Photo by Jedidiah Smith
When our family moved to the Nashville area we were surprised to discover diverse peoples from all over the world living here. In Nashville, nearly 12 percent of the population was born outside of the U.S. (Nashville Mayor’s Office) and represent about 90 nations (Nashville Baptist Association). I remember in our first house stepping out on our back porch to strange but delightful aromas drifting from our neighbor’s backyard. This family of refugees from Southeast Asia did most of their cooking outside and continued that custom in our neighborhood. Over the years, our family has enjoyed sharing food and hospitality with people from various cultures living all around us.
The worldwide refugee crisis is scattering people from many nations that are considered unreached, and many are moving into our communities. Through this crisis, I believe God is sending an invitation to His church to participate in His mission to the lost (Matt. 28:18-20), the last (Matt. 24:14) and the least (Matt. 25:31-40). An invitation requires a response – an “R.S.V.P.”
Following are some practical ways that you can respond with an R.S.V.P. to God’s invitation:
Maybe you have noticed people in your own community that dress differently or speak another language. You may have already encountered someone at the grocery store, from work, or in your local school. By doing a little research, you can discover which people groups live near you and connecting points where you can meet them. Search for local organizations and ministries that serve refugees. These organizations serve as a connecting point to introduce you to immigrant families, give you training on different cultures, and provide opportunities to engage with refugees. Pray for the people God puts into your path and look for ways to connect with them.
- Share the Opportunity
As you do your research and meet refugees, share what you are learning with your local church, small group, or friends. Pray for people to join with you to serve refugees and recruit people to form a team. You will find as you get involved in people’s lives and discover their needs, it will be too much for one person to handle. You need a team to share the load and make the most of the opportunity.
Many organizations, like World Relief, local ministries, and churches have opportunities to serve new refugee families. You can volunteer to help set up a new apartment, find donated furnishings/supplies, assist with airport pick-ups, orient families on grocery shopping, practice English vocabulary for everyday living, tutor refugee youth after school, and much more. Through volunteering you will meet families, build friendships and discover that refugees are not that much different from you and your family. Learn about the ways you can volunteer in your community, or nearby, and pray about how God is leading your team to get involved.
- Practice Hospitality
Almost all refugees come from cultures that place a high value on hospitality. As you meet refugees, you will experience first-hand their welcoming spirit and generosity. Make sure you receive whatever they offer you to eat or drink. Don’t be in a hurry, linger with families as long as they like. Take your kids with you when you visit, whether it be in their home, or in a local park. Reciprocate and offer hospitality to your new friends by inviting them for a meal in your home, or by taking them out to eat. Ask permission to pray for them and pray in their presence.
For more resources about how to engage refugees in your backyard, go to:
Tim Patterson is a BGR Area Director out of Nashville, TN.