How to Connect with Refugees

An american womann and a foreign woman are sitting together on a couch in a living room. They are enjoying conversation over a hot beverage.

Among the current generation of refugees and immigrants arriving in the U.S., many follow the religions that are dominant in their home countries. One religion in particular includes factions that openly oppose Christianity. It’s easy to assume that dialog with men and women who follow other religions — especially this one — is difficult, maybe even impossible. It’s too easy to let fear keep us from even trying. 

Our teammates Mike and Julie Thomas minister among refugees from Central Asia and Southeast Europe. Mike offers simple tips and guidelines for Christ-followers who want to begin building Gospel-centered relationships with our new neighbors who follow other religions.

  • Pray, pray, pray. Recognize that God wants to involve you in this important work.
  • Don’t be afraid to bring up spiritual topics. This isn’t taboo. Instead, it communicates the seriousness of your faith. (However, don’t be pushy or preachy, and don’t insult their religion or their prophet.)
  • Ask if you can pray for them. This communicates piety and also love, and it provides an opportunity to show how Christians talk with God.
  • Become genuine friends with them without strings. Don’t bait and switch — for their sake and for the sake of your reputation and the reputation of the Christian community.
  • Learn about their culture — their food, language, customs, and such. Ask about their religious beliefs, and be a humble listener as they respond. 
  • Ask genuine questions that can lead to deeper reflection and discussions. Avoid “gotcha” questions.
  • Be very open that you are a follower of Jesus from the beginning of your acquaintance. In a gentle, humble spirit, share about what Jesus is doing in your life today.
  • Invite them into your lives. Have picnics together, invite them to birthday parties, go to a soccer game together, etc. Let them see your faith lived out in real life in your marriage, family, and community relationships. 
  • Love them well. Throw baby showers for new parents, give birthday gifts, celebrate the milestones and special days in their lives, love on their kids.
  • If they are struggling with English, help them learn, or connect them with an organization that can help.
  • Offer to help them navigate some of the basics of getting settled in their new home: using public transportation, getting a driver’s license, enrolling their children in school and acquiring the correct supplies, understanding their mail, connecting with advocates if they need legal assistance, etc.
  • Create a safe environment in which they can ask questions as they try to understand aspects of their new home that are radically different from their old.
  • Instead of inviting them to church, invite them to study the Bible with you in their home when the time is right. (Church is a place of practices, words, symbols, and such for which they have no context, likely leaving them feeling bewildered or even alienated.) 
  • Always give them an out. Understand that people from an honor/shame culture will often feel pressured to say yes to you because they don’t want to shame you (or worse, they think you will withhold help if they refuse an invitation or offer). There are real power dynamics at work in your friendship, and you are the person who has far more power. Be careful not to use your power in ways your friends will perceive as being coercive. Ask questions in an open-ended manner, and let your friendship be strong enough that they have the confidence that telling you “no” will not break your relationship. 
  • Be especially vigilant against using coercive tactics to “bring people to faith.” Just don’t do it! It doesn’t honor God, and it will likely result in derision from the refugee “convert’s” religious community. (“They only converted to receive XYZ benefits.”) It’s also likely that coerced “converts” will return to their former faith because their conversion was not genuine or well thought through.
  • Be aware of your own cultural biases and blind spots. 
  • Make sure you have the Scriptures stored up in your heart. The Holy Spirit will do the rest, bringing to mind what you already have read from the Scriptures when it is needed.
  • Lift up Jesus and talk about Him and what He said and did as much as you can. It is very helpful if you are familiar enough with the Gospels so these stories can be told pretty much verbatim. You should also practice and be able to share the whole story of God’s redemptive work from Genesis to Revelation in a concise way (2 to 5 minutes). Resources you might find helpful include The Prophet’s Story, The Big Story, and The Gospel and How To Share It.
  • Consider taking classes to hone your skills. Training opportunities are available online and through churches and other non-profits in many communities that are home to refugees and immigrants.
  • Become informed about trauma, how it impacts people, and how to show love well to people who are living in its aftermath. This is especially important when you’re working with refugees, many of whom have experienced significant trauma. Find resources in your community that promote Biblical approaches to trauma healing. 
  • Last, as at first: Pray, pray, pray. Recognize that it is God who does the work of changing hearts and opening eyes to the truth of the Gospel. Also recognize that God wants to involve you in this important work and wants to lead you and give you the words to say in these relationships.
Mike Thomas
Mike Thomas lives in a large Midwestern city with his wife Julie and their three young children. This city is the adopted home of refugees and immigrants from many of the world’s difficult-to-reach regions. Together they are seeking to evangelize and disciple while showing God’s love in practical ways to their new neighbors.
See All Posts by Mike Thomas

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