Volunteers in diaspora ministry

June 11, 2018

Anyone involved in any type of ministry knows the importance of volunteers. Diaspora ministry is no different. Volunteers serve in critical areas such as teaching English, setting up apartments, mentoring students and helping new Americans find jobs. Volunteers are invaluable because they make more ministry possible.

Every ministry leader I know would love to have more volunteers that serve with compassion, competence and consistency. However, the difficulties involved in diaspora ministry often present volunteers with unique challenges. Ministry leaders must help volunteers overcome these challenges so they can serve well. The purpose of this article is to explore three of these challenges and offer ways ministry leaders can better serve volunteers in diaspora ministry.

Basic training in cross-cultural ministry.
All volunteers in diaspora ministry need basic training in cross-cultural ministry. Even volunteers that have served as overseas missionaries need a review of the unique needs that refugees and immigrants have when adjusting to life in our country. Basic training in cross-cultural ministry can provide volunteers a framework for understanding and interpreting the taboos, habits and preferences of various cultures.

Furthermore, a two-hour orientation or more robust basic training provides the opportunity to remind volunteers of the biblical basis for diaspora ministry, strategies for avoiding dependency, and how to share the gospel with various religious groups. The Church’s Guide to Ministry to Refugees is a great resource to help facilitate a basic training on refugee ministry. See this and additional resources below. Volunteers new to diaspora ministry should find basic training in cross-cultural training fun, insightful and invaluable.

Guidance regarding boundaries.
The best part of diaspora ministry are the people you get to serve. The most challenging aspect of diaspora ministry are the people you get to serve. Volunteers will need guidance when refugee or immigrant families want to lean too heavily on their new American friends for help. Volunteers may feel guilty if they are not able to come every time their new friend needs assistance. Volunteers may struggle to handle late night text messages, emergency transportation needs, and medical crises. I know from personal experience how hard it is to maintain reasonable boundaries when you want to help as much as you can, but you only have so much time and resources.

It is especially difficult when some of the best ministry opportunities come through these emergencies. However, every situation is not an emergency. Volunteers new to diaspora ministry will face these challenges and they will need help determining when and how to say, “no.” They will need help determining when it is appropriate or inappropriate to share their cell phone number. For instance, on multiple occasions my wife has shared her phone number with good intentions with men we were both helping. However, I had to confront these men when they began calling my wife instead of me way too frequently. You get the point. Ministry leaders must help volunteers see these challenges coming and provide guidance for setting wise boundaries.

Appreciation and encouragement.
I know it goes without saying that ministry leaders must show abundant levels of appreciation for their volunteers. However, the unique challenges of diaspora ministry make this need even greater. Volunteers have their choice of where they serve, who they serve, and how long they serve. I always assume our volunteers could pick an easier area of service that didn’t involve language barriers and cultural sensitivities. Therefore, the burden is on the ministry leader to go the extra mile to encourage volunteers and ensure they have the resources they need to be successful. Volunteer appreciation lunches, simple thank you notes, and frequent words of encouragement make a big difference. May God bless you with many opportunities to train, guide and encourage your volunteers in diaspora ministry.

A quick word for volunteers:
If you are reading this article and you are the volunteer, let me say “Thank You!” Thank you for your willingness to engage in diaspora ministry. Please know your contribution, no matter how big or small, can be life-changing. I want to encourage you to reach out to your ministry leader any time you have a question or run into a challenge that you didn’t see coming. Books, articles, and seminars can only cover so many topics.

Diaspora ministry includes challenges that are often sudden, surprising, and confusing. Please know you are not the first person to face these unforeseen challenges. Reach out for wisdom and guidance from experienced practitioners who can help. Also, please follow the guidance of the ministry leaders you serve with. It is so important the you support their strategy and ministry philosophy. Thank you again for serving!

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