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What is World Refugee Sunday?

World Refugee Day is June 20. It is an international day to honor refugees around the globe, celebrate the strength and courage of people who have been forced to flee their homes to escape conflict or persecution, and lament the circumstances that led to their forced displacement and harrowing journeys to find refuge. World Refugee Day offers us an opportunity to build empathy and understanding for the plight of refugees, to recognize their resilience, to pray for displaced people and their homelands, and to take time to discern how God is calling us, as Christ followers, to provide compassionate care for refugees and other displaced people.

As the Church, we come together to observe Refugee Sunday on either the Sunday before or after June 20. To help you incorporate refugee awareness into your worship, we’ve developed a refugee awareness worship toolkit.

There are millions of refugees around the world who need your help. Will you and/or your church join us in raising awareness about refugees and displaced people, and living out the biblical mandate to care for those seeking refuge? 

Refugee Sunday service ideas

Include refugees or former refugees in worship

World Refugee Sunday is a great time to invite refugees or former refugees to visit your church as honored guests, or to lift up individuals who are already members of your beloved community. Invite them to share their gifts of storytelling, preaching, teaching, music, dance, art, food, etc. with your congregation. 

If you are unable to invite refugees to participate personally for World Refugee Sunday, consider using one of the following tools in worship or during Sunday School or small group time: 

  1. Watch this video interview about the refugee experience created by The Community Church of Ada (Ada, MI).
  2. Share one or more of the stories from the This is my story: Migration storytelling project.
  3. Begin a book study focused on refugee stories told by refugees or former refugees, or use a part of their stories during worship. One book we highly recommend is “What They Meant for Evil: How a Lost Girl of Sudan Found Healing, Peace, and Purpose in the Midst of Suffering” by Rebecca Deng.

Create learning opportunities for children and youth

Create learning opportunities for children and youth centered on the stories of refugees and the Bible’s teachings on how we are called to care for refugees, displaced people and people on the move. Here are a couple of resources to consider:

Take a special offering to help refugees

Dedicating a special offering to provide care for refugees is a wonderful way to stand with those who are being forcefully displaced from their homes. 

This year, we are hoping you’ll consider collecting an offering to help South Sudanese refugees. While new humanitarian crises continue to force the migration of marginalized people groups, the violent conflict in South Sudan has continued. The people of South Sudan are rarely in the current news cycle, but more than four million people are forcefully displaced, many of whom live in refugee camps in Uganda and other neighboring countries. While living in the refugee camps, they face ongoing threats to their safety and security, including conflict within the camps among refugees with different political/tribal affiliations and conflict between the refugees and their host communities. 

In partnership with RECONCILE International, your offering will help reach a shared goal of $85,000 to facilitate peace and reconciliation, social cohesion, and trauma care services for South Sudanese refugees living in Uganda.

Learn more about the project or give today.

Study Bible passages about immigrants and refugees

  • Leviticus 19:33-34 (foreigners must be treated as native-born)
  • Leviticus 24:22 (same law for foreigners and native born)
  • Deuteronomy 10:18-19 (you are to love those who are foreigners)
  • Deuteronomy 27:19 (cursed is anyone who withholds justice from the foreigner)
  • Psalm 146:9 (The LORD watches over the foreigner)
  • Matthew 25:31-46 (I was a stranger and you invited me in)
  • Hebrews 13:1-2 (do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers)
  • Romans 12:13 (practice hospitality)

(See also the “Theology of Migration” on rca.org.)

Refugee Sunday worship resources

Refugee Sunday call to worship

#1

L: O give thanks for the LORD is good; the steadfast love of the LORD endures forever.
P: We are strangers before you and sojourners, as all our ancestors were.
L: Let the redeemed of the LORD say so, those our God redeemed from trouble and gathered in from the lands, from the east and from the west, from the north and from the south.
P: We are strangers before you and sojourners, as all our ancestors were.
L: Some wandered in desert wastes, finding no way to an inhabited town; hungry and thirsty, their soul fainted within them.
P: We are strangers before you and sojourners, as all our ancestors were.
L: Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble, and were delivered from their distress and led them by a straight way, until they reached an inhabited town.
P: We are strangers before you and sojourners, as all our ancestors were.
L: Their hearts were bowed down with hard labor; they fell down, with no one to help.
P: We are strangers before you and sojourners, as all our ancestors were.
L: Let those who are wise give heed to these things, and consider the steadfast love of the LORD.
P: I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.
L: O come, let us sing to the LORD; let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation!
(cf. Psalm 107:1-7, 12, 43; 1 Chronicles 29:15; Matthew 25:35; Psalm 95:1)

