DALLAS - The world is coming to Texas, landing at the airport with a single bag.
Texas is the leading point of arrival for refugees, who often land with all of their belongings in an issued bag. With this small cache of items, a family will begin a new life in an unfamiliar place with unfamiliar customs.
"There's gold in those bags," said John Parsons, World Relief regional director. "Actually, what's in there is worth more than gold."
Beyond the sentimental value of the objects, the bags contain the paperwork needed to live and work in the United States. As refugees settle in a land where little is like the society they fled, those are some of the only navigation tools they have.
Unless they have trusted guides, noted presenters during Texas Baptists Refugee Summit Oct. 4-5 at Wilshire Baptist Church. Jalil Dawood is a refugee from Iraq who first went to Rome. There, a street preacher introduced him to the gospel. He would later come to the United States, complete seminary and now pastors Arabic Bible Church of Dallas.
"You might see him as a refugee, but God sees something in him," Dawood said. "He's here for a reason. Your work is not in vain."
Congregations can cultivate relationships through which the gospel can be share by meeting a need - the need for friendship.
"These refugees, frankly, they don't want your religion. They want your friendship," said Darrell Whiteman, vice president for mission mobilization and training for the Mission Society. "Through friendship, Jesus will show through."
A desire to minister alongside refugees and journey with them rather than ministering to refugees radically changes a church's approach in this arena, Whiteman said.
In many ways, Whiteman sees refugees as being similar to the Samarians of biblical times. Refugees are geographically close but culturally different. Like Jesus chose to travel through Samaria and minister there, Christians must do likewise.
Doing that looks different for different people and churches. It could be providing furniture, clothing and household supplies for a refugee resettlement agency. Church members can connect more personally with refugees, helping them get situated, driving them to various appointments, listening to them and encouraging them.
"With everything you do, preach the gospel - the way you live, the way you do friendship," he said.
Christians offer support, help and the gospel, Whiteman said. Refugees bring their own insight, wisdom and worldview. Each group has something the other can learn.
Through extended relationships, Christ shines through, Whiteman continued. People grow in Christ. Worldviews are transformed. Disciples are made that will go on to disciple others.
"Decisions for Christ are quick and easy," Whiteman said. "Discipleship takes time and is difficult."
For more information about reaching out to refugees, contact Texas Baptists Office of Intercultural Initiatives at 888-244-9400.