ATLANTA – Julie Lee* thought she understood the plight of refugees, since she was the daughter of Laotian refugees.
Her parents moved to the United States as refugees of the Vietnam War. But when she spent a summer in Louisville, Kentucky working with refugees, she realized a lot had changed in the last 40 years. Although her parents’ story had “similar threads” to that of those she encountered, they were also very different.
However, Lee knows that the way to reach a refugee for Christ isn’t that much different than the way one reaches any neighbor for Christ. A believer must be willing to meet a need and share their life – especially with their international neighbors.
In fact, Lee thinks the best way for individuals to minister to an international is by “meeting them and becoming friends with them.”
“It was by my neighbor being my friend and reaching out to me and inviting me to church that I was able to be surrounded by Christians and see what the love of Christ looked like,” Lee said, sharing her own story.
Lee, who now serves as an intern at an Atlanta area church, said she was raised culturally Buddhist, but her family never really practiced. Her best friend who doubled as her neighbor invited her to VBS and church.
“I wasn’t a believer for years (after going to church), but they continued to love me and my family,” Lee shared. “My entire family didn’t go to church, but if we had a need, they met it. And they welcomed us into their homes for meals.”
“On an individual level, it’s reaching out to people and just walking through the everyday rhythms of life with them and building those relationships.”
She became a believer the summer before entering college, and now she feels called to serve internationals and refugees. She never imagined this calling would lead her back to the South, to serve internationals right here in Georgia.
She connects with families in need and helps them navigate an often-confusing life in another country. As COVID-19 hit, she’s been able to help connect those in need with resources to help with the rent crisis and unemployment.
By “walking with people through these everyday, small or big crises,” she’s able to weave the gospel into everyday conversations as well.
“As we help meet physical needs, we’re able to have conversations about spiritual needs,” Lee explained. This happens sitting in their apartment complexes or riding in cars. The conversations happen naturally when she enters their world and gets a better understanding of their religious background.
“Sometimes people we meet, we don’t see again, but we’re able to share [the gospel] with them in those moments,” Lee explained. “But then other people we get to have long-term relationships with, and we get to continue the conversation.”
“We know that as we scatter seeds, the Lord does the work,” she added. While they’re actively meeting physical needs, they, “know that the ultimate and greatest need is our need in our sin.”
Whatever international ministry looks like in a community, the church has a responsibility to reach them. That can be as simple as “identifying needs in your community,” Lee encourages.
“If you know that there’s a population of people there and that there are needs, it’s being the hands and feet. It’s finding those physical needs and being able to build relationships from that,” she shared.
*name changed for security purposes