Practical Ways to Support Refugees


Welcome to the 31 Days of Global Missions with Kids series! You can view all the posts in the series here. Please remember that the goal isn’t for you to do ALL these projects, but rather pick one or two. You can download a printable worksheet here to guide you through discerning which project is best for you and the young people in your life.

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After my college graduation, I moved to San Diego and began a full-time youth ministry internship. I was 22, excited to have a real job doing church ministry, and looking for things to do, so when our children’s ministry leaders invited me to join them in leading a program called “Afternoon Blast,” I gladly jumped on board.

For the next four years, every Tuesday afternoon from four to five o’clock, you’d find me on a postage-stamp sized lawn of an apartment complex in our town.

afternoon blast 2As children from the apartments gathered on the grass, we’d pull out hula hoops and Frisbees, bubbles and crayons.

I manned the coloring station, spreading out a blanket with clipboards and coloring sheets. I would color for about 40 minutes with my little friends, chatting as we determined whether Cinderella would look better with brown or pink hair. (This was years before the current adult coloring craze! Maybe I was a trendsetter! 😉

afternoon blast 6

After a sufficient amount of playtime, we’d rally the troops for a Bible story and snack before heading home.

Over the course of more than four years, these children – mostly ages five to ten or so – became my friends. As they grew up, I delighted in seeing them, chatting with them about school and their families, and occasionally talking with their parents. It was one of the highlights of my week!

Nearly every child who came to Afternoon Blast was a refugee from Iraq.

Usually, our coloring conversation was about normal kid stuff, like favorite foods, an upcoming field trip at school, or how much homework they needed to complete that night.

But sometimes it wasn’t.

Sometimes our conversation was about bombs. Or the murder of an uncle that caused the family to flee the country. Or their experiences waiting for years in refugee camps in Syria, Jordan, Turkey, or Greece.

The children learned English as a second or third language, so sometimes I would help them find the right word to say. It is a strange moment when you are asked the English word for the object they are describing, and you have to answer “grenade.”

Most of the children were Iraqi Christians who had fled Iraq during the war of the early 2000s. Interestingly, these Chaldean Christians perform their church liturgy in Chaldean, which is the modern version of Aramaic, the language Jesus spoke.

I vividly remember one day when we discussed a recent attack on a Chaldean church back in Iraq.

The children knew some of the people who were killed in the attack, and explained to me that people from a certain religious group were responsible for the killings.

One girl responded: “I hate them.”

I was unsure of how to respond to this, but before I could even consider my response, another girl said, “We can’t say that. We can’t say that we hate them, because they are people, just like we are.”

How I wish our country, and our Church, could have that same response to those who are different than us, including refugees.

I was so blessed by my friendship with these refugee children, and I’ve continued to be involved in refugee ministry since then.

I’ve even been able to include my daughter in a few of these activities, so I’m excited to share how to be involved in serving refugees, especially with your own children.

beyond prayer and donations practical ways to support refugees

What is a refugee?

“Under both international and U.S. law, a refugee is an individual who

  • has fled his or her country of origin 
  • because of a credible fear of persecution
  • on account of their race, religion, political opinion, national origin, or social group.” (We Welcome Refugees).

If you are looking for a longer explanation, We Welcome Refugees has an excellent page put together answering basic questions about the difference between refugees, migrants, immigrants, and asylum-seekers. I learned a lot from reading it, and especially appreciated the section, How Does the Bible Inform Our Thinking on This Situation?

The United States and other Western countries typically welcome a designated number of refugees each year. The main thing to remember is that a refugee has a credible fear of persecution.

A refugee is not simply seeking monetary gain or a better life – they are seeking safety and security.

The Current Refugee Crisis

I’ve been thinking about this 31 Days of Global Missions with Kids series for months, and have had “talk about how to help refugees” penciled into this outline for a long time. Then, within the past several weeks, the news has erupted with discussion of the refugee and migrant crisis happening in the Middle East and Europe right now.

If you are looking for something to do right this second to address the crisis, there are number of excellent posts on other web sites to check out regarding the current refugee crisis of fall 2015:

Certainly, I hope that as Christians, we will respond to this particular moment moment in history. Our family has, primarily through donations to refugee organizations that are serving “in the trenches” in the Middle East.

However, I hope we won’t just settle for briefly addressing this crisis and moving on.

I also know most people who are wanting to respond to the crisis are wanting to do something in a hands-on, tangible way, with a direct connection to refugees.

I’d like to to encourage you to consider ministering to refugees already living in your own country. These refugees have gone through horrors of their own and are just as “deserving” of our help.

I also believe that our work to help successfully settle refugees here now paves the way for more refugees to be successfully settled in the future.

So, keep reading for a few ways you can help refugees in our country now.

Ways to Minister to Refugees Already Living in Your Own Country

  1. Get Connected to a Resettlement Agency

The best resource for getting connected to refugees is local resettlement agencies. All refugees in the United States are resettled by one of nine different agencies. (I’m sorry to those readers outside the U.S. because I’m not familiar with your systems, but I imagine you may have a similar agency in your country!)

If World Relief works in your area, they are wonderful – try to get connected to them first. My husband and I volunteer with them, and they are doing wonderful work.

If not, here is a list of all nine resettlement agencies (each name is linked to the web site of the agency):

2. Minister to Refugee Children in Your Community Tomorrow I’ll be sharing more about how to set up a program like Afternoon Blast for children in your community (the more common name is “Backyard Bible Club”). Of course, the program doesn’t need to be limited to refugees – anyone is welcome!

Your own children could easily be involved in this program. After my daughter I was born, I used to bring her to Afternoon Blast and the little girls loved cooing to her. Older children could participate in the games and activities.

3. Welcome a Refugee Family into Your Extended Family

Though you may be wanting to welcome a refugee family from Syria to stay in your guest room right now, the reality is that with legal red tape and limitations on who can enter the country, it’s probably not realistic.

But, you can invite a refugee family who is already living in your community to be a part of your “extended family.”

If you don’t already know a refugee family, contact a resettlement agency in your community, or find a church that works with refugees. Ask them to get you connected.

Then, invite the refugee family to your home for a meal or some kind of get together. Welcome them for holiday meals or a Sunday afternoon watching football. Ask them to teach you to give you a cooking lesson so you can learn how to make one of their favorite ethnic dishes. Offer to help fill out paperwork or find a doctor.

Your own children could – and should! – certainly be present for these activities! This is a natural way to involve your children in ministering as a family.

4. Give Christmas Gifts to Refugees

For several Christmases in two different states, my family has partnered with other families in our small group to buy Christmas gifts for a refugee family.

Like I mentioned above, contact a local resettlement agency to see if they can get you connected.

If you know of an area with lots of refugees, you could also see if the local public school has a social worker who might know of a family in need. (In San Diego our school’s social worker was wonderful at getting us connected.)

Ask the family for a list of wants and needs, then arrange a time to deliver them to the family.

Your children could help you choose gifts, assist you with wrapping, and then deliver the gifts with you.

This Global Missions with Kids series is full of thoughts and practical ideas for serving Christ alongside your children and teenagers.

**How have you responded to the current refugee crisis? How would you like to respond in the future? Leave a comment below.

3 thoughts on “Practical Ways to Support Refugees

  1. Wow. Translating “grenade” for a child. I like that you shared your experience with helping refugees. I have shared a couple articles on Facebook and I’m now following 2 of the local refugee support organizations I’ve discovered but I haven’t taken the step of actually helping yet. It’s inspiring to read about your experience. Thank you!

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