Working with Refugees, Stage 1: Get to Know Them

students learning English

Prayer must enwrap any program for faith-based work with refugees. God must be the One who gives the vision so steadfastness occurs when days are long, times are hard, and refugee stories are painful to hear.

The process of starting a ministry to refugees includes 5 or 6 stages. This blog post introduces stage 1—Getting to Know Refugees. It is written not from an authoritative point of view but from an experiential basis. Circumstances differ around the world and different methods, ministries, refugee nationalities, and workers will arise that require consideration when beginning and maintaining any ministry to refugees.

Stage 1: Getting to Know Refugees

God puts within people a heart to care for others. This innate compassion is part of being created in His image. Because of this compassion for other people, we often want to help when difficulties arise in life. This desire is normal. First, we should seek God’s will to determine if we should help this person/people. After that, we must meet them to determine their real needs, not assuming we know their needs. These things compose the subject of stage 1 of working with refugees. Within stage 1 are 5 steps with several substeps. We’ll cover the first 2 steps in this post and the remaining steps in next month’s post.

Step 1: Prayer

As Christians, we should pray before, during, and after any task. Prayer should lead, correct, and inspire you. Because prayer with God is about relationship, this step should come naturally to all Christians. Prayer at the beginning of a task or ministry should seek to bring God into our minds and our lives as the leader of the ministry. It leads us to remember from whom we received our innate compassion and that we were recipients of God’s compassion when Jesus died on the cross.

Prayer also reminds us from whom we receive resources for ministry, who protects us while we minister, and in whose strength we work. Without prayer infusing the ministry to which God calls us, we grow weary, lack mental strength to continue the task, become cynical, seek glory for ourselves, and leave God out of the equation. Therefore, prayer must undergird any ministry we seek to do.

Step 2: The People

Through prayer, God will open our eyes to the people to whom He wants us to minister. In a world where refugees come from around the globe, we should decide which refugees are to be the focus of the ministry we seek to develop and run.

Why differentiate? Because each people group possesses a different language, culture, history, and religion. What works with 1 group may not work with another. For example, many more Somalians than Congolese are Muslim. This would require a different English curriculum if you were thinking of using Bible-based English lessons. Additionally, many Somalian women have never been to school so you would need to start with preschool- or kindergarten-level language classes that tell you what an A or B is. For most Congolese, learning the alphabet first would be redundant because they attended school.

Most importantly, working with refugees requires knowing their cultures. In some cultures, women absolutely do not teach men. Doing so would disrespect the stature of the man. Besides this, in some cultures, women cannot wear pants or dresses/skirts above midcalf or show their upper arms and shoulders. These things are considered indecent.

Because of so many variables, we must seek the refugees to whom God calls us to minister. In the beginning, if you are teaching an English as a second language course, differentiating among refugee cultures is not as important. What is vital is providing refugees a life skill that will enable them to get jobs. Yet quickly you’ll discover that different cultures, religions, and languages will require adapting even the basic English curriculum. It will send you back to God to determine upon which people group you need to focus.

Seeking God about the people group you need to focus on is important. Working with refugees is an admirable thing. Maintaining communion with God so He can continue to lead you in ministry is most important. He may have called you to work with a specific refugee people group, not refugees in general. Stay in constant contact with God during your ministry with refugees.

Adapted fromInception: Working with Refugees, Stage One: Getting to Know Refugeesby Gail Davis with permission. 

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