A refugee crisis.
A small local church responding with love.

Hope after border crossings

The world took notice of one lifeless child on the beach, and responded with tears. Yet thousands of refugees continue to make desperate border crossings in hope of something better. The UNHCR estimates 4.8 million Syrian refugees have flooded into neighbouring Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan. This region – known as West Asia – is buckling under one of the gravest humanitarian crises in modern memory.

The onward journey is complicated and extremely slow at best. Whether in camps or cities, there are no orderly queues here. As time stretches on, poverty and ill health become problems, and despair sets in.

People feel stuck. Many have given up hope.

But there is hope

In one place in West Asia, a small local church with a big heart is reaching out to refugees, with amazing impact. They began with blankets, mattresses, baby formula, and gas stoves. The refugees were astounded – no-one else treated them like these ‘Bible people’ did. As numbers increased, the church stepped up their efforts. A refugee centre was opened, and they now provide regular food relief and programs for over 5,500 refugee families.

The church knows they are in this for the long haul. They want refugees fleeing violence and strife to find love in Jesus‘ name, and by God’s grace, faith in Him. And multicultural Interserve teams stand with them. They have been serving alongside this local church for over twenty years, growing disciples who reach out to the marginalised through wholistic mission.

Introducing Adam and Penny,
Joel and Erin

Two years ago we introduced Adam and Penny, and Joel and Erin. They’re two couples with young families, starting out in a city with over 60,000 refugees, and they’ve just spent two years learning the local language.

These couples are now able to talk with their neighbours, interact with their kids’ schools and invest in the refugee centre’s food and clothing distribution. Joel coordinates his church’s refugee program, and he and Adam have started an English conversation club. Erin runs an art therapy group specifically for refugee women, operating only in Arabic and the local tongue. These new roles would not have been possible without first dedicating time to learning the local language and discerning God’s leading among the many needs.

A refugee comes to stay

Adam & Penny host a special guest

Setting up life and home overseas takes commitment.

One commitment comes especially in the form of language learning.

Language learning

How did you go about learning the local language?

“We completed full-time courses of language study over a period of about two years, using several strategies.”

  • Private tutor: Adam, Penny, and Erin completed basic, intermediate and advanced grammar studies with a private tutor, using a thematic approach incorporating both practical grammar and spiritual language.
  • Language school: Joel completed an accredited course at a language school and graduated with a certificate in advanced grammar.
  • Language helper: Both couples also had one to two days each week with a language helper.
  • Rosetta Stone: Penny also completed the Rosetta Stone Arabic program.
  • Informal practice: In addition to these structured activities, Adam, Penny, Joel and Erin spent several hours each week in informal practice with neighbours and friends.

Does that mean you’re fluent now?

“Not quite! The four of us have developed sufficient facility in the local language to be able to participate in everyday life. This includes conversing and socialising with neighbours, interacting with schools for our children’s education, and participating in a local church.

“We can now take part in activities at the refugee centre, such as the monthly distribution of food and clothing to Iraqi and Syrian families. While the local language is not the refugees’ mother tongue, it functions as a common language. Having some capability in it has enabled us to engage with refugees about their basic needs.”

Joel and Erin intend to start learning Arabic in 2018 as this is the mother tongue of the vast majority of refugees in West Asia. They have already purchased resources to this end: the Rosetta Stone Arabic program and Mary-Jane Liddicoat’s Syrian Colloquial Arabic: A Functional Course.

Now that you’ve finished full-time language learning, what are you involved in?

“Our families have been settling in a West Asian city that is hosting approximately 60,000 refugees. Our involvement with these refugees is concentrated on a centre run by a group of churches. It is located in a property the group rents cooperatively. From there, around 5,000 individuals are given regular assistance with basic food and material goods (blankets, clothing, etc.).

“These refugees are primarily Iraqi and Syrian, and often come from large families. Their situations are complex and danger prevents them from returning to the home countries from which they fled. They find themselves waiting years or potentially decades for resettlement in a third country through the UNHCR. They are generally not permitted to work legally but many support themselves through taking menial jobs.

“The refugee centre has so far primarily focused on meeting food security needs. We have been able to work alongside local Christians to distribute between 250 and 350 boxes of food to refugees each week.”

By the end of their formal language learning, Joel had taken on coordination of his church’s refugee ministry. This presently involves being part of the refugee centre steering committee.

Do refugees have needs other than practical needs?

“Yes. There is a growing need to move beyond material needs and to support refugees in more focused ways. This includes building community as they settle in West Asia for years to come. Two specific ways we have started doing this is through facilitating small groups for building relationships and establishing rapport with refugees.”

Joel and Adam started an English conversation club for refugees who are interested in developing their spoken English skills. This club hosts around 15 participants per week from Iraqi and Syrian backgrounds. The participants are male and female, and vary in age from mid-teens to mid-50s. There is presently a waiting list of another 15–20 individuals for this group.

Erin began an art therapy group specifically for refugee women, operating in the local language and Arabic. Each week she hosts three to five women from mainly Syrian backgrounds. Many of these women are mothers in their late 20s or early 30s. Read Nour’s story in Finding love without strings.

As Adam, Penny, Joel and Erin engage with refugees, space is given for refugees to self-identify their practical and relational needs. The small groups emerged by way of listening to the refugees’ needs and identifying the unique contributions these Interservers can make. These new roles would not have been possible without first dedicating time to language and cultural learning and discerning God’s leading among the many needs.

Investing for long-term impact

Meaningful impacts require an understanding of the needs and relationships of trust, both of which only come through long-term service. Doing that sustainably means devoting time to setting up homes and learning the local language – one of the most indispensable ministry tools.

Once established, their potential for impact is extremely strong. The local church and Interserve team has identified a range of opportunities, including:

  • Providing front-line care for refugee families, from trauma relief counselling to sharing cups of tea, stories, tears and Jesus.
  • Discipling local and refugee believers and equipping them to serve the marginalised.

We believe that this kind of investment in long-term workers, who themselves are invested in a local body of believers – is the single most effective, sustainable, and innovative contribution we can make.

These families are not superheroes.

They are ordinary Christians who are responding to the world’s need and God’s call to serve.

How they came to West Asia

Adam, Penny, Joel and Erin, with their kids, are committed to making West Asia their home. The journey to West Asia started many years ago. Here they share the stories of how God called them to serve.

“We plan to spend the first year language learning and from there use our professional skills to serve refugees and children with disabilities.”

Follow the story of Adam & Penny

“Our imaginations were captured by the idea of working alongside the local believers, doing whole-of-life discipleship with them in a hard place.”

Read the story of Joel & Erin

How you can help

Give a gift of tangible love

You can support work among refugees by supporting the Tangible Love project Love Dignifies. Visit our gift catalogue at tangiblelove.org.au

Join the support team

Adam & Penny and Joel & Erin receive team support. If you would like to be a part of their support team for the long term, you can give online or contact us for more information.

Your gift is tax-deductible.

Pray for

  • People who are seeking asylum.
  • For the local church as it seeks to minister in very challenging circumstances.
  • For the Interserve workers coming alongside them.