Ready, Set, Go!…But How? Practical advice on serving refugees & immigrants

You want to serve your refugee and immigrant neighbors?

That is fantastic! How do you go about accomplishing that goal? Sometimes the topic may feel so big or politically charged that you are not sure how to take action, how to go from the idea to the actions. Here are a few things to consider…

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7 Things to Know About Working with Refugees

Refugees face many challenges when they arrive to the US. The cultural, linguistic, and institutional differences can create significant barriers for them, but as Christians, we can help them overcome those barriers and adjust to their new lives. Welcoming refugees in our city is the first step, but here are some tips for communication and compassion for those looking to get more involved.

Continue reading “7 Things to Know About Working with Refugees”

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L-O-V-E

L-O-V-E.

Arguably, the most powerful word in existence, and even more so in action. Love is a force like no other. It covers a multitude of sins and darkness, including hatred, racism, fear, and indifference. Love gets so watered down, as we use it to describe our emotions about one thing or another, but true, pure, unconditional love comes from the Father and can only be felt when we give ourselves over to the Creator (who Himself is love) and made us in His image. Continue reading “L-O-V-E”

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Wall-Breakers

The day’s light was just beginning to dim at the onset of a crisp, autumn evening.

The cool air made for perfect weather for a walk around the neighborhood. Children’s laughter echoed down the car-lined streets as friends gathered to play in the grass beyond the sidewalks. Some parents and other adults, recently returned from a day at work, trickled outside to share in the enjoyment of the beautiful evening.

As I strolled down the road, another gentleman was just reaching the sidewalk. We exchanged names and pleasantries and briefly talked about the nice weather, work, and family before our paths took us in different directions. I rounded the bend and squeezed to the side of the pathway to allow space for two young women, one of them pushing a baby stroller carrying a bright-eyed infant, to pass by on my left. They smiled warmly and said hello in passing.

I noticed one of my son’s friends playing soccer with some other boys from the neighborhood and stopped to greet him. I asked how school was going and listened as he told me about a recently acquired Pokémon card. His mom, a friend of our family, invited me in for tea, but I had to decline. I already had plans and couldn’t take her up on the offer this time. We said goodbye with the promise of getting our kids together to play sometime soon.

It is a wonderful neighborhood filled with loving families, friendly faces, energetic children, and joy in life.

But, how did you picture that neighborhood?

What did those faces look like in your mind’s eye? Where would you find this place? Who are the people who live there, what do they do for a living, and what is their background?

This brief story is an account of one evening walk that I had through a neighborhood in Pittsburgh. What I didn’t tell you is that the people I mentioned were from the Congo, Syria, and Nepal living in the United States as internationally displaced refugees. I did my best to paint a picture through my words, but they are not at all embellished or untrue in their description. This neighborhood is a welcoming and friendly place where I and my family love to spend time.

Is this what you would imagine as a description of a community largely comprised of diverse refugees?

These are our neighbors, and though they are typically very welcoming, hospitable, and generous, many of these people have never had an American friend or even had an American visit them in their home or apartment.

It’s not actually there, but you can almost see the wall that divides this neighborhood from the rest of the surrounding community.

Not long ago, I sensed the Lord speaking to me as He said,

people are building walls that are making it harder for others to get to Me.

My heart was broken at this thought! To the contrary, it is our responsibility to be wall-breakers, to bridge the gap, and to welcome our neighbors with Godly love and compassionate friendship.

Take a step out in faith and go for a walk…it’s amazing where God will lead you!


Adam Gebhart, Founder and Director Agapao Refugee Ministry

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Ordinary People Living Out an Extraordinary Calling to Love

Imagine 2017

Over 600 completely average people joined us for Imagine last weekend. We joined together because we believe that the gospel of Jesus Christ is that He came to seek and to save sinners just like us. We also believe that the whole of the Gospel is much more radical: it invites us to live as a disciple of the One who fed the hungry, clothed the naked, welcomed children, and spent time with those society deemed unworthy and outcasts.

 

This past weekend, over 600 ordinary followers of Jesus joined together to learn how to better seek justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God (Micah 6:8). We recognized the fears that often paralyze us, and we leaned into the truths from Scripture: that the same way our Savior walked right into the “Samarias” of His world, we are called to the “Samarias” of ours…the places others would rather avoid: the streets, the group home, the orphanage, the prison, the abortion clinic, the rehab center, and the strip club. He walked in, bent down, and looked people right in the eye because relationships transform. He not only calls us to follow Him, but equips us as we do.

 

“Imagine made me realize that my fear of stepping out is normal, and reminded me that God can use anyone.”

“Some moments my heart was breaking and at the same time my fears are lessening. Opening my mind to what it means to truly love others as God loves us!”

“It gave me further conviction to open up to more possibilities that previously scared me.”

