Ministry with Refugees


God calls us to welcome the stranger among us. Why? In the Old Testament, God reminds the Israelites several times that they once were foreigners in a what was a strange land to them, later the Promised Land.

In the New Testament, Jesus tells us that we are to clothe the naked, feed the hungry and welcome others as a proxy for the Savior and in living with the commandment to love our neighbors as ourselves.

Nebraska and Kansas both have rich histories of welcoming people from other lands to an environment of safety and acceptance. In a world filled with turmoil and humanitarian crises - and with government leaders increasingly skeptical of assisting fellow human beings - the Great Plains Conference is determined to care for aliens in our land as God commanded in Leviticus 19:33-34 and Deuteronomy 10:18-19. And we strive to live up to the call of Christ to assist strangers from the parable of sheep and goats in Matthew 25:31-46.

The United Methodist Church works with Church World Service in resettling refugees. Partners include Lutheran Family Services, which also assists churches in this endeavor in both Nebraska and Kansas.


How to Get Started

In the world today, more than 65.3 million people have been forcibly displaced, according to the United Nations Refugee Agency. Of that total, it is estimated that 21.3 million men, women and children remain as refugees, with no homes, no access to food or water, and no access to health care, education or any comforts that we enjoy in the United States.

Armed conflict, famine, human rights violations, fear of persecution and other factors force nearly 34,000 people to flee their homes every day around the world. 

People are desperate to find save havens, particularly parents who want for their children what those of us in Nebraska and Kansas want for our kids: a chance at a long, fruitful life. Over the past 12 months, the U.N. Refugee Agency estimates that 51 percent of refugees worldwide were 18 or younger.

The process to leave life-threatening situations is not an easy one. People risk crossing deserts, riding across choppy seas and endure life in refugee camps - all with the hope of one day making it to a country where they can live in freedom and peace.

See how refugees get to the United States.

The video below provides ideas of how to get started in a ministry that would help families in need relocate in your community. It features Andrea Paret, peace with justice coordinator for the Great Plains Conference, and the Rev. Hollie Tapley, the conference's disaster response coordinator who serves as the staff liaison for ministries to refugees.

It is understandable that some people may have concerns for safety because of terrorist organizations positioned in places associated with such harmful activities in the past, such as Somalia, Afghanistan and Syria. 

While no process can be 100 percent without failure, the U.S. government has put in place an extensive screening procedure. Read more about the procedure and see a chart that explains how the screening process works.

Lutheran Family Services, with one of its base offices in Omaha, has been a major player in the refugee resettlement effort for many years. The organization provides the following resources to churches to help them get started in this kind of ministry:

Tips for Helping Refugees Settle in the United States

Frequently Asked Questions About Refugee Resettlement Efforts


How Churches Can Respond

Once refugees have been approved for that legal status, they come to the United States through what are known as voluntary agencies (VOLAGS). These agencies, such as Lutheran Family Services, work directly with the U.S. State Department. Together, the private-government partners assign refugees to affiliate offices in areas based on several factors, including:

  • Reunification of family members.
  • The community's capacity to work with certain ethnic minorities.
  • Cost of living.
  • Employment opportunities.

Another major contributor to assistance for refugees is Church World Service

Omaha First UMC shares successes in helping refugees

The United Methodist Church is involved through the General Board of Global Ministries. 

The United Methodist Committee on Relief also is active regarding refugees and migration issues. UMCOR is responding to the needs of refugees through Church World Service and its network of more than 35 refugee resettlement sites across the country. UMCOR seeks to meet the needs of refugees and build more welcoming communities by facilitating partnerships between newcomers and local United Methodist congregations.

In addition, UMCOR offers a small number of Refugee Ministry Grants to strengthen projects connected to the church that serve immigrants and refugees. Projects must be community based and have a relationship with a local United Methodist church.

Read how UMCOR is responding to global migration around the world. 

So, your church has decided it wants to help. You've even contemplated just how involved you want to be. What's next? The following video features Lacey Studnicka from Lutheran Family Services and Sandy Sypherd, chair of the Great Plains Conference immigration rapid response team, speak about their collaboration services welcoming immigrants into our communities by providing free, high-quality immigration legal services, education and advocacy.



The United Methodist Church's position on immigration is documented in several places in the Book of Discipline's Social Principles and is further documented in the United Methodist Book of Resolutions. These official positions are voted on by members of the General Conference, which meets every four years. Members of General Conference are elected by the annual conferences in the United States and Central Conferences outside the United States to attend this legislative assembly.

Learn more about immigration advocacy, resources and positions of the church on this subject.

For More Information

  • We need to continue to defend refugees, ILC legal director says: During International Education Week at Creighton University, participants were able to engage with several experts in the field of immigration during lectures and panel discussions. Charles “Shane” Ellison, a special assistant professor at Creighton University School of Law and the legal director of Immigrant Legal Center (one of our mission agencies), focused on false narratives and manufactured illegality in our current immigration policies, especially in regard to refugees and asylum seekers.
Great Plains Mercy and Justice 

To learn more about efforts to help refugees relocate to the Great Plains Conference, contact one of the following:

  • Sarah Marsh, mercy and justice coordinator for the Great Plains Conference.
  • Andrea Paret, peace with justice coordinator for the Great Plains Conference
  • Sandy Sypherd, chair of the immigration rapid response team for the Great Plains Conference.