Ways to Serve New Immigrants in Your Community

  • 13 June 2017
  • Randy Wollf

Immigrant familyNot everyone can sponsor a refugee family. However, there are many ways that we can serve new immigrants who are living in our communities. My family had the amazing privilege of living in close community with new immigrants for seven months. New Hope Community Services had purchased an apartment building in Surrey, British Columbia for housing refugees and helping them settle into life in Canada. They were looking for host families to move in and do life with these newcomers (you can read about our experiences as a host family by reading a past blog called Do Something). 

As we interacted with new immigrants, I learned new ways to serve them. Here are some ideas for how you can serve new immigrants, even if you aren’t acting as their official sponsor: 

Develop Your Cultural Skill Set

The first way of serving immigrants is to develop your own cultural skill set so that you are in a better position to serve them. How do we do this?

  • Expect cultural differences – Some cultures are task-based while others are more relational. Some are individualistic while others are collectivistic (emphasizing the significance of groups). Some cultures tend to plan their time while others view time as flexible. The first step to developing your cultural skill set is to expect these kinds of cultural differences and to recognize that one cultural perspective is not necessarily better than another. 
  • Adapt to those around you – As you encounter cultural differences, discern which of your values at play in the situation are negotiable and which are non-negotiable. Be flexible with those that are negotiable. 
  • Dialogue about cultural differences – Be open with your immigrant friends about the differences you observe. Listen to the reasons why they do what they do. Carefully and sensitively communicate the reasons for your cultural preferences. As you do so, you will build mutual understanding and respect.

Help with Practical Needs

Immigrants often have many practical needs, especially during the first few months in their new country. They may need help finding and setting up a home, going to the doctor or dentist, registering children for schools, setting up a bank account, mastering local transportation, shopping, and learning English. Helping out with these very real and urgent needs can be such a blessing to our new friends.

Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert, in their book When Helping Hurts, describe how we need to transition our helping efforts from relief to rehabilitation to development. We must move beyond the initial phase of relief where we’re helping them survive. We want to help people move toward rehabilitation (helping them experience the positive elements that were part of their lives before the crisis) and then development (empowering them to realize their full potential in their new home). As they move through these stages, they will not only settle well, but be in a better position to pay your generosity forward to others in need of help.

Robert Lupton in Toxic Charity says, "When we do for those in need what they have the capacity to do for themselves, we disempower them." He goes on to say, "Giving to those in need what they could be gaining from their own initiative may well be the kindest way to destroy people." 

We want to help people in practical ways, but ultimately, we want them to become self-sufficient even as they develop healthy, interdependent relationships.

Build Bridges of Understanding around Faith

As we build relationships with immigrants, we will have an opportunity to listen to their faith stories. Look for God at work in their lives. How has He planted eternity in their hearts? Pray for them. Pray that those seeds of truth will grow.

As you lovingly live the gospel, look for opportunities to talk about Jesus. We have found that Muslim immigrants (as well as immigrants from other faith backgrounds) are often willing to discuss Jesus. In addition, share other Bible stories. Even as you share about your faith, don’t try to dismantle their worldview. Avoid arguments. Yet, be ready to answer their questions in an open and sensitive way.

As God provides opportunities, respectfully share your faith story with them—how you accepted Christ and the difference He has made and is making in your life. Invite them to your church or small group, as appropriate. Pass along Christian resources that build on what you have been sharing with them (see Six Ways Anyone Can Share Christ for more ideas).

I remember an experience we had with one of the Muslim refugee couples in our apartment building. We were visiting one night and the husband was sharing how he had been attending a local church to learn English and make contacts. He quite liked the services, but was confused about one thing. What were those little cups of juice and crackers all about?

That night, my wife and I had the privilege of sharing the meaning behind those communion elements—how Jesus died for our sins and rose again from the dead.

Partway through our conversation, my wife slipped out to our apartment to get a copy of the Jesus DVD in our friend’s first language. When we presented it to the husband, he was amazed that he could watch the story of Jesus in his own language. He even teased us about why we had not given this to him sooner.

As we develop our cultural skill set, help in practical ways, and build bridges of understanding, our lives will be enriched by our immigrant friends and we will be able to help them find new hope in their new home.

Randy Wollf is the Director of MinistryLift and Associate Professor of Practical Theology and Leadership Studies at MB Seminary.