GCI Equipper

From Greg: The refugee crisis—how can we respond?

Dear Pastors and Ministry Leaders:

Greg and Susan Williams
Greg and Susan Williams

In 2014, nearly 60 million people were displaced from their homes and native countries by war. The spotlight in 2016 is on the crisis in Syria where almost half the population have become refugees, leading to the largest migration in human history. This global refugee crisis must not be ignored. But how can GCI congregations respond?

Syrian refugees in Hungary (via Wikimedia Commons)
Syrian refugees in Hungary (via Wikimedia Commons)

In January I attended the GC2 Summit near Chicago. It addressed the global refugee crisis and the church’s response. Before the conference I wondered what I would learn that would apply to a small denomination with little churches. The Spirit opened my eyes, and I learned a lot.

I’m thankful GCI’s churches, ministries and missions have a good reputation around the world. However, most of what we do is inwardly-focused. There are millions of refugees in the world who are suffering greatly and we can help—not on our own, but by partnering with the larger body of Christ.

Pastor Bill Hybels of Willow Creek Community Church recently told his congregation that, “The refugee crisis is too big for us to sit this one out.” I agree, and I sense Christ calling us to participate more actively in what he is doing to help refugees. Each of them is a beloved child of God and we are called to assist in meaningful ways. In doing so, we must, of course, exercise wisdom. One Summit speaker warned against being an “SUV” (a Spontaneous, Unaffiliated Volunteer). Doing so is a common mistake as people, moved by their emotions, don’t count the cost before jumping in. Gaining knowledge and training is the place to start and here are some helpful resources recommended at the Summit:

As you’ll learn in the other articles in this issue, serving an individual refugee or refugee family is intensive work with many details, especially on the front end. But it’s a two-way path with both parties sharing and being enriched. While the refugee is recipient of quite a lot of goods and services as they resettle, the assisting church is blessed by the cultural enrichment and the forming of new relationships.

I encourage your congregation to get involved. As you consider doing so, ask these two questions: 1) What do we do well? 2) How does that match up with the refugee needs in our community? True help occurs when your congregation’s resources match well the refugees’ needs.

Also remember that it’s best to help in ways that are relational. James Misner of World Relief challenged those at the Summit to identify a refugee living in their neighborhood and take them a plate of cookies, and then be willing to listen to their story. As we do, our hearts cannot help but respond with love and compassion.

Rather than church growth, our primary goal in helping refugees is, in a culturally sensitive way with no strings attached, to extend Jesus’ love and generosity. We do so knowing Jesus will meet us and the refugees in the midst of a growing relationship, and just as we graciously receive these new friends into the physical communities where we live, we also can invite and welcome them, if they so desire, into the fellowship of the church where we worship.

Our response to the refugee crisis must be one of love, not fear. It is Jesus’ love that compels us to respond, and we do so in the power of his faith, hope and love. This crisis provides opportunities for your congregation to rise up and be Jesus’ hands and feet in serving hurting, displaced people—one person, or one family, at a time. Our goal is not simply to provide a place for these immigrants to live, but to provide a place for them to belong. Will your congregation be that place?

As you read the other articles in this issue, and research the websites linked above, you’ll find compelling stories of human suffering. As you do, I pray that not only will your heart be broken for their pain, but that your heart will be expanded so that you see where and how your congregation can make a positive difference.

If your congregation is already reaching out to help refugees, I thank you, and I encourage you to share what you’ve learned in the leave a reply (comment) box below.

Yours in Christ,
Greg Williams

Nova’s story

In this article, Nova Musafiri, a refugee who settled in Canada, tells his story.

I left my country in April 1993 because of security issues: students were arrested, beaten to death and tortured because of a dictatorial regime, which reigned for over 30 years. I did not have a choice, but had to escape in order to save my life.

