Working with Refugees, Stage 1 Continued: Build Trust

Faith-based work with refugees is grounded in prayer and direction from God. Moving into ministry to refugees includes an awareness of many different aspects of culture, correct assessment of their needs, and the willingness to forge solid relationships.

Step 3: The Needs

This part of getting to know refugees is very important. Possessing a desire to help people and to follow through with that is admirable. To truly meet their needs, not merely act on your notion of their perceived needs, is paramount. To impact refugees in a practical way requires getting to know them. This involves conversation and investment in their lives. It means speaking to them, gleaning information, and coming to care for them as individuals. Learning about refugees’ history is important, too.

Talking to refugees has 4 main purposes: to build trust, to discover their real needs, to learn to love them, and to glean from them which people in the community hold certain roles.

Conversing with refugees is the first and biggest part of working with refugees. Through it, you want to ascertain these things:

  1. Build trust by asking about their family, interests, and religious background; where they live at this point in time; their contact information; their country of origin; the languages they speak; what life was like in their home country and the job they held there; their family remaining in their home country; why they left their home country; and how living in their host country has been for them so far.
  2. What are their perceptions of their needs?
  3. What are your perceptions of their needs?
  4. What is a good day of the week and time to meet with each one and the people as a group?
  5. Determine who is the gatekeeper of the group of refugees. Who is the leader whose permission or acceptance of you and the program you are offering will impact attendance and benefit to the refugees you seek to help?
  6. Ascertain who is the activist of the group of refugees you seek to help. This person determines whether people will attend the ministries you offer. The activist will be a voice for the people and for the ministry you will provide their community.
  7. Decide who is the caretaker of the community. This person cares for the well-being of each person and the group. The caretaker has no agenda in the group other than the care of the people. This person wants what is best for their people, not what is easiest or most expedient.

The caretaker, activist, and gatekeeper can be supporters of the work you seek to do and receive training to do it.

Once you build trust within the community, people will realize you actually care for them and are not necessarily seeking numbers to qualify your search for legitimacy and funding. The refugees will then accept you and bring their real needs and sorrows to you. They will begin to view you as family. Once you get to know the people from your conversations, you can research their countries and people groups and learn their historical background. Doing all this enables you to become interwoven into their community. Then, you can minister more usefully to them. At this point, too, you can give a bolder testimony about Jesus to them, and they will listen attentively because you have shown you truly care about them.

Step 4: Prayer

After speaking to the refugees, gaining their trust, discovering their needs, and becoming acquainted with their leaders, return to prayer. With the information you gleaned from the refugees, bring their needs before God asking Him to tell you if these people and their needs are the ones among whom He has called you to serve. In addition, ask God to tell you where you should begin work with the refugees. What is truly their greatest need at the moment? Where do you get help? Where can you secure funding for the ministry needs? Where do you set up the ministry in the community?

God knows the answers to each of these questions already. Depend upon Him and He will unfold His plan. By seeking the Lord in prayer at the end of this stage, the person beginning a ministry among refugees deepens his or her relationship with God. Without prayer, the demands of the ministry can draw you away from God.


Seeking God’s will about a ministry among refugees is paramount. Conversations with refugees in the community are very important. Trust is established as a relationship develops. Getting to know them helps you know how best to help them. Added to this when you develop a relationship with them, you demonstrate your love for them as people, not just as a group of exiles. Doing this enables you to put yourself in their shoes and your compassion becomes empathy. This is the kind of relationship God desires from us.

Determining who the gatekeepers, activists, and caretakers of the refugee groups are is helpful knowledge for the entire refugee population in your community. This information helps you decide if you can offer ministry to all refugees or if you must divide them geographically, politically, linguistically, or theologically.

Remember God is in control and He will guide your decisions as you call upon Him in prayer. He will open doors for funding, volunteers, and other resources. Your relationship with God will grow and He will be the center of your refugee ministry.

Adapted from “Inception: Working with Refugees, Stage One: Getting to Know Refugees” by Gail Davis with permission.

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