Talk to Strangers: Find Out How to Help New Immigrants

group of friends giving a hand

Close your eyes and imagine a scene unfolding in front of you—a scene in which you play the starring role. You and your family have left your home country with high hopes of building a better life. Hunger, scarcity of all kinds, poor living conditions, and perhaps even persecution were part of daily life.

But a miracle happened and you were permitted to immigrate to the United States. You find yourself in the middle of an environment totally unlike your home country. You have been helped to find a small apartment and given an allowance for a limited time. You don’t know English. How will you find a job, and will your allowance end too soon? Sending your children to school is another worry; you picture them alone and afraid.

Having left your extended family and all your friends, you gather your small family around you and attempt to encourage yourself and them with the hope that life will be better in this new country.

Now, open your eyes and thank God for the freedoms, the provisions, and even the luxuries that you enjoy every day. This imagined scenario is a reality for some people in your community. How can you and your missions group help?

Handling Hurdles

The first hurdle is identifying new immigrants. Because of privacy laws and concern for their well-being, schools, utility companies, apartment owners, and others are prohibited from giving personal information.

However, there are ways to identify those who need help. Does your church or community have English as a second language classes? Social service agencies may be willing to set up volunteer opportunities. A local college with an advising office for international students may offer a starting point.

Offering Help

Although individual help is important—for instance, help with locating employment opportunities—your group may be well advised to begin with group classes. If you plan to use church facilities, then post notices in public places inviting new international residents to attend an information class. List the topics you will address: driving instruction, job location assistance, language classes, clothes closets and food pantries, and free medical and dental clinics. Include some fun activities, such as a bus tour around the area or a demonstration and explanation about an upcoming holiday. Play a simple game.

Perhaps not with the first meeting, but in time, you will want to include a brief devotional time and prayer. These components can grow as your new friends become comfortable with the group.

Don’t be discouraged if your first meetings are sparsely attended. Encourage those who come to invite their friends or neighbors as they begin to get acquainted in their apartment building or complex. Concentrate on establishing trust and making attendees feel comfortable. Volunteer to go grocery shopping with them or supply transportation to job interviews or medical appointments.

As you demonstrate your concern and sincere willingness to help, trust will be built and other activities can be added. This ministry requires patience and long-term commitment, but the rewards for helping new residents of your community get established can be enormous.

In all you do, remember showing God’s love is primary. Establish prayer among volunteers as a daily commitment, and ask God for guidance and wisdom in establishing relationships that will eventually lead to sharing Christ with your new friends.

Sammie Jo Barstow lives in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, and has compassion for internationals adjusting to new cultures.

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