Nova and his children
Nova and his children

I went to Kenya to seek protection and I was accepted as an asylum-seeker and refugee under the auspices of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). In Kenya, refugees are not allowed to stay in the capital city, move freely within the country, work, study, or do business. I was sent to live in a desert refugee camp called Kakuma near the southern Sudanese border. Life in the camp was too difficult– no shelter, not enough water, not enough food to eat, the sun was 104 to 117 degrees Fahrenheit. Nothing could be grown because it was a desert with sand everywhere, lots of wind and no trees. The camp was full of poisonous scorpions and snakes, but God’s protection was always there for me. I stayed there from 1993 to December 2008.

The wars, conflicts, and killing of innocent people are caused by politicians who are well protected. Innocent refugees pay the price. Despite a difficult life in a refugee camp, God did not leave me alone, he directed me to be part of Grace Communion International (WCG) in 2002. I decided to start a church under the mandate of WCG and through this church we got prayer support from our church leaders around the world, particularly in the UK, Nairobi, and Canada. God connected us with some of his people.

James Henderson and his wife decided to risk their lives and visit us in Kakuma camp. It was not easy for them to come into a desert area and undergo the harsh life in the camp, but because of the love of Christ they decided to visit despite the security issues in and around the camp. Many refugees were killed in the camp by armed people. Others died from malnutrition, and children suffered from difficult sicknesses due to lack of proper medical treatment.

When I was in a refugee camp, I did not have any hope, any future, and did not know what would happen to my life since there was no peace in my country and I could not go back. But God knew, and by his grace I was chosen out of 70,000 refugees to come to Canada as a permanent resident. I did so in December 2008 along with my wife and one child.

Life in Canada was a shock to me with its new culture, new food, different weather, and with its public transportation system in Ottawa on strike; but the support and love we received from the GCI members in Ottawa was beyond our understanding. The dedicated people of God, with God’s love, helped us settle in Canada. Small contributions made a big impact; thank you GCI-Ottawa for your support!

Living in Canada has changed my families’ life. We can move freely, I can work, and we have peace. Helping a refugee get out of the refugee life is an unforgettable gift to someone’s life. Around 300 GCI church members are still in the Kakuma refugee camp—they have been living there since 1996 with no hope of getting out.

May God grant his mercy and protection to the refugees of the world.

Welcome home to Ottawa

This article is from Fraser Henderson, one of the pastors in GCI’s Ottawa, Canada, congregation.

Fraser and Julie Henderson
Fraser and Julie Henderson

It’s hard to describe what it’s like arriving in Canada in the dead of winter. The -13 degree Fahrenheit weather is likely to elicit a curse even from those with robust reigns on their tongues. For the refugees, despite the blistering cold and stark landscapes, there is one thing they can say about this new location they haven’t been able to say for years and sometimes even decades: they are home. Many of those we have been sponsored to immigrate to Canada have chosen to make the sponsoring GCI congregation their spiritual home as well.

One cannot help but notice the sense of belonging they have found in GCI’s congregation in Ottawa. The members who donated many of their clothes and furniture along with much of their time have become family to our ever-growing community of refugees. There is a distinctive buzz when you walk into the sanctuary, one reflective of the usual conversations we had in our church, now punctuated by the joyous sounds of children playing.

Our congregation has been revitalized by the presence of many refugee families. We now have a vibrant youth ministry. Another area that has seen a surge of new life is our worship ministry. Once a month we are now led in worship by the Hope Choir, a group composed almost entirely of refugees. They also sell CDs and perform outside the church to raise money for orphans in Uganda. Their contribution has been an inspiration to many in the congregation.

The contributions we’ve received from the refugees far outweigh the work needed to help them acclimatize. They have become a core part of our congregation and continue to help us grow through their eager participation in evangelism. Most refugees that have attended have reached out to friends, many of whom now also attend our congregation.

Perhaps the greatest inspiration I’ve gotten from the refugee community has been their desire to share the grace they’ve been given with other refugees out there. They’ve worked hard to help people who have been through similar situations adjust to the new life they have here in Canada. Heading up the work we do with refugees is Nova Musafiri (see the article in this issue). His story demonstrates so clearly both the ordeals refugees have to go through but also the incredible gratitude they have in being welcomed into their new family.

