While the world grapples with the worst refugee crisis since World War II, ministry opportunities abound for believers everywhere. Refugee ministry represents a unique opportunity for collaboration between the PCA’s international and continental mission agencies: Mission to the World (MTW) and Mission to North America (MNA). Combining the insights and expertise of these two agencies provides a robust understanding of the amazing work God is doing through refugee ministry.
Refugee workers with MTW and MNA agree: God is working mightily through refugee ministry. Refugees are encountering believers at multiple points in their journeys, and each positive interaction can soften a refugee’s heart to the Gospel. On the other hand, Christian refugees are fleeing persecution and evangelizing non-believing refugees and refugee workers, too.
At every turn, the church can support and enhance these ministries.
Seeing the Big Picture
According to Kay Burklin, refugee liaison for MTW, millions are coming out of countries historically closed to the Gospel and migrating to areas where they can now hear and respond to the Good News. These population changes create incredible opportunities and responsibilities for the worldwide church.
Burklin believes that when MTW and MNA bring their experiences together, they create a big-picture view of what God is doing. The Holy Spirit then can work in people’s hearts to prompt them to serve at home, abroad for a short-term trip, or away as a career missionary.
Workers with MTW and MNA agree: God is working through refugee ministry. Refugees are encountering believers at multiple points and each interaction can soften a heart to the Gospel.
MTW missionaries bring a wealth of cross-cultural experience and can teach refugee workers in the U.S. about the native cultures of refugees. Foreign missionaries have spent years learning the language and culture of countries from which refugees might have fled, and their work will aid churches in the U.S. trying to minister to refugees from those same cultures.
Kaitlyn Mullens, director of operations at For the Nations Refugee Outreach in Dallas and a refugee specialist for MNA, believes that if the PCA wants to plant churches among groups of refugees in America — a serious need in the U.S. — then U.S.-based church planters need the experiences of foreign missionaries to help inform their ministries.
While European countries have begun refugee work in the last few years, the U.S. has been welcoming them since the 1970s and has the benefit of years of experience and best practices. Refugee workers with MNA can share those insights with MTW missionaries in Europe who are working with new populations of refugees. (Some MTW missionaries in Africa have been working with refugees for many years.)
Many Cultures Reaching Many Cultures
Pat Hatch, the director of refugee and immigrant ministry for MNA, is a source of wisdom and experience on the subject of refugees. Hatch has worked with refugees since 1978. In her years of supporting churches for refugees, Hatch has seen how refugee ministry broadens a church’s view of God’s work in the world and prepares hearts for
“The Lord is doing a new thing to prepare people from many cultures to reach out to people of many cultures,” she said.
Until they learn to speak English, she points out, refugees cannot understand the Gospel in English-speaking churches. But refugees who arrive as believers — or become followers of Christ through the tangible and patient ministry of Christians here — can become the most natural and credible evangelists to their own refugee communities, with the encouragement and support of
Some former refugees may eventually return to their native cultures as missionaries. For example, Mitchell Road Presbyterian in Greenville, South Carolina, currently supports the work of a former refugee who is now a missionary in an area of the world close to his native land. And New City Fellowship in St. Louis sends members to accompany former refugees when they visit family in their homeland, where the American visitors find a remarkable welcome for themselves and the Word of God.
“A multicultural mission team powerfully demonstrates that the Gospel is for everyone, not just for Westerners,” said Hatch.
Chris Sicks, mercy conference facilitator for MNA, has also seen how collaboration between MTW and MNA can work out in real lives. In Sicks’ own congregation, a Peruvian woman accepted Christ while staying with her family in Alexandria, Virginia, and attending Alexandria Presbyterian Church, where Sicks is a pastor. When the woman returned to Lima, Peru, Sicks arranged for MTW missionaries to contact her, and the MTW missionaries are now continuing the ministry that began in Alexandria.
In the end, the church needs the skill sets of both MNA and MTW in order to effectively serve refugees, according to Burklin. MNA refugee workers can share insights with MTW missionaries working with new populations, and MTW missionaries and national partners can provide a wealth of information to MNA refugee workers regarding various people groups and cultures from around the world.
“God is working through the refugee crisis,” Burklin said, “and it is an exciting time to be part of how God is bringing people to Himself at this historic point both in the United States and worldwide.”