“It’s a messy ministry,” said one host church leader of his experience working with refugees and immigrant churches. “But God is glorified in our willingness to work out our problems together,” said Abraham Samuel (Arabic Evangelical Presbyterian Church, Monrovia, CA, San Gabriel Presbytery).
That truth was confirmed to the more than 50 participants at the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s first consultation between presbyteries, host churches and pastors of new immigrant congregations who have significant ministries working with refugees.
The event was a chance for those vested in refugee resettlement ministries to brainstorm ways to improve their programs and continue collaborating in the future.
“It was a wide sigh of relief,” said Christopher Lovingood, executive director of Nations Ministry Center, an outreach of the Presbytery of Middle Tennessee. “We all realized that we were not alone.”
2010 saw more than 43 million people around the world forcefully displaced because of persecution related to race, religion, nationality or political and social affiliations. Approximately 75,000 refugees arrived in the United States last year, with a majority coming from Burma, Iraq, Bhutan, Iran and Somalia.
Also in 2010, the 219th General Assembly directed the General Assembly Mission Council to “empower and equip presbyteries and congregations as they respond to the needs of Iraqi refugees…”
Lovingood was particularly impressed by the consultation’s three-fold approach.
“All of our voices were heard — those of the immigrant church leaders and refugees — as well those who provide services to them,” he said. “We’ve been challenged to really listen — to really see each other.”
Mildred “Mil” Bailey of Third Presbyterian Church in Richmond, Va., had planned on retiring from her work with refugees until she attended the consultation.
“This has been so invigorating, retirement will have to wait,” she said. “We’ve got lots of new ideas and opportunities to take home and share.”
Third Presbyterian hosts the Christian Arabic Church, and Bailey and Fakhri Yacoub, the pastor of the church and Martin Basilous, an elder, attended the consultation to learn about becoming better integrated.
The mandate from the 219th GA has merged into an ongoing quest to best meet the needs of refugees, helping them integrate and including them in the fellowship of local congregations.
“It’s in the little things,” said Leni Harriott of First Presbyterian Church in Allentown, Pa., of the ministry at her church. Members sign up for everything from banking tutors to car buddies, who help refugees secure drivers licenses and purchase cars.
Several presbytery level participants shared their discovery that perhaps the responsibility of the mid-councils was to “just get out of the way” and make things easier for congregations ministering to refugees, and make ordaining pastors for immigrant churches smoother.
In the words of one immigrant pastor, “We want to become the church where we want to see our children belong — truly missional and faithful to the Gospel.”
“I came away excited about Presbyterian outreach to refugees,” said Doug Osterling, attendee and convener of the Iraq Partnership Network Refugee Working Group (IPNRWG). “I believe I witnessed something special and extraordinary.”