#2

L: Come, O people of God, let us worship the Lord.
P: Let us kneel before the Lord, our God and maker.
L: Gathered, as we are, from east and west, from south and north.
P: We do not adhere to earthly categories or worldly distinctions.
L: Here, it does not matter what language we speak or what land we come from.
P: It does not matter how we got here or how long it has been
L: In this place, We are no longer strangers and aliens,
P: We are all citizens with the saints and members of the household of God,
(cf. Ephesians 2:19)

Refugee Sunday prayer of confession

L: Let us pray:
Ever merciful God, you said “Let us make humankind in our own image.” (Genesis 1:26)
P: Forgive us, we pray, for the times we have only recognized your image in those who look, think, and act like us.
L: You said “Six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a sabbath to the LORD your God; you shall not do any work—you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns.” (Exodus 20:9-10)
P: Forgive us, we pray, for the times we have imagined ourselves too important to rest and treated others as unworthy of time off.
L: You said “You shall not reap to the very edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest; you shall leave them for the poor and for the alien.” (Leviticus 23:22)
P: Forgive us, we pray, for the times we have hoarded your blessings and acted as if the poor, the homeless, and the refugee deserve their reality.
L: You said “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.”  (Hebrews 13:1)
P: Forgive us, we pray, for the times we have closed doors, hearts, and churches to those whom we judge too strange or different.
L: You said “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” (Galatians 5:22)
P: Forgive us, we pray, for the times we have hated, brooded, divided, hurried, been cruel, stingy, disloyal, harsh, and self-indulgent…

[silent confession and reflection]

L: In your great mercy,
P: forgive us, we pray.

L: Through your Holy Spirit,
P: transform us into bearers of hope and healing,
L: here and now,
P: on earth, as it is in heaven.
(Rev. Dr. Tim TenClay)

(See also the “Prayer of Indigenous Peoples, Refugees, Immigrants, and Pilgrims.”)

Refugee Sunday worship music

Hymns

  • “All are Welcome” (Lift Up Your Hearts, 269)
  • “Blest are They” (Lift Up Your Hearts, 117)
  • “For the Healing of the Nations” (Lift Up Your Hearts, 289)
  • “Hear us, O Lord, as we Voice our Laments” (Lift Up Your Hearts, 290)
  • “How Long, O Lord, How Long” (Lift Up Your Hearts, 291)
  • “O God of Every Nation” (Lift Up Your Hearts, 282)
  • “Salaam” (Lift Up Your Hearts, 298)
  • “Somos Pueblo Quecamina/We are People on a Journey” (Lift Up Your Hearts, 141)
  • Lost, defeated, and forced to roam” by Rev. James Hart Brumm

See also: “Singing Welcome: Hymns and Songs of Hospitality to Refugees and Immigrants” from The Hymn Society.

Contemporary music

  • “Refugee” (Common Hymnal)
  • “All the Poor and Powerless” (All Sons and Daughters)
  • “All Ye Refugees” (Sarah McCracken)
  •  “The Earth Shall Know” (The Porter’s Gate)
  • “He is Among Us” (The Porter’s Gate)
  • “Rescue” (Lauren Daigel)
  • “Run” (The Brilliance)
  • “You Are Blessed (Beatitudes)” (Hope College Worship)

Refugee Sunday confession of faith

#1

Unison: We believe in the triune God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, who gathers, protects and cares for the church through Word and Spirit.

We believe in one holy, universal Christian church, the communion of saints called from the entire human family.

We believe that God has revealed himself as the one who wishes to bring about justice and true peace among people, and that in a world full of injustice and enmity,

We believe that God is in a special way the God of the destitute, the poor and the wronged.

To the one and only God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, be the honor and the glory for ever and ever.
(cf. Belhar Confession)

#2

L: We believe in the triune God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, who gathers, protects and cares for the church through Word and Spirit. 
P: We believe in one holy, universal Christian church, the communion of saints called from the entire human family.
L: We believe that unity is both a gift and an obligation for the church of Jesus Christ
P: And that this unity must become visible so that the world may believe that separation, enmity and hatred between people and groups is sin which Christ has already conquered.
L: We believe that God has entrusted the church with the message of reconciliation in and through Jesus Christ, that the church is called to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world.
P: Therefore, we reject any doctrine that sanctions the forced separation of people on the grounds of race and color and thereby obstructs and weakens the ministry and experience of reconciliation in Christ.
L: We believe that the church must stand by people in any form of suffering and need – that the church must witness against and strive against any form of injustice, so that justice may roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.
P: We believe that, in obedience to Jesus Christ, its only head, the church is called to confess and to do all these things, even though the authorities and human laws might forbid them and punishment and suffering be the consequence.  Jesus is Lord.
(cf. Belhar Confession)

See also “The Immigrants’ Creed” from the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship. 

