Welcoming Strangers

…A newly arrived local refugee’s 16 year old  friend used her less than perfect English skills and took him to school herself  and registered him after he had waited a month for the caseworker to do it…. there are many of these stories across the country. 
Resettlement agencies have a government contract to do a checklist of things for a limited time (90 days) for the people they resettle.  That’s their job.  They get a contract (and money) to do these things.  Some of those things include:
  1. Meet people at the airport
  2. Finding appropriate housing
  3. Provide furniture
  4. Sign up for Medicaid  & food stamps 
  5. Refer to ESL classes
  6. Obtain Social Security cards
  7. Registering kids for school
  8. Health screenings
  9. Employment referral

 If, due to caseworker overload, complexity of some cases, how long even making a medical appointment at a public clinic can take, or some other reason, it doesn’t get done, people suffer.  I see two approaches to take to this problem-for someone to hold agencies accountable to do what they contract to do, or, maybe, for the rest of us to accept the fact that it doesn’t ALWAYS get done, won’t get done if something doesn’t change and move on to How Can It Get Done and What Can We Do To Help?!  

Churches are the great untapped resource here.  We are called and commanded to love people.  This doesn’t require a great mind or a theological education.  It requires investing some time, patience, energy and creativity.  (Sometimes it’s easier to just give money).  But it’s a long-term investment that pays off no matter what the economy does or doesn’t do:) .

I found an article in the Covenant Companion this morning on creative ways for churches to welcome newcomers to their lives, their churches, and their communities (see the link). Some of her great ideas included: 

  1. Visit a refugee church (you may not understand the language, but you may recognize some of the melodies and sing along)
  2. Ask them how you can help.  Listen for answers
  3. Read to young kids in a refugee family as English practice
  4. Invite their congregation to join you for a potluck meals together
  5. Invite kids to your youth group
  6. Invite women to your women’s group
  7. Pair families by ages of children and make friends in spite of language barriers (kids will figure it out first!)
  8. Take an ESL tutoring class and tutor a family or help with homework
  9. Practice English speaking with people who don’t speak English
  10. Volunteer to take people to doctors and dentists and agency appointments (make the appointments, help with transportation-someone else may have to interpret)
  11. Help fill out forms for jobs
  12. Invite them to your holiday gatherings, go to theirs
  13. Teach computer skills (donate your used computers)
  14. Help people learn to drive and pass the driving test
  15. Help them understand budgeting in the US
  16. Host a refugee congregation in your building (thanks to Kent Covenant Church for renting space to the Karen Community and several other refugee communities!)

In summary: treat other people the way you would want to be treated if you were the newcomer.

Jesus said….”I was a stranger and you took Me in….” (Mt. 25)


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