HOUSTON—Now is a time, like no other, to be prepared to minister with refugees, Mark Heavener, specialist for Texas Baptists' intercultural ministry, told guests at the Feb 27-28 Love in Deed: Refugee Ministry Summit held at Chinese Baptist Church in Houston.
In 2014, a total of 7,214 refugees arrived in Texas from 65 countries. Statistics reveal that one-third of those settled in Houston, making the city a wide open door for refugee ministry.
"Clearly God has chosen the state of Texas and the city of Houston to be the center of His work of redeeming refugees," Heavener said. "I believe we are in the center of God's heartbeat."
More than 150 Houston-area church leaders gathered together at the Refugee Ministry Summit to gain insight on how their church can either begin or improve ministry with refugees.
Conference guest Kathleen Yarborough, from West University Baptist Church in Houston, was amazed to discover all the opportunities to serve with refugees.
"Serving with these refugees can make a huge difference in our community," she said. "Houston receives more refugees than any other city in the United States. There is room for everyone to be involved in this kingdom work…. It is a way to be the hands and feet of Jesus."
Refugees from Burma, Central Africa, Syria and Bhutan gave testimonies during plenary sessions to educate conference attendees about their cultures and reasons for being displaced from their homes. Darrell Whiteman, missiologist anthropologist, presented in large group sessions on the importance of having a worldview mindset.
A refugee himself, Pastor "Andre" Onokoko Shango, from The International Ministries for Propagation of the Gospel Church in Houston, said not only do refugees respond well to churches ministering with them, but also need it desperately.
"[Refugees] have gone through hardships, sufferings, humiliations, running from one place to another looking for a secure place to live," he said. "[Many of them] have lost everything and have witnessed their family members being killed. So the only hope they can turn to is God."
During breakout sessions, attendees gained deeper insight on specific topics centering around refugee culture and on how to effectively do ministry among them.
"I was very blessed to see how much interest there was and genuine response and connection," Heavener said. "As Christians, we see this not only as a partnership with each other, but something God has called us to."
Pastor Andre also expressed encouragement in seeing churches become passionate about refugee ministry.
"[Refugees] have been told that God can restore, He can vindicate and He can bring hope," he said. "Churches need to get involved in the refugee cause in order to give them hope that restoration is possible through Jesus Christ."
Estimates indicate the United States settles some 70,000 to 80,000 refugees a year from Asia, Africa and the Middle East. Of that number, about 11 to 18 percent, or 7,000 to 10,000, come to Texas.
Heavener directed audience members to Psalm 107:1-9, in which God takes refugees into His arms and leads them to a safe place to settle. For many in this age, their safe place is Texas, and there is no better time than now to open church doors for ministry.
For more information about Texas Baptists' intercultural ministry, visit texasbaptists.org/intercultural or to learn how your church can get involved in refugee ministry, contact Mark Heavener at mark.heavener [at] texasbaptists.org or Patty Lane at patty.lane [at] texasbaptists.org.