Refugee Ministry is Worth it to God :: Gospel Fellowship Association Missions

Refugee Ministry is Worth it to God

Working with refugees provides unusual opportunities for Christian witness, but the challenges to making disciples among them are real. It might be that some would question the effectiveness of working with refugees. However, God must know that it is worth doing because He continues to lead His people to reach out to refugees throughout the world.

Refugee ministry can be a brief window of opportunity.

When the refugees washed over Europe a few years ago, we enjoyed a surge of evangelistic effort among them. We ministered to their needs, gave them the Scriptures, witnessed personally to them, and, in a word, befriended them. This took place for the most part outside of the church.

A year and a half later, these refugees transitioned into schooling provided by the government and began to acquire facility in the language, some faster than others. Increasingly they relied on people from their own ethnic groups to accompany them to doctor’s appointments, government offices, and shopping expeditions. They needed us less, and a good many moved on to other cities or countries.

Meanwhile, our other ministries continued or resumed: ministry among nationals, extended ministries in other locations (summer camps), and even furlough. We could not always be available, sometimes for months at a time. Others stepped up to fill the gap. Some of them were Christians, some of them were social workers, and some of them were simply their own countrymen or fellow refugees.

There was a genuine appreciation on the part of some for services and ministries rendered. Some would have been open for further contact, but as the Germans say, “You can’t dance at all the weddings,” i.e., there is only so much any one person can do. It became increasingly difficult to maintain contact with all. Phone numbers changed, people moved without notifying us, and others left the country entirely. We also left for several months. When we returned, we needed to resume our ministry among our church people, and we embarked immediately upon the summer camp ministry. By the time we were ready to re-establish contact with the refugees, some of our contacts had simply dissolved.

Refugee ministry can be limited in depth and visible fruit.

What remains? We have two Iranians who have joined our church. One would like to attend Bible school, but he is self-taught in German, and his writing skills would not permit him to do academic work on the level of German Bible school students. The other, not allowed to work, is struggling to maintain a consistent Christian life. We also have a 50-year-old former Muslim from India. He is a good witness to other Indians, but he is a blue-collar worker with little education. He is not preacher material, although he appreciates one-on-one prayer and Bible reading. We are thankful for these people, but until very recently, I have not been able to realize a 2 Timothy 2:2 situation, which produces teachers of others.

Some fruit from this ministry is elsewhere in the world. One man to whom I witnessed trusted Christ along with his family after he returned to his homeland. When persecution for the sake of Christ began, he left his homeland again and fled to a southern European country. He requests prayer as persecution has “dogged his heels.” Another refugee, in whom I invested much time over a few months, now ministers in a church in Italy.

Recently, an Iranian I had not seen in two years called. He had locked himself out of his apartment. I drove into town, picked him up, and fed him. We talked for three hours until 1:00 in the morning. He spent the rest of the night sleeping at our house. At first, he flatly denied that Jesus is God, but over time, as he saw the evidence of the Scriptures, he became convinced and eagerly prayed to “God, Jesus the Messiah.” It was a fairly long prayer, earnest, and in Persian(!). I didn't get much out of it, but I think God and the Iranian did. It was refreshing to have some of the bread that was cast on the waters many days ago return to us again. We'll see how God continues to work.

What will God do in and through these? Our confidence is that the Lord is building His church and that He is doing it on His own timetable. We are laborers together with Him (see 1 Corinthians 3:9).

Lessons learned from refugee ministry:

  1. Refugee ministry allows us to further the Gospel among numerous peoples with whom we otherwise have no opportunity. “The things which happened to us have fallen out rather to the furtherance of the Gospel” (Philippians 1:12).
  2. Fruitfulness in refugee ministry is in the hand of God. He is the giver of life. He alone knows how He will use the Word sown among them. “The seed springs and grows up, we know not how” (Mark 4:27).
  3. The nature of refugee ministry is full of interruptions, even good ones. These can affect the degree to which we are able to disciple converts and train them to be “Ephesian elders” (Acts 20:17). Effective ministry usually requires intensive, regular, and extended interaction. Refugee ministry sometimes denies this opportunity.
  4. Refugee ministry must be bathed in prayer: “Finally, brethren, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may have free course, and be glorified, even as it is with you” (1 Thessalonians 3:1). We continue to pray for many Syrians by name in whom we invested our lives and from whom we have seen no fruit at all (Ecclesiastes 11:1, 6).

In no way do I regret serving these people in the love of Christ, giving them the Word of God, and investing my life in them— even if most of them gravitated to others or dropped away completely. We experienced much joy as we saw a few refugees follow Christ, however imperfectly. The ministry among refugees continues to enrich our church in terms of our nationals ministering to people outside of their culture and accepting believers from other backgrounds. It is altogether possible that someone could contact us today and say that he has trusted Christ He could even request a Bible study meeting. Ministry to refugees is unpredictable and the visible fruit can seem small, but I would do it all again in a heartbeat.

Some might ask, “Is refugee ministry worth it?" This question bothers me. My flesh (which is what I am trying to mortify) always wants to consider the benefits for me. Yes, it is definitely worth it —for the Lord, for them, and for us. It has helped us to do what we have been commissioned to do. God will not waste His Word proclaimed to these, even if I cannot yet see how He will work.