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Welcoming the Refugee, Loving Our Neighbor

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, we’re curating a series on NEXT Church resources. Members of the NEXT Church communications team, staff, and advisory team are selecting resources already on our site and sharing the ways they have (or would) use them in their ministry context. We pray these will be of use to you in your own ministry! Have other ideas for resources you’ve used from our website? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

by Linda Kurtz

At the 2017 NEXT Church National Gathering in Kansas City, Tom Charles, a ruling elder from Nassau Presbyterian Church, gave a testimony presentation about the church’s ministry resettling refugee families. You see, Nassau has been welcoming refugee families to New Jersey for almost 60 years, giving them — and Tom — a wealth of experience and knowledge to share. Less than 20 minutes later, when he was done speaking, Tom had the entire room on its feet in applause. His testimony was inspiring — so inspiring, in fact, that some folks who heard Tom in Kansas City went home and asked their churches whether or not they might be called to refugee resettlement ministry themselves.

Ginter Park Presbyterian Church in Richmond, VA — in partnership with Union Presbyterian Seminary — is one such church. In the last year, they’ve discerned whether God might be calling them to sponsor a refugee family and ultimately decided the answer was yes. In fact, the family Ginter Park and Union Presbyterian Seminary are supporting arrived in the United States two weeks ago!

As a student at the seminary, I gathered several of my classmates and other members of our seminary community to discuss the extent to which we could partner with Ginter Park in this ministry. To facilitate that conversation, I turned to Tom’s testimony.

Here’s a reflection exercise appropriate for any faith community who might be engaging in similar discernment.

First, watch the entire testimony yourself. Since it’s just over 18 minutes long, I suggest selecting the most pertinent clips for your community to show others. I showed the video from 2:03-3:05 and 4:53-7:27.

Then, discuss:

  • What is your reaction to Tom’s reflections in this video?
  • What do our scriptures and confessions say about the refugee and immigrant? [See Exodus 22:21, Leviticus 19:34, I Peter 1:1-2; BoC 9.45 for starters.]
  • How might refugee resettlement fit into our broader mission and ministry?
  • If not sponsoring a refugee family, what are ways we can live out our call to care for refugees and immigrants?
  • How might our faith be impacted by this work?

Tom also helpfully provided a comprehensive guide for churches, individuals, and organizations looking to start such a program in their own context that assist with some of the more practical details.

But this isn’t the only way this testimony might be used. Sponsoring a family might not be feasible for your faith community for any number of reasons, but I find Tom’s heartfelt commitment to loving his neighbor — even his newly-arrived-from-another-country neighbor — inspiring. This video could also prompt a good discussion about how faith can be changed by encounters with people outside of our faith community or be used to facilitate conversation amongst a mission committee discerning where God is calling them next.

That discussion might be prompted by:

  • What is your reaction to Tom’s reflections in this video?
  • When have been some of the most faithful moments of your life?
  • How are we called more generally to love our neighbor in this community?
  • How do the people we interact with outside this faith community impact our faith?
  • How might we provide opportunities for members of our faith community to live out and experience their faith as Tom has?

Has your church discussed the possibility of sponsoring a refugee family? What was your discernment process like? How else might you use Tom’s testimony to spark conversation in your ministry context? Share with us in the comments!


Linda Kurtz is the communications specialist for NEXT Church and a final level student at Union Presbyterian Seminary in Richmond, VA. 

2017 National Gathering Testimony: Tom Charles

Tom Charles, ruling elder at Nassau Presbyterian Church in Princeton, NJ, gives his testimony about the church’s refugee resettlement ministry at the 2017 National Gathering. In his presentation, Tom references a refugee resettlement guide for churches, individuals, and organizations looking to start such a program in their own context. You can find that guide here:

Tom Charles and Refugee Resettlement

As with previous years, our 2017 National Gathering will feature testimonies from a variety of church leaders undertaking innovative work in their communities. This year, Tom Charles, elder at Nassau Presbyterian Church, will be delivering a testimony about his involvement with the church’s refugee resettlement program. Here’s a statement Tom wrote in 2015 when the church was considering sponsoring another family, which they did in 2016.

by Tom Charles

The congregation of Nassau Presbyterian Church has a long tradition of sponsoring refugees, welcoming nine refugee families to the Princeton community over the past 50 years.

They have come from eight different countries, including Bosnia, Burma, Cambodia, Cuba, Hungary, Iraq, Sudan and Vietnam.

Before coming to the United States, they endured political repression, threats of violence and, in some cases, torture; they travelled great distances, often surreptitiously and at great peril; they arrived at area airports not knowing who would be meeting them; but they all came to the United States for a better way of life for themselves and their children.

They have all proven to be hard working and good people, committed to the ideals that make America a great country. They have found employment as a restaurant manager… a mechanical engineer… a physical therapist… a teacher at a Montessori school… a computer network specialist… a dentist… an inventory manager… a tailor… a food preparation worker…  a librarian.

For our part, we have welcomed these families at the airport, hosted them in our homes, helped them learn English, assisted them in finding jobs, and learned much from them about courage, perseverance, and the love of freedom.

We have done all of this, not just to be nice people, but to welcome “the stranger” as Jesus would have us do (Matthew 25:35), being “doers of the word and not merely hearers” (James 1:22), and always receiving so much more from this experience than we have given. Welcoming refugees has rewarded me with some of the most faithful moments of my life.

Certainly, it is only natural to be concerned about the terrorist attacks around the world and ongoing threats to the United States … but I have confidence in the current refugee vetting process and prefer to respond to the current situation with hope and not fearmongering, love and not nativism, pragmatism and not negativity.


Tom Charles is a long-time member and elder at Nassau Presbyterian Church in Princeton, NJ, and has served in the past as chairperson of its Mission and Outreach Committee. Tom has also coordinated the resettlement of the last 6 refugee families sponsored by Nassau, including a Syrian family who arrived last May. Partly prompted by the extensive publicity resulting from NPR reports on this family, Tom has also begun working with various faith communities around the country who are considering such a sponsorship.