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Tips to be an effective volunteer with migrants

"I sat down and wept," said José during his interview. The immigration officer had just asked him what he thought after learning he was a wanted man by the national army of his beloved country, Venezuela. He had to flee to escape from retaliation and, most probably, death. His pain and suffering were palpable.

Ready to get involved?

Take time to observe and meet those around you.

Find a JFON in your area. Seek training so you can be an effective advocate.

Contact your local United Methodist church to learn what ministries are a good fit for you.

Learn more about immigration.

When we think of José and the thousands of other migrants across the globe, we may wonder if there is anything we can do.

We may not be able to solve the bigger issues in our nation or community, but here are some tips from United Methodist pastors and leaders so each of us can make a difference for immigrants in our own communities.


  1. See God in every person, as stated in our United Methodist Social Principles. "It is important that we see God in every person, in every immigrant, in every neighbor," says Rev. Paula Cripps-Vallejo, of the Humboldt Park United Methodist Church, in Chicago, Illinois.
  2. Pray for immigrants in your congregation, your community and around the world.
  3. Volunteer to teach English as a Second Language classes in your community.
  4. Serve as an interpreter, if you are bilingual—not to speak for immigrants, but to let them express themselves.
  5. Clean out your closet. If you live in a cold-weather city, donate winter clothes such as coats, scarves, wool hats, mittens, sweaters, and boots to your local congregation. You can also ask your pastor to organize a clothing drive and open it to all members of the community.
  6. Donate season-appropriate clothing, kitchen utensils, and bathroom and bedroom items. Books and children's books in the immigrants' own languages are also welcome.
  7. Teach an arts and crafts activity, such as weaving scarves, wool hats, blankets, and quilts.
  8. Collect small, age-appropriate toys for families with small children.
  9. If you have computer skills, design and print small cards with Bible verses to inspire those feeling discouraged.

    Pastor Cripps-Vallejo poses with the 2016 JFON volunteer of the year. Photo courtesy of NJFON.

  10. Ask if there is a JFON (Justice For Our Neighbors) in your area where you can volunteer. JFON is a United Methodist immigration ministry with 18 sites across the country, each of them providing free or low-cost immigration legal services for vulnerable immigrants, refugees, and asylum seekers. Volunteers help set appointments, provide hospitality and welcome at the clinics, conduct intake interviews with new clients, and much more.
  11. Plan an open-house party for newly arrived immigrants with other members in your congregation. For this get-together, you and your group can gather home items in good condition that you no longer use.  You can donate anything that a family might need in their new home—from plates and glasses to furniture.
  12. Celebrate an international day with members of your congregation in which you might:
  • Attend workshops and community events to support and learn about fair immigration policies
  • Celebrate language and cultural diversity in the church's ministries
  • Prepare a potluck of traditional meals by new and former members of the congregation so that everyone can learn about different cultures and feel enriched.
  • Listen to traditional music from the immigrants' home countries.

These are only a few ideas; the list goes on and on. Find ways you can share the love of Jesus with migrants in your community.

"As United Methodists, it is important that we see every person as a being created in God's image," says Cripps-Vallejo.

"For an individual person, helping the migrant could be as simple as giving of your time, effort and resources," said Rev. Joel Hortiales, director of Hispanic/Latino Ministries and Border Concerns, California-Pacific Conference of The United Methodist Church. "It is simply to do the proper thing. I would summarize it to Matthew 25:40: '… Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.'"

*Magdalena Meza works for at United Methodist Communications. Contact her by email or at 615-742-5448.

This story was first published on March 26, 2019.

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