Refugees and church resettlement ministry volunteers : Intercultural companions on a journey in Shalom


Nancy T. Fox

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Degree Name

Doctor of Missiology

First Advisor

Glanville, Elizabeth L.


Each year, the US accepts up to 70,000 UNHCR refugees for resettlement. Limited resources drive an urgent focus on the goal of self-sufficiency, often to the neglect of broad-spectrum integration. Church-related volunteers help fill this gap by accompanying the settlers as they build new lives. This dissertation explores how refugees and volunteers experience the impact and dynamics of their intercultural relationships during resettlement.

My research is a case study of the refugee ministry of a Presbyterian Church with Chin settlers from Burma. I use a grounded theory research process, and then assess the findings with a rubric based on the biblical image of shalom. I present shalom’s holistic vision of thriving as a better guide for multi-faceted refugee ministry than mere self-sufficiency.

Various principles of effective ministry emerged from the research: perceptions, motivations and attitudes matter, and merit attention; enduring relationships between refugees and volunteers are significant; simple availability is vital; refugees need help learning underlying aspects of American culture. I also found unhealthy factors: a desire to be needed; belief that one knows what is best for the other or can solve their problems; and seeing refugees as only needy and not also capable.

One key theme is that genuine mutuality is essential, even in the beginning of a relationship. Levels of reciprocity should increase as newcomers become self-sufficient and able to share their unique contribution. The Chin in my study reject “melting-pot” assimilation; they prefer a model of integration like “soup,” in which each ingredient maintains its own unique flavor and identity while also contributing to a common “broth.” A second key theme is the value of culture learning and intercultural skills. Volunteers can help better if they are aware of their own cultural assumptions, practice empathy, and understand indirect communication.

Most volunteers in my study are task focused, giving little attention to their learning or growth. The need for more volunteer helpers complements the need of Euro- American Christians for the transformation that can come from intercultural relationships. The dissertation concludes with a missional model of spiritual formation praxis, to integrate such ministry experiences with scriptural reflection.

Mentor: Elizabeth L. Glanville, PhD


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