Believe in the Lord your God, and you shall be established; believe His prophets, and you shall prosper” (2 Chron. 20:20).
The potential provided by reaching refugees
By Terri Saelee, director of Adventist Refugee and Immigrant Ministries
Believe in the Lord your God, and you shall be established; believe His prophets, and you shall prosper” (2 Chron. 20:20). This promise is certainly being fulfilled in the work launched in 2009 by the North American Division to reach and nurture refugees and immigrants in North America.
Some previously little-known nuggets of inspired counsel have guided the organization and development of the structure and strategy of Adventist Refugee and Immigrant Ministries (ARIM), and has spawned remarkable growth as a result.
More than 100 years ago Ellen White wrote: “Great benefits would come to the cause of God in the regions beyond if faithful effort were put forth in behalf of the foreigners in the cities of our homeland. Among these men and women are some who, upon accepting the truth, could soon be fitted to labor for their own people in this country and in other countries.”1
The insight that men and women who have come from other countries, once they learn the truth, can work to spread the gospel among the various language groups has opened our eyes and helped us recognize the talent we might otherwise have overlooked.
Through a series of providences God has put us in touch with some exceptionally gifted individuals from several language groups who not only already know the gospel, but are exceptionally gifted in leadership and in sharing the gospel with their own people. Because these indigenous workers have been empowered—some as local church planters, and some as church planting consultants for their language groups division-wide—the work has grown rapidly.
As of our last annual report, the number of refugee church plants has increased by 14 percent in just one year. There was a 100 percent increase in baptisms, leading to a 45 percent increase in membership over the previous year. In fact, one newly resettled refugee language group, the Karen from Myanmar (Burma), grew from a handful of believers to 45 congregations in just six years.
The number of Zomi congregations (also from Myanmar) has grown from zero to 14 congregations in that time. Many Adventist refugees are now arriving from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The total number of refugee church plants has more than doubled within the past four years.
Several of our church planting consultants have been invited to visit other countries to help organize and grow the work among their language group, sometimes in their home countries, but also in countries with a diaspora of language groups.
Yet other language groups, for whom we have no indigenous church planters or church planting consultants, are still unreached. If they are to learn the good news of salvation, it must be from someone outside their culture. We cannot wait for them to come to us; we must go to them. Once they learn the truth, they will gladly share it with their friends and relatives.
Nepali-speaking Bhutanese refugees, now numbering more than 80,000 in North America, are the largest, most receptive, yet least reached newly arrived refugee population. Numerous refugee language groups from Myanmar and other countries are still unreached. One of the best ways to impact a refugee community is by providing their children with an Adventist education.
In the words of Ellen White: “There is a great work before us. The world is to be warned. The truth is to be translated into many languages, that all nations may enjoy its pure, life-giving influence. This work calls for the exercise of all the talents that God has entrusted to our keeping—the pen, the press, the voice, the purse, and the sanctified affections of the soul. Christ has made us ambassadors to make known His salvation . . . ; and if we are clothed with the righteousness of Christ and are filled with the joy of His indwelling Spirit, we shall not be able to hold our peace. The truth will be poured forth from hearts all aglow with the love of God.”2
For more information, visit RefugeeMinistries.org.
1 Ellen G. White, in Review and Herald, Oct. 29, 1914.