Refugee Sunday prayers of intercession

#1

L: Let us pray:
O God, in whose image we are created –
with all of our maleness and femaleness,
regardless of our darkness or lightness –
we thank you for the reminder, today, that you are a God of love,
that, through Jesus, we are reconciled with you and
that, in Jesus, we are called to be reconciled with one another.

As we bow our heads, we are reminded that
Jesus lived, died, rose, and ascended “not to condemn the world,
but that the world might be saved through him,”
and though we often settle for a concept of salvation that is merely philosophical or
emotional, we see that Jesus and his earliest disciples did not – that they alongside of
proclaiming your grace and mercy, were bearers of healing and hope for those who
suffered in mind, body, spirit, and circumstance.

With that in mind, O God, we pray:

P: May your kingdom come and your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
L: For the millions of people who have been forced from their homes by extreme poverty, hunger, war, persecution, and environmental degradation, O God, we pray:
P: May your kingdom come and your will be done on earth as it is in heaven
L: For all of the men, women, and children afloat on the sea, uncertain whether they will
ever again touch land, O God, we pray:
P: May your kingdom come and your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
L: For all who travel through areas that we only see as black lines on our maps and atlases,
O God, we pray:
P: May your kingdom come and your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
L: For all trapped in modern-day slavery, forced to work in fields and on streets, O God, we
pray:
P: May your kingdom come and your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
L: For all of the parts of your body we are tempted to refer to as “they” and “them,” O God,
we pray:
P: May your kingdom come and your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
L: Yes, O God, we pray:
P: May your kingdom come and your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
L: We also pray, do not allow us to comfort ourselves with the words we utter or the ideals
that weigh heavily upon our hearts.
(Rev. Dr. Tim TenClay)

#2

O God who created us all,
Open our eyes, so we can see our displaced siblings.
Millions forced from their homes in Ukraine.
Millions forced from their homes in Syria.
Millions forced from their homes in Venezuela, Afghanistan and South Sudan…
Who will welcome them in and give them something to eat? They’ve left everything behind.
Who will listen to their pain and help them heal? Loved ones and things familiar are lost.
Who will learn from them and receive their gifts? Their talents and perseverance will strengthen us.
Who welcomed Mary and Joseph when they were refugees? Who helped them find work and a place to stay? Whose children became young Jesus’ new playmates? Who was blessed by their presence?
May we be inspired by the hospitality of other countries. 
Poland has taken in more than a million.
Turkey has taken in more than a million.
Colombia, Uganda and Germany have taken in more than a million.
How many will we welcome? 
How will we support the nations hosting refugees?
How will we address the root causes of displacement, so families can remain in their homes?
O God who calls us to love neighbors both near and far, stir our hearts. 
Give us courage. Grant us wisdom. Move us to action.
Amen.
(Nancy Smith-Mather, RCA Mission Partner working with South Sudanese refugees)

See also “A prayer for refugees” (previously published on Faithward) and “A prayer in times of international strife” (Lift up Your Hearts, 215).

RCA Global Mission’s refugee ministry

Refugee ministry is not just a once-a-year need. RCA Global Mission is committed to caring for people who seek refuge or have been displaced. Our missionaries and partners need your church’s help as they work to provide for the mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual needs of refugees and displaced people around the world. Learn more about how you and your church can support refugee ministry. 

Need help in discerning how God might be calling you, your church or community to provide compassionate, Christ-like care for refugees, displaced people or people on the move, both locally and globally? Contact JJ TenClay, Refugee Ministries Coordinator for RCA Global Mission at jjtenclay@rca.org. You can also visit her RCA Global Mission page to learn more about her work.

JJ TenClay

JJ TenClay

Refugee Ministries Coordinator

Disclaimer: Some of the links in this article are affiliate links, meaning that, at no cost to you, we will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase. However, we were not paid to review or recommend any of the links on this page.
Kelli Gilmore

Kelli Gilmore is the communication coordinator for RCA Global Mission. You can connect with her by email at kgilmore@rca.org.

JJ TenClay
JJ TenClay

JJ TenClay spent four years in Italy as a missionary for the Reformed Church in America working with migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers. She is now the Refugee Ministries Coordinator for RCA Global Mission. She is thankful to have seen the image of God reflected so diversely in the faces of those to whom—and with whom—she served abroad, and is excited to continue serving the RCA as it continues to develop a faithful response to the ongoing global refugee crisis. You can connect with JJ at jjtenclay@rca.org.

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