Helping Refugees Acclimate to the Community: Northwest Bible Church in Texas

If your community is home to international refugees relocated to the United States, start a ministry to help them become acclimated to a new culture and way of life. Refugee assistance organizations like Church World Service or International Rescue Committee may be able to provide valuable information as you begin.

The Refugee Outreach ministry of Northwest Bible Church in Dallas has helped ease the transition for refugees like Mchide-wa Dunia, who arrived in the United States from the Congo in 2005. When he arrived, he could neither read nor write English, had little to call his own and had only three months to find a job before a refugee placement agency would stop paying his expenses.

Dunia credits church volunteers with teaching him English and directing him to a separate ministry run by church members, where he obtained donated clothes and household items for free. A Christian before he left Africa, Dunia began attending Northwest Bible, served other African refugees with the same kind of help he received, and spoke to them about Northwest Bible.

The church started its refugee ministry about seven years ago with the help of a Tanzanian who attended Dallas Theological Seminary at the time and introduced many African refugees to the church. Like Dunia, they have helped other refugees learn about the ministry, which includes providing weeknight programs for children, mentors for adults and a Sunday afternoon church service in Swahili, according to Christy McFarland, the former local missions pastor at Northwest.

Dunia was among the first people to request a Swahili service to give African refugees a place to listen in their own language. The service, which began in September 2007, has many typical worship elements, like singing, prayer and a sermon.

An African leadership team that includes refugees at the church provides leadership and ministry for the Swahili service, McFarland says.

“Most people, when they come here, are in a bad neighborhood, but if they come to Northwest Bible Church, they are in good hands,” Dunia says. “I’m so encouraged to continue to help at Northwest Bible Church. … I want to keep all my family in Jesus. I want to keep all my family in Christian ministry.”

Some refugees say what they want most is relationships with American Christians, McFarland notes. “What we’ve attempted to do over time is just develop friendships that provide opportunities to care”

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