Refugee Ministry Office
Hope for Newcomers
Jesus taught a radical kind of hospitality. Today United Methodists can embody gospel hospitality by reaching out to refugees coming to the United States. Refugee families struggle to make a new start and recover from the losses they have suffered as a result of their flight for survival. The church community, supported by UMCOR, can ease the way. Here's how.
Learn about refugees
Become acquainted with your nearby affiliate office. An affiliate is a Church World Service-sponsored office resource for your local church ministry to refugees. The affiliate staff provide orientation on what is involved, planning suggestions, and funds for at least the first month's support.. UMCOR works with Church World Service Immigration and Refugee Program (CWS IRP). Located in many communities across the United States, the affiliate offices are good resources.
Arrange a presentation on the plight of refugees and how the church can respond. Work through the nearest affiliate office to obtain a speaker. Plus, the affiliate office can help you invite a refugee living in the US to speak of their experience.
Remember uprooted people in worship. Include a prayer or responsive reading on uprooted people. Consider holding a worship service to celebrate the church's solidarity with uprooted people. (The last Sunday in June is the traditional date.)
Educate youth and children. It's never too early to understand the refugee experience and the contribution refugees make to this country.
Levels of hospitality
Fully co-sponsor with the affiliate-You'll provide major support to refugees who have no family here to assist them. Sponsorship will call on your personal involvement and support needed for successful transition.
Back up a family who is co-sponsoring incoming relatives-You'll share the support systems with family members of the newcomers who already live in your community. You'll meet with affiliate staff and the relatives to decide what each will contribute.
Give cash or in-kind gifts-Your monetary support or gifts of supplies, food, furnishings, or other in-kind contributions can help ensure a family's transition. Your gifts can go directly to the family or to the affiliate office for use where needed.
Give your time-Individual church volunteers may tutor refugees in English, mentor an individual refugee, help a refugee with job skill, or volunteer with the affiliate office.
Join with others-Two or more local churches can join together in a UM or ecumenical cluster to sponsor a family.
How to decide
Do you have questions on how to make a decision about your level of ministry with refugees? In "How to Decide" we offer some tips that you can share with others. For additional background see the United Methodist Council of Bishops statement on refugee ministry.
If you decide to sponsor…
You'll have a lot of help! Each local affiliate office agrees to provide all the necessary services to ensure that refugees become self-sufficient as soon as possible.
Signing a sponsorship commitment form will make it clear what the church, the affiliate office, and the family, if any, of the refugee will do. The form is not legally binding.
Congregations become part of a chain of service started when a refugee begins relocation to the US. The affiliate office monitors the progress of the refugees, provides advice, and refers sponsoring congregations to those who may be co-sponsoring-either relatives or other local churches.
An affiliate office must be within 50 miles of where "free case" refugees (those without family already in the community) are resettled and within 100 miles of where refugees joining family are placed.
How to be a sponsor
- Meet the refugees at the airport
- Assist with providing housing and furnishings; stock the home with food for first 30 days
- Provide transportation for appointments
- Help apply for Social Security card
- Register children in school
- Assist adults in learning English
- Assist with job search and interview preparation
- Orient the newcomers to the community
A reminder: refugees are not adoptees. Refugees are adults who have survived the trauma of flight and loss of home, country and loved ones. Most are anxious to make their way and stand on their own feet. A co-sponsoring church needs to plan decreasing support as the refugees become better able to provide for themselves. The commitment needs to be time-limited-it will vary according to the needs of the refugees, but should not be open-ended.
Rewards of sponsorship
As a church we are called to "welcome the stranger." The scriptures are full of God's reminders to our spiritual forebears that they should welcome the stranger, "for you were once strangers in the land of Egypt." Jesus numbered the stranger as one of the "least of these my family" to whom we must show compassion.
Refugees benefit. Refugees bring a determination to succeed as well as their memory of losses and the trauma of uprootedness. Refugees, especially those not joining family already in the US, benefit from the guidance, help and friendship of a co-sponsoring congregation whose members can be available outside the office hours of affiliate staff. The friendship and care of a sponsoring congregation helps to reduce the feeling of isolation and strangeness. You can provide the refugees a hospitable orientation into the community.
Congregations benefit. Sponsoring congregations testify to an increased sense of community as they prepare for the arriving family. They appreciate their greater knowledge of hard realities outside the US and the impact of uprootedness upon people across the world. Church members come to appreciate the gifts of other cultures brought by the refugees, and may begin to see themselves and their culture through the eyes of the refugees.
As sponsoring congregations accompany and advocate for a refugee family, and they seek the public benefits the refugees may need to access, they learn about systems which impact the lives of the poor.