6 Ways You Can Help Refugees Where You Live

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Every major urban center in the United States has a significant immigrant population. The uttermost part of the world has, very literally, been brought to America’s doorstep.

You, dear reader, can’t necessarily go to another country to minister to people there, but you could minister to the other countries that have been brought to your neighborhood.

How can you go about doing this? Here are a few ideas to reach out to the immigrants around you:

1. Befriend them.

Having moved to another country myself, I know how meaningful it is to have nationals reach out in friendship. We are still friends with many of the first people we met when we came. We enquire after each other’s houses and children. We’ve visited them for weddings, baptisms and funerals.

You can do the same there. When you see immigrants, don’t avoid them. Introduce yourself. Look for ways to find common ground with them. They are entirely out of their depth in the US. Everything is strange. A kind word or smile can go a long way toward easing their discomfort and helping them feel at home.

2. Help them acclimate to their new country

When you move to a new country you have to relearn everything. Where are the schools? Where should you shop? How do you find your way around? It’s always easier when someone local helps you out. 

If you know an immigrant family, help them find these places. I know our refugees who have resettled in the US love to find small local ethnic groceries where they can buy things that are familiar to them. This is a great way for you to get to find out more about this family’s country of origin.

3. Have them over for a meal

Nothing says “friendship” to someone from our area of the world like an invitation into your home for a meal. Food is the universal way to signify you are friends. This is also a way for you to introduce them to American culture and food and vice versa if you invite them to bring a dish from their country.

4. Learn to teach English as a Second Language

This alone will give you a chance to meet and interact with immigrants, even if you can’t do any of the other things. All immigrants want to improve their English. You can even offer to tutor their children. Education is important for most people when they enter the US and they take it very seriously.

5. Be sensitive to the fact that they don’t do things the same way you do.

People from other countries are going to do things like they’ve always done them in their home country. They won’t cook like you. They won’t clean like you. They won’t shop like you. They might not dress like you. This doesn’t make the way they do it is wrong, it just makes it different. It isn’t our job to change them.

They may adapt over time and they may not. I’ve lived in Uganda for 7 years. I know how to cook like they do here and I know how to make most of the food they eat here, but I still cook and eat like an American most of the time. It’s what I know.

6. Ask questions about their country of origin and learn all you can about it.

Most expatriates are very lonely. They feel out of place. There is no one in their new country who understands their background and most people aren’t interested. If you can ask questions and try to understand, you’ll make a forever friend. 

I’d love to hear any other suggestions you have for making refugees feel welcome in the US! 

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