At a time when rhetoric, even amongst Christians, is trending towards the extreme, it’s important to remember the roots of Christianity. Christ himself was a refugee in Egypt and every Christian was once a refugee fleeing enslavement to sin. Christ said “Come to me all who are weary and I shall give you rest.” Let us emulate him by welcoming in the weary refugees of the world.

Helping a refugee family in Los Angeles

This article is from Janet Morrison who directs Great Commission Trips, one of GCI Generations Ministries’ mission organizations. 

The first time I saw them was at LAX—seven Congolese refugees from the Dzaleka Refugee Camp in Malawi coming to a new world, a new culture. Though they had heard many things about the U.S., they did not really know what they were getting into. Neither did I.

Meeting the seven refugees at the Los Angeles International Airport (LAX)

The story began for us when we visited the GCI church in Dzaleka refugee camp in Malawi back in 2011. A few years after that we heard that some of the refugees were allowed to move to Australia, and we put them into contact with a pastor there. In 2015, we heard that three GCI families would be moving to the U.S.

Their paperwork asked “Do you know anyone in America?” The only name they knew was mine. So the refugee agency said they would try to help them move to somewhere near us. There were two major problems: language and money. Los Angeles County is an expensive place to live, and if you don’t speak English or Spanish, and can’t drive, it is difficult to get a job. Lokondela and her family did not know English, so they went to Phoenix, where there is a small Swahili-speaking community and the cost of living is lower.

Ndale knew some English, and wanted to come to Los Angeles. But it was difficult to find anyone willing to rent to a family of seven people with no job. So the family stayed in a motel for a couple of weeks; the refugee agency finally found a rental in Lancaster, perhaps the least expensive part of L.A. County. It was also the city that was the furthest from where I live.

Even before the family arrived, GCI congregations here gathered clothing, food, kitchenware, car seats, and located surplus furniture for the family. Once they had a place to live, we gathered it in a U-haul and moved it to Lancaster. The house had been vacant for some time, so it needed some repairs as well.

1st day at their house
At their new home

There were numerous appointments that had to be kept: for social security, state identification cards, welfare agencies, food stamps, employment agencies, health care agencies and schools. We made many trips to Lancaster; sometimes we had to rent a vehicle large enough to transport the whole family 75 minutes to their refugee medical appointments back in Glendale.

Although helping the refugees was practically a full-time job for a few weeks, the work is slowing down and the family is finding a routine in schools and employment training. There are many hurdles yet to come at school, employment, English language learning, and medical concerns.

Their first Christmas in the U.S.

What lessons have we learned? Every refugee family is different; families come in different sizes, shapes, skills and languages. Spanish-speaking refugees, for example, will find it easier to assimilate, because there is already an existing community of refugees who can help the newcomers with housing, jobs, government benefits, etc. A Muslim refugee will have different experiences than a Christian. If we intentionally look for refugees to help, our experience may be different than when the situation simply arrives on our doorstep, as it did mine.

Refugee agencies: Los Angeles County has seven different nonprofit agencies to help refugees. Some of them focus more on one people group than another, but most work with all groups. Some of the agencies are connected to a specific denomination, but this does not mean that they focus on people of that denomination, nor even that they try to funnel people into their denomination. If we offer to help, they will view us as allies, not as competitors. To locate refugee agencies in your city google “Refugee agencies in (your city)” Check their website for ways you can help. Call and ask if there is a family that needs help.

Money: Refugees are given some cash when they first arrive. Government agencies provide welfare, housing assistance, food assistance, medical services, job-training programs, etc. The benefits system is difficult to navigate and the amounts can change without any reason being given. For Ndale and Adidja, the welfare assistance is not enough to pay their rent, so they are drawing down the initial cash they were given. After they have been here for six months, they will need to begin paying back their airfares, too. So there is pressure to get a job.

