GUEST POST: Responsible Ministry in A Refugee Community

Brian Bollinger is the Executive Director of Friends of Refugees, a collective of people and organizations in Clarkston, GA seeking to empower refugees through opportunities for their well-being, education, and empowerment. Since Clarkston is a major epicenter in the Southeast for refugee resettlement, it has also become a major epicenter for church outreach and mission teams. Brian shares with us three things he would say to anyone that wants to participate in responsible charity in his community.

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Work really hard to find out what God is already doing, and ask about the things that have been done in the past (failures yes, but ESPECIALLY successes). Dwell on those successes for a while. Ask those serving already what has been happening (they pay pretty close attention), but also ask a few longtime community members who just live in the neighborhood. Try to find sources from broad age brackets and especially 'time' in the community (young, old, very old; only a couple years in the community, more than 5 years, more than 15 years, etc). Understand the whole context: the civic infrastructure, the history of the area, the existing resources, why certain 'obstacles' to community success first came into being, etc. 


Choose to be a part of doing something significant and challenging for you or your church, and commit to it for 2-10 years. Write it down together. No really. Write it down. This means you have to decide what impact you want to have (remember 'complex' impacts have outcomes too), calculate what it will "cost" in various "currencies" (see below), decide what the steps/signposts are along the way to that success, and estimate how long it will take to reasonably complete each step. Fail and succeed regularly, reevaluate, develop new hypotheses, ask for help and advice, help someone else achieve their goals, combine efforts, but NEVER GIVE UP, only grow into a better listener to God and the community where He is at work. 


I can't emphasize this enough, especially to my Millennial peers. When you partner or even volunteer to help a non-profit, it costs that organization actual market and social capital for you to be there: there is real professional time, network development, hard and soft materials, trust-building, property use, and much more that you are standing on the shoulders of to make a significant impact. Consider thinking of your contributions in terms of the four currencies of Time, Talents, Treasure and Networks. All four of these are real 'currencies'. Don't leave any of them in deficit because of your engagement. If you can't bring all the Time or Treasure needed to "pay your part", ensure that you use another currency to make up the difference (like bringing in a needed talent to accomplish something else or putting your business network on the line to call in a useful favor or advocate for other involvement). Need help counting the cost? Great! Just ask.

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Brian Bollinger is the Executive Director of Friends of Refugees in Clarkston, GA