiarities of the cultural values they each bring. If during these visitations the congregation makes a special effort to familiarize their adopted refugees with American culture by taking them to shopping malls, movies, baby showers or by inviting them to participate in holidays, that can smooth the transition of the refugees into their adopted culture. It will give the refugees a strong foundation for when they become independent.
Eighth Action: Do not confine your relationships with the refugees into formal procedures, and be open to forming long-lasting friendships.
As the team members assist the refugees, they will run into situations that will be impossible to foresee and plan for. One refugee may be especially shy, another one may develop a resentment out of culture shock and become more withdrawn, or the church team may become disillusioned simply because the logistics of ministering refugees can be daunting. The first thing to remember when such things threaten these fragile connections is that we are working with people and not machines. People are unpredictable (just like God is). The second thing to remember is that every challenge or perceived failure is an opportunity for something better. These unpredictable events help churches develop long-lasting relationships with their refugees. Formal procedures about who to go to or what to do won’t help much and at some point may confine the development of deeper and more rewarding relationships with the refugees. So to avoid it, the congregation and the team that will spearhead the whole resettlement ministry need to be more flexible and open to the family.
The majority of refugees come from societies that value ties to the community much more than institutionalized channels of dealing with problems, so every challenge is a door to deepen our friendship with our adopted refugees. Visitations, working through challenges, and growing through interactions all lead to long-lasting relationships, which will perhaps continue even after the official church-refugee relationship ceases once the formal time period ends.
Ninth Action: Celebrate the refugees’ successes and independence.
Obviously, refugees need to become independent. It is good for their self-confidence, for their maturity, and for their success in the US. It is also good for the churches because it marks the progress of reaching its goal. In facilitating a refugee’s independence, the team needs to celebrate every significant gain with the refugee and announce it to the church. These celebrations have accumulative power, and they feed each party’s hopes. Did the refugees graduate from an ESL class? Then let’s celebrate it with food in a team member’s or refugee’s home. Did the refugees pass their driving test? Then let’s shower them with cards. At the end of the formal time period by which the resettlement process should be finished and the refugee be financially independent enough to support himself, the congregation may want to celebrate with a large gathering, the sharing of food, and a public acknowledgement of the refugee’s main milestones.
However, in many cases this formal end does not mean the actual end of these church-refugee relationships. It only marks a transition from one phase to another. In some cases, it is good — the refugee becomes independent yet still cultivates ties with the adoptive church as a fully functioning individual. In other cases, it is going to be not so good — the refugee is not yet fully independent and still relies on the church to resolve some of her difficulties. Either way, the team and the refugee have to practice patience.
Tenth Action: Archive and keep important documents — pass the churches work onto the younger generation within the congregation.
Adopting and successfully resettling a refugee is difficult work for churches. I learned that God blesses only select churches with such a privilege in which a congregation is invited to be a community of Good Samaritans. Resettling refugees teaches the church maturity. The congregation works through the vulnerability of individuals and becomes vulnerable itself in the process as the Body of Christ. But this vulnerability prepares churches for more strength and for sticking its neck out for the gospel. Remember that none of Christ’s disciples came from powerful families with a lot of money. Yet, they gained strength through their trials and took the gospel to all corners of the Roman Empire and beyond. So the congregation’s blessed experience has to be passed on to the next generation within the community so that when the time arrives, they are willing to act like Good Samaritans. In fact, two of the churches I worked with adopted refugee families because of their resettlement work during the Vietnam War. In one congregation, people still have contact with the refugee family they adopted more than ten years ago, and they tell that family’s success story whenever the challenges of new refugees come up. That memory can be passed on through stories but also through the documents that the church library or office keeps. Photos, special gifts to the church, documents, letters, cards, and memorabilia are all tangible witnesses to the mutual blessings that the church has given and received from the refugees. They have to be kept for the sake of the church, the gospel, and the world.
That’s it, my dear readers. I pray that what I wrote opens your heart towards refugees. Do you have any questions? Comment and let me know. Tell me what you think about the refugee crisis in our world and the churches’ witness to Christ in these tumultuous times.
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