Leadership Series: World Relief

 In Telling a Better Story

November 30, 2021

The Evangelical Immigration Table is a coalition of 10 Christian organizations that have come together to encourage distinctly biblical thinking about issues of immigration, provide discipleship resources and advocate for public policies consistent with biblical values. Each of these organizations brings a unique perspective and focus to the Table. Over the next several months, each of our EIT leadership organizations will be answering some questions to help us better understand who they are, what they do, why they care about immigration issues and how they came to be involved in the EIT. Today, we continue this series with an interview from World Relief.

Can you tell us a little bit about World Relief?

World Relief was originally founded as the “War Relief” commission of the National Association of Evangelicals back in 1944, an initiative to bring resources from U.S. churches to help churches in Europe respond to the incredible displacement crisis associated with World War II. In time, we changed our name to World Relief, as our scope broadened beyond Europe and not only to post-war disaster response, but also to addressing issues of poverty, hunger, conflict and natural disasters. Since our founding, what’s been consistent is our mission of empowering the local church to serve the most vulnerable.

While we’ve worked with local churches to serve displaced people beyond the U.S. since the 1940s, World Relief’s U.S. programs, which focus primarily on serving refugees and other immigrants, started in the late 1970s, responding to the large number of people displaced from Southeast Asia after the fall of Saigon. Since then, we’ve been one of just a few national organizations that is authorized by the U.S. State Department to resettle refugees. We’ve resettled roughly 300,000 individuals over our history, and we’ve also served a broad range of other immigrants in partnership with local churches.

Why does your organization believe that it is important to care about immigrants and immigration issues?

As an evangelical organization, our top authority is the Bible, and the Scriptures speak frequently to God’s love and concern for the vulnerable, with immigrants (or, depending upon the English language translation, foreigners, aliens, sojourners or strangers) specifically and repeatedly mentioned alongside orphans and widows. God makes clear that he loves vulnerable immigrants and he commands his people to as well (Deut. 10:18-19). We’ve long invited churches to join us in this ministry because we believe it is a tangible way for us to respond to the Great Commandment to love our neighbors (Luke 10:27) and an opportunity to live out the Great Commission to make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19-20). We also have found that many immigrants are strong believers who are revitalizing American churches. While we want to equip churches to welcome immigrants in obedience to God’s commands, we also have seen that God is blessing the church in the U.S. through the arrival of immigrants, as he has done throughout time, and we’re eager to invite more U.S. evangelicals to be a part of what God is doing.

How did your organization get involved in the EIT?

Several of World Relief’s leaders helped to organize the first meeting of what would eventually become the Evangelical Immigration Table, a year or two before the coalition formally launched in 2012. We’ve long been connected to the National Association of Evangelicals, our parent organization, but we also knew that there were other national evangelical organizations that were interested in advancing a distinctly biblical approach to immigration issues – both among evangelical Christians throughout the nation and on Capitol Hill. We bring decades of direct ministry experience to the Table, but we’ve certainly benefited from the connection to broader networks of churches and Christian ministries throughout the country that are represented by our partners at the Evangelical Immigration Table.

What do you hope to see the EIT bring to the immigration conversation?

Theoretically, evangelical Christians are committed to the authority of God’s Word over every aspect of our lives – but polls suggest that, by our own admission, relatively few U.S. evangelicals think about the arrival of immigrants to their communities primarily from the perspective of the Bible. At World Relief, our prayer has always been that we can help empower the church (in the U.S. and around the world) to respond to immigrants in ways guided by the biblical values of love, compassion, justice and hospitality. Part of that work of empowering churches includes advocacy, encouraging those whom God has entrusted to positions of governmental authority to reflect these values as they craft immigration policies. We’ve long sought to do so at World Relief, but we can do so more effectively when we work together with other evangelical institutions and leaders who share our commitment to God’s Word.

Anything else you would like to share about your work with immigrants and refugees?

While we’re passionate about discipleship resources to help Christians think in distinctly biblical ways about immigration and about advocacy to pursue more just and compassionate immigration policies, our primary focus is still at the local level, helping welcome refugees and other immigrants in close partnership with local congregations. Folks interested in joining us in that ministry can find a list of our local offices here.

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