 

Throughout the weekend together we considered the idea of “What’s my one?” Our God is an intentional God seeking out the one lost sheep, the one lost coin, and the prodigal son (Luke 15). He has designed and equipped each of us with a different, yet complementary role to play in living out the Gospel (Romans 12:3-6). As each attendee prayerfully considers, “What’s my one?”, together we are able to make an impact in our world.

Here are just a few of the “ones” God led attendees to:

  • Haiti
  • Foster Dad
  • Short-term missions
  • Mentoring
  • Cambodia
  • Refugees learning English
  • Sex Trafficking
  • Strengthening a culture of life in our churches
  • China special needs adoption
  • Foster mom advocate
  • Homelessness
  • Encouraging adoptive families

 

Our prayer is that each person to whom the Lord spoke one thing would respond with prompt obedience to this call. Imagine what would happen if followers of Jesus took a stand for the hungry, the hurting and the fatherless. Let us bring that to life each and every day of the coming year!

Our deepest appreciation to each speaker, exhibitor and to the team of volunteers who planned and executed this event. Our time together was encouraging, refreshing, and equipping. We look forward to seeing you at Imagine 2018.

 

We’d love to hear your story of how God is using you, a completely ordinary person to live out His extraordinary calling to love.

Email us at connect@imagineconferencepgh.com

For encouragement and practical help living out this calling year round, be sure to subscribe to our blog.

 

 

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Refugees in the Bible

The existence of refugees is nothing new.

Today, the refugee crisis in Syria continues to make headlines, but in 2003 it was over 2 million refugees fleeing the war in Iraq. In 1994, 2.5 million Sudanese fled the war in the Darfur region, and in the same year, over 2 million people left their homes to escape genocide in Rwanda. Around 2.7 million refugees escaped the Bosnian war in 1992, five million left Soviet-occupied Afghanistan in 1979, and the dictatorship of Idi Amin forced thousands of Asians from Uganda in 1972. During the late 1970’s over 3 million people fled from Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos with around 1.3 million resettling in the United States. In 1948, the Arab-Israeli War resulted in around 5 million Palestinian refugees. Still, the single largest refugee crisis in world history occurred in 1945 during World War II as over 40 million Europeans fled their homes and countries. Well over a million more refugees resulted from World War I in 1914, 2 million Jews escaped persecution in Russia in 1881, and, in 1783, over 10 million Muhacirs fled persecution in their respective countries to settle in what is modern-day Turkey.

The list goes on and on, yet these are only some of the major refugee crises in the past 250 years!

So, let’s look at some of the earliest refugees in history, as recorded in the Bible. Adam and Eve were effectively refugees after their sin resulted in their expulsion from the Garden of Eden. Cain was similarly banished to wander the earth while Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca, and Jacob were at one point or another forced to live in different lands to escape famine. Moses and the Israelites fled from persecution in Egypt, Naomi fled from famine, David fled from Saul, and Elijah fled from King Ahab. The Israelites were displaced in exile to Assyria and then Babylon before Nehemiah began the return to Jerusalem. Ezra, Esther, Mordecai, Ezekiel, Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were all forced from their homelands for different reasons.

And then there is Jesus who was born in Bethlehem rather than Nazareth because of a government ordered census which required temporary displacement. Shortly after his birth, Jesus, along with Mary and Joseph, fled to Egypt to escape the murderous orders of Herod. Have you noticed the incredible notoriety of these Biblical refugees?

Not only does God care deeply for the refugees in the world, he uses them in tremendous ways. God also uses forced migration to further His kingdom and spread the gospel.

In Acts 8, persecution of the early Christians displaced them into different regions. The result of this was that,

“those who were scattered went about preaching the word” (Acts 8:4).

So, while I would never claim that God causes refugee crises, he surely uses refugees and the scattering of peoples to spread the gospel message and increase our faith in Him.

Beside all of this, we can consider ourselves Heavenly refugees. Ever since Adam and Eve were expelled from the garden, mankind has lived apart from God’s manifest presence and the amazing homeland that was originally created for us. Jesus’ sacrifice offers the opportunity to restore that relationship and return us to an eternal life with him in Heaven. Though we remain here on Earth as a result of sinful exile, “our citizenship is in Heaven” (Philippians 3:20).

Being considered spiritual refugees in a foreign land, unified in the belief that “in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith” (Galatians 3;26), we await the time when we will return home with our Heavenly Father.

God cares enough about our “refugee status” to redeem us through Jesus’ death and resurrection, he cared about the many refugees in the Bible as he provided for them and used them in his plan, and he surely cares about the millions of refugees in the world today.

