Helping Churches Help Refugees
By Jennifer Johnson
The plight of refugees around the world captured our attention and our sympathy this past year. But even before that, Mike Schrage was working to create real solutions within the Restoration Movement.
Schrage, executive director at Good News Productions, International (Joplin, MO), is also president of the 2016 International Conference on Missions, and he began brainstorming several years ago about a unique initiative for this year’s event. With help from friends and ministry leaders, he’s developed The RISE Project, an initiative to raise $250,000 in grant money for churches that want to minister to international students and refugees.
“The whole paradigm of missions is changing,” Schrage says. “It’s getting more messy, but it’s also getting more interesting. Today between 70,000 and 100,000 refugees will enter our country each year, and more than a million international students will come to study here. We say, ‘Lord, send missionaries’ and we spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to send people to closed countries and do years of work—and all the time people from those countries are coming here. Yet most of our churches aren’t equipped to reach them.”
Schrage hopes the quarter million dollars being raised for RISE will equip smaller churches to do bigger ministry for people of refugee status and these international students. Congregations will be able to apply for a grant that can help them receive training, develop programs, and fund new ministries.
“There’s a little town called Noel, MO, that is home to a Tyson chicken packing plant,” Schrage says. “There are more than 30 different nationalities represented in this town of fewer than 200 people, and the little Christian church there told us they want to reach more people, but they aren’t sure where to start. These are the kinds of churches we want to help.”
Schrage says he’s been learning a great deal even as he’s developed the project.
“Traci Harrod, who works with the Saint Alphonsus Center for Global Health and Healing in Boise, ID, and who will serve on the grant committee, pointed out that while we refer to ‘refugees,’ it’s more accurate to say ‘people of refugee status,’” he says. “This is a governmental designation that says they will eventually be citizens with us. We also need to remember that the people entering our country in this way did not plan to be here. Many of them are skilled, educated professionals who have been forced to leave their homeland and everything they know and start over.”
Students, on the other hand, do want to be here, and he points out that many of them are the children of diplomats, businessmen, and other international leaders.
“These are future influencers, and they’re here wanting to learn our language and our culture,” he says. “What a great opportunity to reach people who will someday be leading other countries—yet many of them will never once be invited to a Christian home.”
At press time, Schrage has already raised $113,000 of the funds for the project as well as a $20,000 grant to create a video curriculum for small groups, which will be available at ICOM. Learn more at www.rise.com and http://theicom.org/rise/.