God at Work: Refugee Ministry

An excerpt from May’s Connect Magazine by Danelle Young

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’” —Matthew 25:34–36

Did you know that Joseph, Mary, and Jesus were refugees in Egypt until King Herod died? You can read about their family’s escape to Egypt in Matthew 2:13-23. A refugee is a person who has been forced to flee his or her country because of persecution, war, or violence. He or she is unable to return to their country, owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group. Fewer than 1% of the world’s refugees are resettled globally in any given year.1 In the United States, our president determines how many refugees will be resettled here each year. In fiscal year 2017, it is 50,000 people.

The International Center in Owensboro has resettled up to 150 refugees per year since 2009–2010. Over the past year, I’ve had the privilege of working as an interim at the IC. As I write this, the faces of our clientele flash through my mind and their stories flood my heart with emotion and sympathy. Questions have crossed my mind like: “What if I were born in that country? I wonder what it was like to grow up in a refugee camp? This young man arrived alone; I wonder if he has any family? There are so many displaced people right now, when will God intervene?”

God fearfully and wonderfully makes every human, and He is intimately familiar with each of us around the globe (Psalm 139:13-16). Our new neighbors are placed among us for a reason—we are salt and light (Matthew 5:13-14). God is intervening, through His people! As Christians, we possess the gifts of hope and salvation. Now we have the opportunity to extend those gifts to people nearby who desperately need light in their lives. Perhaps like Esther, we were created (and reside in Owensboro) for such a time as this (Esther 4:14)!

The purpose of the church is to take the gospel of Jesus to all people in every place on earth. Yet even after two thousand years, thousands of people groups remain unreached. There are now at least seven unreached people groups represented among Owensboro’s refugee communities, including some of the world’s largest remaining unreached groups. In bringing refugees to Owensboro over the past eight years, God has opened new pathways for the local church to send the gospel of Jesus back to places it has never been known!2 Are you tired of living in a broken world? Jesus promised, “the Good News about the kingdom will be preached throughout the whole world so that all nations will hear it; and then the end will come (Matt. 24:14).” Let’s work together toward that end!

So where and how do we begin? We can start by welcoming refugees to our community. Our Christian Life Center is the perfect gateway and venue to host international fellowships. It provides much-needed recreation space for refugee families and individuals to come together and socialize, with each other and with us. To date, our newly-forming Refugee Ministry Team has hosted three fellowships. Our fourth event will be Sunday evening, April 30th. Our immediate goal is to build rapport and relationships. Our ultimate goal is to share God’s love and story.

What is an international fellowship? It’s a party! If you were to drop in, you would see a beautiful array of people, smiles, conversation, children’s activities, food, and the gym and game tables (pool, air hockey, and ping-pong) being put to good use. At our last event on March 26th, approximately 85 guests and 25 volunteers came together for a fun-filled evening. One Sunday School class donated stuffed Easter eggs for the children! The Easter story was told before releasing the kids in a designated area for the egg hunt. We’ve received positive feedback from both guests and volunteers.

The fellowships have been a blessing to all who’ve attended. I’ve observed relationships forming as people begin to recognize each other after multiple events. Volunteers are connecting with new friends on Facebook. Our children are naturals at welcoming other children and showing them around. I’ve seen a group of women who speak different languages unite to play volleyball and men team up to play soccer. Kids are eager for coaching instruction in the gym. Education professionals can interact with new students and their parents outside of school. It’s good people watching (at least), but even more enjoyable to interact! We would like to see the FBC Refugee Ministry Team grow. The larger we are, the more we can impact our community for Christ. If you would like to be involved, please let me know!

May this prophecy in Revelation 7:9–10 propel us toward our calling: “After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice:

‘Salvation belongs to our God,
who sits on the throne,
and to the Lamb.’”

Footnotes:
1 Kentucky Office for Refugees “Understanding Refugee Resettlement” report
2 Dr. James Litsey “Refuge Owensboro Description” report

Additional supporting passages:
Genesis 28:14, 1 Chronicles 16:23-28, Matthew 28:19, Luke 24: 45-47, Acts 17: 24-28, Romans 4: 16-18, and Galatians 3:8

Refugee Ministry Volunteer Testimonies

JJ Poole: Having the fellowships has been a blast! I have been able to help pick and drop off some of the kids that have been coming to the events, as well as being able to play soccer with them. Every time we have had an event, the kids are always so excited to be able to come to such a great place like the CLC. It has been an eye opening experience to really find out the amount of refugees that we have here in Owensboro. The way God has brought these people to our doorstep is just amazing. Sometimes we can’t always go on mission trips to share the Gospel so God has said, “Ok, I’ll bring them to you.” Being part of the Refugee Night has shown me that even though I live in a small town in Kentucky, I have an incredible opportunity to witness to people who don’t know my Lord and Savior.

Brock & Kendal Quinton: We have volunteered at a few fellowships as a family. We helped organize activities for the kids; however, our most important job was to love the people attending these fellowships, and make them feel welcome both in our community and in our church. We believe that God is using the fellowships to help our church build relationships and show others the unconditional love of Christ. God has greatly used this work to impact our family. As parents, we are watching our two-year-old son play with children in our community who are complete strangers to him. Watching the children play shows that love has no barriers. For us, God has opened our eyes to the practical ways that we can serve Him and others in our backyard. It just takes something small, such as playing a game of ping-pong, painting fingernails, or being a friendly face to have a lasting impact for His kingdom.

Todd & Erica Houston: Our entire family has been involved since the first fellowship. With Todd being a teacher and coach at OHS, he continually spoke of his refugee students and how much he admired their hard work and determination. God began growing our hearts with compassion for these people. Fellowships became a perfect fit for all of us! Our family simply shows up and works on creating relationships. Whether it is through decorating cookies, painting nails, or playing ping pong, we are investing in them. The number one response I hear from the refugee children and adults is how grateful they are to get out of their home for an evening and how grateful they are for our kindness and friendship. As great as this is, these nights mostly impact MY family as our hearts grows for these precious people, stretching us to seek other ways to love, serve, and have intentional gospel conversations with refugees.