3 Tips for Mentoring Refugee Families

When I arrived in Ethiopia, I felt like a baby. I had to learn how to live again. That is really not an exaggeration. Things that used to be obvious and required no thought suddenly became fraught with unknowns and confusing nuances that I did not understand. This is culture shock, and it’s really hard.

All immigrants experience some degree of culture shock, but refugees have the added challenge of past trauma and an arduously long road–often through refugee camps–to try to find a new home. So adjusting to a new place is truly an uphill battle. And other than initial resettlement assistance, they are usually on their own to figure it all out.

But they don’t have to be alone, if host-culture people are willing to become bridge people. Lee Winters followed God’s call to do just this in her Lancaster, PA, community. Through her church (Westminster PCA), her family got connected to a Congolese woman and her two children. You can read more of their story by signing up for Mission to North America’s Refugee and Immigrant Ministry monthly newsletter by emailing director Pat Hatch.

But here on the blog I’m sharing some practical tips that Lee has for others who are getting involved with mentoring a refugee family:

1. Try to schedule things on a certain day of the week.

“I have tried to have one day a week when I schedule appointments for them, tutor them in English, run errands such as go to the store, pay bills etc. This works for our family but find something that works for you.  Consistency is key because they learn to be able to depend on you and look forward to seeing you.”

2. Have a notebook.

“Create a binder with important information on each refugee.  I have a binder with each one of their picture ID cards, medical cards and social security cards. You will need this information for doctor visits which WILL arise.”

“They have had very minimal medical and dental care so the first few months I have found that there are a lot of doctor visits.  This will also help you to know who to call if they get sick. This piece was very overwhelming to me at first because I was not familiar with Medicaid or their practices.”

“Having this binder of information was very helpful to me. Also included in my binder is their bank and bill information. They do not know how to pay bills so having that information will help you to be able to help them pay their bills on time and not be penalized for something they just don’t know to do. Many have the funds they just don’t know who or what they have to pay.”

Click here to learn more about “the ministry of paperwork.”

3. Become well versed in community and church-based supports that you can leverage to help them with financial needs that will arise. 

“It is very tempting to front these expenses yourself and while we have and do support them financially it can quickly become overwhelming.  As you get to know them more you will also get to know their needs and your first instinct is just to give but you do not want to put yourself in financial hardship. Their needs are great and I love to give so I have fallen into this trap of giving and giving and giving. But you have to be careful not to give too much.”

“The ultimate goal is for them to be able to be self sufficient and not dependent on others.  They need you for the long haul so don’t overdue in the beginning and then give up.  So pray continually about what God would have you do and pray about how you can help them to find resources to help with the things that you cannot do.”

Thank you, Lee, for sharing your wisdom born from experience!


For more encouragement and practical tips for loving and serving refugees and other immigrants, check out Loving the Stranger: Welcoming Immigrants in the Name of Jesus.

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