LOUISVILLE, KY (BP) – The world is on the move. Millions of people live far from their homes but are able to stay connected with their family through the use of technology. Because of this, leaders from a number of Southern Baptist entities, state conventions, local associations and churches believe the time is right for a strategic plan to reach these people on the move.
"There's a growing desire among Southern Baptist Convention entities to communicate more and collaborate better when it comes to serving displaced people," said Trent DeLoach, Send Relief coordinator and pastor at Clarkston International Bible Church in Clarkston, Ga.
Conversations between leaders at the Southern Baptist Convention's International Mission Board (IMB) and North American Mission Board (NAMB) along with leaders from the Woman's Missionary Union (WMU), state conventions, local associations and churches led to a gathering Oct. 31, 2019, in Louisville, Ky., for a listening session on initiatives to reach displaced people.
Then, at the SBC Executive Committee meeting Feb. 18, NAMB and IMB announced that Send Relief, launched by NAMB in 2016, will come under the leadership of both entities to give Southern Baptists a "one-stop shop" for giving to and participating in compassion ministries domestically and globally.
Another formal conversation among denominational leaders about reaching displaced people is planned for April 23 in Atlanta.
"There's no shortage of great work that's happening on all of these levels," said Jeremy Simmons, National Ministry Center director with NAMB. "I think we're really working toward communicating the need between each other."
Terry Sharp, IMB conventions and network relations leader, believes this is an opportunity for a truly global strategy in reaching displaced people.
"An exciting thing to me would be to see churches engage with people groups overseas through missionaries, but then also engage those same people who have been displaced and relocated in North America," Sharp said.
John Barnett, missions strategist for the Kentucky Baptist Convention, saw the opportunities when he first returned to the U.S. after serving with IMB.
"One of the biggest impressions on me when we came back from overseas in 2015 was the internationals who were here," Barnett said. "There were refugees in Louisville, Owensboro, Lexington and Bowling Green. We have an opportunity to build pathways here that will connect all the way back to the refugees' home country."
United Nations statistics show more than 270 million people worldwide are displaced in some way. Barnett has developed four broad categories of displaced people -- forcibly displaced, vulnerably displaced, purposefully displaced and naturally displaced.
Barnett said forcibly displaced people may or may not cross a border, but they cannot go home. They may be asylum seekers due to political reasons or they may be refugees because of war or terrorism. Statistics show about 70.8 million people forcibly displaced in the world.
Vulnerably displaced people have been taken against their will to be trafficked into some sort of slavery. People who are homeless or children who have been orphaned also fit into this category. Officials report around 40.3 million people are displaced because of some sort of enslavement including human trafficking.
The purposefully displaced are students who've left their home country to gain education or vocation. They may also be immigrants who are looking for a better life in another country or the migrant worker looking to send a portion of their wages to family in their home country.
Finally, Barnett said there are people who are naturally displaced. These people have suffered great loss through natural disaster, famine or widespread disease. These people can't go home because they've lost their homes.
"This is such an important issue," Barnett said. "What we really need is a discussion on how we work together to start engaging this issue on a global scale as God is moving the nations all over the world."
Sharp said while the government has a significant role to play in immigration policy, Christians interested in being obedient to the Great Commission have a great opportunity to be good neighbors.
"Who's our neighbor and what's our responsibility?" Sharp asked. "We're calling Southern Baptists to be the hands and feet of Christ, to show and share the love of Jesus."
Building the pathway is the challenge, though. While the churches and entities are at work individually, the autonomous structure of Southern Baptist life can prove to be a challenge for collaboration.
"We're grateful for the Cooperative Program," Sharp said. "We want to keep sending missionaries, but we hope Southern Baptists will realize that while we're going to the nations, God is bringing them to us in the United States."
Barnett recalled previous strategies to reach those in the 10/40 window.
"Ten years ago the International Mission Board was talking about engaging people in some of the most difficult places in the world," he said. "Now, God is spreading those people out all across the world. This is a wonderful time for the church to care for and to reach those people."
Only about 1 percent of refugees will be relocated to North America, DeLoach said. But the opportunity for churches is still great. Organizations like Refuge Bowling Green in Bowling Green, Ky., are helping churches welcome refugees, build relationships, and help them acclimate to the community. Similar organizations exist throughout the U.S.
WMU is helping bridge the gap as they host refugee simulations called Seeking Refuge and Displaced: Seeking Home.
"Seeking Refuge focuses on what a refugee experiences at a detention center and refugee camp," said Sandy Wisdom-Martin, executive director of WMU. "Displaced: Seeking Home focuses on what a refugee who's been relocated to the U.S. experiences."
Wisdom-Martin said the simulations build awareness so people will "engage the lost among the displaced."
Simmons said a collaboration of efforts increases the chances the Gospel will reach the displaced.
"There is a far greater likelihood that an American Southern Baptist will grow in their compassion for refugees in the Middle East or Africa if they've had the opportunity to engage in refugee ministry here on U.S. soil," he said.
Wisdom-Martin hopes that ongoing conversations between ministry leaders will produce new partnerships in efforts to reach the displaced.
"There is a synergy with joining hearts and hands for the sake of the Gospel. Each entity brings strengths to the table that can enhance the entire effort," she said.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Brandon Porter is editor of Kentucky Today.