We’ve heard from a number of churches around the country that the Holy Spirit is stirring hearts to respond to the now very visible needs of refugees. But there is understandable confusion about how to do so. Here is some background information that may help, plus a few suggestions.
Background: The US refugee resettlement program is run through the US Department of State, Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration. The State Department works with officials of the US Citizenship and Immigration Service and a group of non-profit refugee resettlement agencies to screen refugees abroad for resettlement in the US. Right now, there are so many fleeing, and so few interviewers that the system is, as you can imagine, overwhelmed and backlogged. But there are a few thousand Syrians (some of whom are likely Christians) who have been approved already for resettlement in the US, and it is very possible that the US government will eventually decide to increase the numbers in response to this exodus of Biblical proportions.
Once a refugee individual or family has been approved for resettlement in the US, they are assigned to one of the nine national refugee resettlement agencies – such as World Relief, Church World Service, Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services, Catholic Charities Migration and Refugee Services, the International Rescue Committee, etc. Then the national office of that non-profit agency decides to which of its local affiliate agencies to send that individual or family. If the refugees already have family members in the US, they are likely to be sent to an area near those family members. If they don’t have family connections in the US, they are considered a “free case” and could be resettled in any area where the agency has a local affiliate.
There is so much that can be done to help! Churches or individuals who would like to assist a refugee family need to begin by contacting one of the local refugee resettlement office affiliates in their area. Here is a link to the Office of Refugee Resettlement website with a map of the states:
Click on your state, and it will bring up a list of the local refugee resettlement agencies with contact information. These are the ONLY resettlement agencies that have contracts with the US government for the resettlement of refugees from other countries. You would be wise to direct your efforts through one of those agencies or partner with them to meet one or more particular needs – either for one family or for a group of families over a longer period of time.
The local agency might be able to tell you whether they are resettling any Christians who were persecuted for their faith – but please do keep in mind that, in order to serve refugees arriving from that part of the world effectively, many agencies have hired staff members who are bilingual in the refugee language and English, who may themselves be of any religion. So the person answering the phone may very well be other than a Christian, and it will be important to be mindful of the fact that they, too, may be someone who has been persecuted, but for different reasons than being a Christian.
I also urge you to keep in mind the possibility that the Lord may be bringing Muslim refugees -as well as refugees of other religions- to the US, so that they have the opportunity to learn of Him through deeds of mercy performed by Christian believers. Several PCA churches and PCA-led organizations are involved in mercy ministry among Muslim immigrants at the prompting of the Holy Spirit, with great potential for the kingdom.
If it turns out that there are no refugee resettlement agencies within a reasonable distance of your church, I encourage you to consider making donations to the work of World Relief, the evangelical refugee agency, either for their overseas relief efforts
or their stateside refugee resettlement work.
Perhaps you can develop a remote partnership with one of their affiliate agencies to meet specific needs for them.
One of our churches has alerted us that World Relief and several partner agencies have just developed a very comprehensive website in response to the crisis, with a variety of creative options, including partnering with European churches that are receiving Syrian refugees. as well as connecting with resettlement agencies in the U.S.
Thanks to all of you for all that you are doing to encourage members of your congregation to respond to the promptings of the Holy Spirit to help refugees.