Register for the Imagine Conference


Adam Gebhart, founder and Director, Agapao Refugee Ministry

 

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Perspectives: Understanding God’s Heart for the World

“Missions is not the ultimate goal of the church. Worship is. Missions exists because worship doesn’t. Worship is ultimate, not missions, because God is ultimate, not man.”
John Piper

Several years ago I had the privilege of taking a class at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary called “Perspectives on the World Christian Movement”. This class excited me personally, and I signed up with the hopes of gaining insight on engaging internationals right here in Pittsburgh. Missions is a great passion of mine, having received a Masters in Arts in Religion with a focus on missions at Trinity School for Ministry in Ambridge, PA. My passion has led me to build relationships with my neighbors with Muslim backgrounds, work with Campus Crusade for Christ (Cru) in Australia, engage with Pittsburgh Regional International Student Ministry (PRISM), and purposefully reach out to internationals in my neighborhood. I knew this class would only further ignite my heart for missions. I was right.

I was blown away by the class. We studied God’s heart for the unreached, the biblical call to reach the nations, the history of missions, missional approaches throughout the centuries, and we ultimately gained a deeper understanding of God.

The accessibility of the class was incredibly encouraging. The material was applicable to anyone who stepped through the door-whether a person had previous involvement in missions, worked at a church, was a lay leader in the church, or was a Christian simply wanting to learn more. I was very impacted by the class.  The content was straightforward, deeply biblical, and helped us move toward God’s heart for the world and Himself.

To my surprise several of the lessons were taught by mission-minded pastors and leaders that I had already rubbed shoulders with in the city.  I made new connections with people doing ministry in the city and learned practical next steps for engaging more intentionally with my Muslim friends in the city. It was also incredibly encouraging to see a fellow church staff member in attendance receive the nudge from the Lord to begin a prayer group for the church. They have been meeting for over a year now and have spread over to an additional church campus.

I was encouraged to hear that “Perspectives on the World Christian Movement” would be represented at the Imagine Conference this year. I want to strongly encourage anyone looking to know more about God’s heart for the world to consider participating. Do not let anything stop you from pursuing God’s call for you in this area. As I think of a Christian’s call to “proclaim the excellencies of Him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9), I am also reminded of the promise made in Romans 8:31-39: nothing can “separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:39). As we serve God and our hearts align more closely with His, may we be reminded of the hope and security we have in Him.
“What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?” Romans 8:31

Register for the Imagine Conference to discover more of God’s heart for the world and where you fit in.


Pat Michael, North Way Oakland Outreach Director (In Partnership with Didasko Ministries)
patm@northway.org

 

For more information on a Perspectives Class near you, click here.

Next year’s Persepectives course: January 22-May 7th 2018

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What is a Refugee?

You have probably heard a lot about refugees in the news and in political discussions, but what is a refugee anyway?  And why are there refugees?

Simply put, a refugee is someone who has been forced to leave their home country to escape war, persecution, or natural disaster. For example, long-lasting civil wars in Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo have forced peaceable citizens to flee for their lives. Also, over 4.8 million people have been registered as refugees due to the Syrian civil war, with more being added to that number daily. Anyone of Nepali ancestry living in Bhutan has had their citizenship and civil rights revoked, forcing over 100,000 to leave. When no neighboring country would allow entry, they settled in refugee camps on the border of Nepal. Additionally, after seeking the creation of an independent state, the Karen people have been subjected to decades or persecution that continues today. The Burmese army regularly burns Karen villages and even attacks the refugee camps. Doctors and informants who helped U.S. soldiers in Iraq have had to flee their country for fear of retribution for assistance provided during wartime. These are just a few of the many situations that are causing forced migration. These are the refugees of the world.

Today, there are over 65 million refugees, asylum-seekers, and internally displaced people across the globe – more than any other time in history. These are not people who want a slice of the American pie. They are people for whom returning to their home country would mean continued persecution and death. For them, migration is not a choice, it is a necessity for survival.

The specific causes of each situation are unique, but the results are all too similar. Most refugees would prefer to stay in their home country, but when forced into camps the next best option is resettlement into a foreign country. For most of us, this is where the crisis hits home, right here in the United States.

Recently there has been a lot of publicity about the various aspects of the U.S. refugee resettlement program, the vetting process for refugees, and the politics surrounding the temporary immigration ban. You may be wondering, what is our role as men and women of Faith? When we look to the Scriptures it is clear:

“When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.”

Leviticus 19:33-34

Putting all political debates and affiliations aside, we believe that it is our responsibility, as Christians, to reach out with Godly love to the refugees who are resettled here. 

Perhaps your first step in loving your refugee neighbors as yourself is attending the Imagine Conference? You don’t want to miss this incredible opportunity to learn more about their plight and seek out your place in this quickly growing area of ministry.

Register for the Imagine Conference

Adam Gebhardt, Founder and Director, Agapao Refugee Ministry

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