A Different Kind of Ministry Team

by Marti Wade

“When we started working with Iraqi refugees we had the same paradigm we had when we were overseas,” says John, a Pioneer serving among refugees in the United States. “It’s just you and maybe a small team doing the work. But there are 1200 people we go to church with every week, and we realize God wants to use them, too! When you’re working with diaspora people in a place where the church is already established [like in the US] that provides a completely different dynamic.”


So John and Sylvia started mobilizing their church and other churches in their area to care for the refugees around them. They started ESL classes and recruited volunteers to provide childcare and transportation as well as help teach classes and help with furniture, groceries, and other practical needs. “The vision was that they would establish relationships with Iraqi women and get into their homes. We wanted to get Christians involved in Muslim’s lives,” Sylvia explains.


It was slow at first, but now they’re seeing a thriving network emerge. “So we’re starting to see a much bigger imprint in the community by having volunteers than we could have ourselves. With 50 families that all want to see you, you can’t go deep with them. I challenge people to get involved with ONE family. We have enough people in our church that all of our refugees could have five Christian friends.”


Sometimes the language barriers are high and the volunteers don’t know if they are making a difference. “I had a woman who volunteered to drive people to a beginning English class. They all spoke Arabic in her car. What did she expect? But she was so frustrated that she couldn’t talk to them that she quit.”


Sylvia wants to help volunteers taking a step back and understand the difference they can make even if results seem slow. “We need to share the gospel with words,” she says, “But that doesn’t negate the amazing power of what we communicate with our actions. We can communicate love and acceptance and welcome to people who have lost everything. When we do, God is glorified by that.”

John points out that the whole community is watching. They see the love and service the Christian community provides. “One guy whose wife takes classes at our church went to pick her up and was impressed at all these Christians helping Muslim women out to their cars. I was able to share the gospel with him because of it. These Christian women didn’t know that they were being watched and someone was asking questions about why they do what they do,” says John.

Word of a kind act can travel far, and that’s just as true for the actions of short-term volunteers and of long-term workers like John and Sylvia. “I’ve walked into apartments to visit friends and they say, ‘I’m on Skype with my brother in Baghdad; say hello!’ I’ve had people in Baghdad thank me for what we’re doing. News is traveling back to places like Iraq.”


Faithfulness in friendship and sharing the gospel as you share your lives may lead to greater spiritual openness over time, says John. “Share in such a way you’ll get another opportunity to share again! Because they need to hear it again and again.”

See more about John and Sylvia's ministry here.



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