Food: Food is a basic necessity, and it is something that most of us can supply, so the refugees were given a lot of food. But as it turns out, they did not need as much as we gave them. The EBT card (food stamps) program works well, and cannot be used for non-food items. So Ndale and Adidja have extra food, but a more limited supply of diapers, toiletries, and similar needs. The main value of giving food is probably not nutritional, but social: it is a culturally acceptable way of showing support.

Community: Refugees have given up one community and culture to come here. They would of course rather come here than go back to the place they fled from, but they still face a significant cultural adjustment. They can’t just read a book and change their values and expectations overnight. If they cannot speak English or Spanish, their sense of isolation increases. Churches can provide some of what they need; it is also important that some individuals have the time to talk with them, transport them, teach them to ride a bus, encourage them, and help them with the paperwork. Helping this family through the challenges of a different culture has been a learning experience and a joy. I highly recommend it.

Here is a helpful video on this important topic:

A Call and Response: Reaching Out to Refugees in Phoenix

Kid’s Korner: Equipping children to know, grow and show God’s love

by Susi Albrecht and Nancy Akers

Kid's Korner logo
Teach children how they should live, and they will remember it all their lives. (Proverbs 22:6)

The Year of the Child is GenMin’s theme for 2016 with the goal of encouraging all of us to focus with intentionality on our precious children! An important way to do that is by providing Children’s Church—a place at church where the children can bond, learn and grow, while discovering what God has to say to them through the Bible.

For our teaching in Children’s Church to be effective, we must not teach the Bible as a collection of unrelated stories. Children need to learn that the Bible is one unified story of redemption in and through Jesus Christ. That story is the gospel, and true heart transformation takes place as a child experiences the gospel.

There is no age too soon (or too late, for that matter) when a person can hear the good news of Jesus’ unending love for them. When a child comes to understand that Jesus is their personal friend and Savior it’s one of the most rewarding moments for parents and congregations to celebrate.

Of course, there are many different approaches to conducting Children’s Church (and other forms of age-graded family ministry). What works in one congregation might not in another. Also, there are opposing viewpoints concerning ministry to children, each claiming to be the right one. But we (Susi and Nancy) feel that each children’s ministry is as unique as the children being served. That being said, there are helpful and tested approaches that we think will be valuable to you. We want to take time in each issue of Equipper to explore some of the options. It’s our goal to offer ideas, give creative ways of sharing the gospel with children and families. We encourage you to share your experiences using the comments feature at the bottom of the page.

Together we have many years of experience organizing and teaching Children’s Church, including choosing curricula and coordinating events. Of course, the greatest place we’ve learned how to minister to children is in raising our own children (and for Nancy, that includes grandchildren). We’re passionate about our children, as we know you are too. They are our most urgent and important mission field.

Connecting with children, holding their attention, getting them involved and guiding them to take ownership of their church family—these are big topics worth careful exploration. Often, we fall into the trap of simply patterning children’s ministry after adult programs. Instead, we need to seek input from the children in shaping the ministry. What kids lack in maturity and life experience, they make up for in enthusiasm, creativity and energy. For example, with loving guidance, children are often unapologetic, effective evangelists. It’s our job to equip and unleash them so they may find their purpose in God.

But what if you do not have children in your congregation, should you just skip over this section of Equipper? Please don’t! We all have children in our lives, maybe not currently in our congregation, but certainly in our families, neighborhoods and communities. Helpful points for children’s church and family ministry can also be applied to any circumstance where we encounter children. We need to be prepared and intentional at all times to share the love of Jesus with children.

The famous preacher D. L. Moody once came home from a tent revival and reported to a friend that two and a half people were saved that night. The friend replied, “Oh, so two adults and a child?” Moody responded, “No, two children and one adult. The two children have the opportunity to experience the love of God their whole life.”

We’re excited to share our experience with you, and we welcome your suggestions and questions (submit them using the comments section at the bottom of this page).

P.S. Though Easter has come and gone, its message is important every day. For a clear, concise way to tell the story from a child’s perspective, watch this video:

On YouTube at http://youtu.be/q922E4yNdH8.