World Refugee Day: Befriending the Refugee in Your Backyard

By June 20, 2016

USA (MNN) — Today is World Refugee Day, and now more than ever we have a chance in the US to help immigrants and refugees; not only overseas, but also right in our backyard.

(Photo courtesy IMB)

(Photo courtesy IMB)

Joe Class with an affiliate partner of The JESUS Film Project shares, “[Refugees and immigrants] come in and they’re desperately needing friends.

“If you can imagine going to a far away country, they don’t speak your language, they don’t eat your food, they don’t even eat exactly the way you eat. You’re tossed in the middle of that and it’s up to you to figure it all out. Now you can go hang out with some folks who are from your own country. But you really want to figure out, ‘How do I live in this country and what’s it about?’”

The Refugee Next Door

With the current social rhetoric these days, concerns related to extremist violence, and questions about the future, it can be easy to feel swallowed by fear.

“In this sort of political environment that we’re in, someone needs to be speaking to a different reality than what we’re seeing,” says Class. “The reality of fear is just so counterproductive to the cause of Christ.”

(Photo courtesy of Bethany Christian Services)

Rather than allowing fear to hinder outreach, Class encourages that Christians need to see the influx of immigrants as an incredible opportunity for the Gospel.

“We’ve been praying for people around the world for so many years. We’ve been praying that they’d be open to the Gospel, we’ve been praying that the right things would happen in their world so we’d have a chance to share Christ with them,” says Class.

“Now what’s happened is those people that we’ve been praying for are coming to America. And the sad thing is we’re living in a state of fear and concern and misunderstanding, and we may not be welcoming them in the way we’re told to by Jesus.”

Think of your own heritage. If you live in America, chances are you can think back to a time when someone in your own family’s history was an immigrant themselves and came to the United States to build a new life. Such a history can help make us empathetic to the needs of immigrants and refugees today.

“Our grandparents, our great-great-great grandparents came from some other place. We came, we were welcomed, we became Americans all because somebody uprooted their family tree somewhere and replanted it here in this place.”

The People’s Connection

With this heart of empathy for immigrants and refugees, The JESUS Film Project and several other Christian organizations started an initiative called The People’s Connection.

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The JESUS Film is one of the resources included in The People’s Connection materials. (Photo courtesy of The JESUS Film Project)

The People’s Connection produces and compiles several different materials in various languages for people like you to give to refugees and immigrants they know. The JESUS Film DVD is just one of those resources.

There are evangelism tracts, study booklets, magazines, and more. The resources act as a welcome to America and share the Gospel in that person’s heart language.

Class explains, “It was started by some folks who were very keen to let immigrants coming to the US understand the background of America; that we don’t act today like a Christian nation but we were founded on those principles, and our culture has those principles embedded…. And immigrants, if they understood our history and understood where we came from, they’re in a position that it could impact them. They’re probably more open to the Gospel then they’ve ever been in their entire lives.”

This is still a very new project. But already, in New York alone, around 100 thousand materials have been handed out through local communities with The People’s Connection.

“This is a push that says if local communities and individuals want to be involved, we’ll make sure you get the materials…. The People’s Connection gives you [an] opportunity to become involved in being a good neighbor. This Gospel is just too good a news to keep to ourselves.”

Think you don’t know any refugees or immigrants? Think again! Class says, “We all in America probably know someone [for whom] English isn’t their first language. We go to restaurants…you get your nails done…there are all kinds of places where immigrants are working and building businesses and being successful. We can’t leave them out and away from Jesus Christ.”

(Photo courtesy Flickr/CC/BradRuggles)

(Photo courtesy Flickr/CC/BradRuggles)

The immigrants and refugees they’ve talked to are very receptive to hearing the Gospel message, says Class. “Someone who comes from the Middle East, the last thing you need to do is try to convince them there’s a God…. There’s an openness in [their] community that has had extreme disappointment in the Arab Spring and in the behaviors of some of the extremists in their area.”

Go to reachingthenationsamongus.org to connect and request materials from The People’s Connection.

A Story of Courage and Hope

Class had a conversation with a Christian leader still residing in the Middle East. This man’s story gives a deeply personal insight into the needs of people still residing in hostile places worldwide, especially Christians.

Class shares, “I had an opportunity to meet with a Christian leader in the Middle East. He lives in a very hostile place. He refers to himself simply as a follower of Jesus, one whom God has called to live among Muslims. And he spoke about his concern that the Church in the West fears too much for the safety of people like him, and they don’t really understand the greatest needs that Christians in the Middle East have.

(Photo courtesy Open Doors USA)

(Photo courtesy Open Doors USA)

“He said to me, ‘Having persecution, the threats and the suffering, that’s not an easy thing. It’s real and it’s painful. But please, when you pray for us, pray that we’ll not lose our love and our hope.’”

Class reflects, “Praying for safety seems logical. But given how much people in the West are having fear, we need to think about that. I discovered, here’s a guy who lives in a war zone and it’s really changed his perspective. It’s in stark contrast to most of us who live in safe areas.

“He went on and said, ‘Not only pray that we won’t become discouraged, but pray that our love for the Muslims and for everyone would grow. As followers of Jesus in my nation, I have a real role to play and we must bless and serve our neighbors. I’m concerned because some people are defining the source of the threat we face here as another religion or another people and this just isn’t what the Bible teaches us. Our battle is not with flesh and blood. And if we let that situation define our Christian identity, we become total victims.’

“Then he said, ‘If we fear, if we hate, Satan shapes our lives and our actions, and not Christ. As a follower of Jesus, I am ready to surrender my life.’”

Class shares, “I found myself really not just moved by this, but challenged by this. Because he said, ‘What if I give space for Christ to come with His nature into me to equip me with His love which overcomes fear and rejection and hate? Then the battle is won, and it’s won instantly. I’m no longer concerned, I don’t have to be afraid. I’m free! As a follower of Jesus, I am released to go to that community with love and serve them.’

“It didn’t mean that the situation had changed,” says Class. “It didn’t mean that a religious group was suddenly more tolerant of him or that a radical fundamentalist group had changed their character. But it was that he was free and his life was now defined by Christ and not by Satan.

(Photo courtesy of Frank van Leersum via Flickr)

(Photo courtesy of Frank van Leersum via Flickr)

Class reflects, “I found myself asking, ‘What have I allowed to define me or whom have I allowed to define me?’ In light of the situation of immigrants coming to our country, I think we need to decide rather it’s Christ Jesus who defines who we are.”

What You Can Do

  1. Pray for an open heart to reach out to immigrants and refugees in your own neighborhood.
  2. Pray for immigrants making a new home transition in the United States, Europe, and anywhere else they have found safety.
  3. Pray for God’s courage to triumph over fear.
  4. Pray for Christians still in hostile areas to have an abounding love for their neighbors as well, that God would use them to minister the Gospel.
  5. Pray for those refugees still trying to flee a dangerous homeland, that they would find safety and strength, and may someday be able to return home.
  6. Contact The People’s Connection to get outreach materials you can give to an immigrant or refugee you know.
  7. Invite a refugee or newly immigrated person in your area to have dinner with you or come to your church. Be the love of Christ to that person and show them they aren’t alone.

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