Refugee and Immigrant Ministry

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Pat Hatch
Pat Hatch

PCA churches take seriously the Lord’s command to be His witnesses “in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”   The demographics of our “Jerusalem and Judea” are changing dramatically, now that 1 out of every 7 US residents is foreign-born.  Among children in our schools – our nation’s future – children of immigrants account for an even higher percentage – 1 in 3 of all in attendance at many schools.

What might the Lord be calling us to do in this new environment?

Many PCA churches see unprecedented opportunities in these changes – vital opportunities for mercy ministry and for mission.  They sense that God is bringing the world to our doorsteps in order that we may demonstrate His love and share the Gospel with people from around the world (many from unreached people groups) who now reside in our own neighborhoods or a short distance away.

For nearly a decade MNA has been nurturing English as a Second Language Ministries for immigrants, now hosted by approximately 200 PCA churches throughout North America.  These ESL ministries have introduced many immigrants to the Gospel, and have encouraged the faith of some who were already believers, accomplishing much for the Kingdom.

We have been excited to hear about other vibrant refugee and immigrant ministries in which some PCA individuals and churches are already involved. And many others have expressed new interest in exploring such ministries.

MNA has established the Refugee and Immigrant Ministry position in order to offer a mechanism to share emerging best practices in serving immigrants, and to provide information, encouragement, and referrals to resources for those of you exploring these new avenues of ministry.

Here are some of the many local ministry possibilities – laden with worldwide Kingdom potential – which you or your congregation may want to consider:

1.      Resettlement help for Refugees and Special Immigrant Visa holders – Refugees are persons who have had to flee their homelands (usually to a neighboring country where they may not remain permanently) due to persecution based on their religion, ethnicity or political opinion. Special Immigrant Visa holders are persons who have extensively aided U.S. troops – usually in Iraq or Afghanistan – and, finding themselves to be in grave danger because of that past association, have received permission to emigrate to the US under a special program. The U.S. government provides short-term transitional assistance to persons in both categories, through local affiliates of 10 different national resettlement agencies. But there is an enormous need for more personal interaction as these individuals and families adjust to their new lives here and strive to become self-sufficient, contributing members of their new communities.

2.     Assistance for Asylum Seekers – Like refugees, asylum applicants seek the protection of the US government from persecution in their homelands. Unlike refugees, persons seeking asylum are inside the US at the time of their application. They are prohibited from applying for work authorization until their case has been pending at least 150 days, leaving them without a source of income or safety net for many months – and sometimes for years – as their case may be appealed.

3.     Aid to the Central American children and youth who have recently arrived in the US, while their immigration cases proceed through the court system.  Non-partisan groups such as the American Red Cross report that many of these children have experienced severe trauma before and during their weeks-long journey to the US.  While more than 90% of the children have been placed with family members as they await their court hearings, compassionate foster care homes are needed for many of the others. Competent bilingual Spanish/English court interpreters – particularly skilled in working with children – are also needed, as are attorneys willing to take pro bono cases so that no child need appear in court unrepresented.

4.     Immigration Legal Ministry – Due to a tremendous shortage of reliable, affordable immigration legal counseling in most regions of the United States, many immigrants seeking to abide by the law fall prey to unscrupulous operators posing as immigration experts.  There is a government-sanctioned program through which – with some basic training – an individual without previous legal background can learn to assist immigrants to comply with US immigration laws. World Relief has developed a training program for such church-based immigration legal ministries, and the evangelical churches that have already established such programs are finding it to be a wonderful opportunity to demonstrate the love of Christ in a very practical way to the immigrants in their communities.

5.     Collaboration with PCA Immigrant Ministries – Some PCA churches host second language congregations that meet in the same building; others work with PCA Hispanic American, Korean, Portuguese, and Haitian American Ministries as they reach out to welcome immigrants of various ethnicities into their congregations – congregations which in their rich diversity provide a foretaste of what heaven itself will be like!

6.     Outreach to International Students – Although international students are not technically immigrants, they are foreign-born persons to whom we can minister. We can provide welcoming friendships to outstanding students from other nations – often the future leaders of those countries – while they are away from home, often intensely lonely and struggling to understand the culture within which they now live and study. This is a natural for congregations located near a community college, college or university. In areas where there is a Reformed University Fellowship International (RUFI) campus ministry, we encourage churches to work through that PCA organization.

MNA Refugee and Immigrant Ministry’s mission is to help guide and support churches as they initiate or collaborate in such ministries.  We will alert churches to opportunities and ministry tools as they become known, and we urge you to let us know if you become aware of opportunities, tools, or successful models that should be shared with others. Let us know what God is doing through your church and others in your area!

We recognize that immigration is a sensitive topic for many of our members and congregations. Therefore, we urge much prayer as we proceed, that the Lord will enable us to see each person – whatever their country of origin or immigration status – primarily as one who is made in the image of God, and one for whom Christ died. We must not allow partisan discourse to blind us to this remarkable opportunity the Lord has set before His church in North America. At the same time as we are sending missionaries out into the world, the world is coming to us!  In our own neighborhoods we have a crucial role to play in reaching people of every tongue and nation with the Good News of the Gospel, and thus hastening the day of Christ’s return.

Throughout Scripture and throughout recorded history, the Lord has used the movement of  people for His purposes. Sometimes He moves believers to places where they can witness to His power and His love. In other cases, He brings those who don’t yet know Him to a place where they are able to learn more of Him and to choose to follow Him.

As we consider the possibility that God is using immigration to the US to accomplish His purposes, let us choose to respond positively and with godly enthusiasm to the call of Jesus who said “I was a stranger and you welcomed me.”

For more information, please contact:
Pat Hatch
MNA Refugee and Immigrant Ministry Director
phatch@pcanet.org
443.604.5394.