Home for Refugees a Haven of Welcome

Sep 15, 2023

by Courtney Ellis

Refugee crises wax and wane with the difficulties of the world. Conflict, famine, persecution, and military action all impact the number of global refugees, while the political situation here at home affects how many refugees are allowed into the country in a given year. It’s a situation constantly in flux, and one which Home for Refugees, a ministry founded right here in Orange County, seeks to address with the love and justice of Jesus.

Minda Schweizer, Candidate for ordination in the Presbytery of Los Ranchos, is the founder and Executive Director of Home for Refugees. Founded in 2017, this faith-based ministry seeks to equip volunteers of all faiths to support refugees in their transition to American life and culture.

“There is a big need,” said Schweizer, who began brainstorming ways to help refugee families in 2016 when the Syrian crisis gripped her heart. She and a group of concerned congregants partnered with World Relief in Garden Grove to help resettle two families.

“I just saw both the families’ lives change,” said Schweizer. “The first family was from Iraq. They’d aided the US Government and needed to be evacuated. The second was from Afghanistan and needed to be evacuated for similar reasons. I saw our team members’ lives change, too, helping people who had to be forced from their homes resettle here.” When Schweizer shared with friends and congregants what she’d been doing, they often expressed a sense of nostalgia. People remembered when their churches helped refugees back during the Vietnam War. Yet Schweizer discovered they also felt uncertain about how they might help today and what practical steps they could take.

“That’s when I started [Home for Refugees], to help faith and community groups, to coach them through a year of helping resettle a family,” said Schweizer. This resettlement includes financial support–raising money for the first and last month’s rent, for example–but also logistical help with things like finding a doctor and dentist, navigating getting a California driver’s license, or enrolling children in school. Refugee families are paired with Home Teams–groups of around five individuals who seek to befriend and support them as they acclimate to American life over a period of one year.

Canvas Presbyterian elder, Lynn Abraham-Yadlin, began as a volunteer with Home for Refugees, and now serves on staff as a Home Team Coach.

“Most of what I do is liaise between Home Teams and the refugee families,” said Abraham-Yadlin. “When an emergency or [difficult] situation arises, I coach the various volunteers from the team on each of their topics that they’re responsible for.” Abraham-Yadlin noted that navigating the many social service components that refugees are eligible for can be difficult, particularly for those who are still learning English.

“In the beginning…it’s more time a week. Six to eight hours a week in the first month or so, but near the end it can be very little time as the family gets settled. Our whole focus really is to enable them not only to feel welcomed and a part of our community but also to be as self-sufficient as quickly as possible. So for the first half of the year we’re very hands-on, and in the second half we’re moving more toward friendship.”

Within Los Ranchos, St. Mark; Canvas; Trabuco; Placentia; Grace, Long Beach; and Presbyterian Church of the Master, among others, have partnered with Home for Refugees. Betty Christiansen, an elder at St. Mark, saw the ministry as a powerful way to serve with her family.

“This seemed like it might be a good match as a ministry to do with my kids,” said Christiansen. She partnered with another family from St. Mark as well as supporters from Canvas.

Presbyterian Church of the Master sponsored an Afghan refugee family from 2021-2022. Pastor Jackson Clelland and a team of six singles and families led the charge. According to Clelland, PCOM’s partnership with HFR began when the United States military pulled out of Afghanistan.

“When our congregation watched the news and saw people holding onto the outside of airplanes, people met me at the door after worship and said, ‘What are we going to do?’ I said, ‘I don’t know, but I think there will be a moment where we have an opportunity to serve in some way.’

“That opportunity came a few months later when Afghan refugees began arriving into the US. We approached Minda [Schweizer], who we knew was doing work with refugees, to see if we could support a refugee family.”

Within a few weeks, Home for Refugees connected Clelland and his team with an Afghan family–a husband and wife, a baby on the way, and the husband’s mother. “We had to decide pretty quickly whether we were going to work with that family, and the family had to decide whether they were going to trust a church,” said Clelland.

When it became clear that the match was a good one, the team stepped in with both financial and logistical support. A PCOM elder who works in housing found an affordable apartment, the church paid a portion of the family’s starting rent, and the congregation rallied to furnish the apartment with all the essentials, from linens to beds to silverware.

“Over the period of a year, we continued doing things to help the family stabilize,” said Clelland. The highlight for Clelland?

“I actually went up to Mission Hospital to drive the family home with their new baby,” he said. “That was really special.” After a year, PCOM’s official relationship with the family came to an end, but the team still checks in from time to time in an informal capacity.

If you or your church are interested in getting involved, Betty Christiansen encourages two possibilities: logistical or financial. “Learn more!” she said. “[Home for Refugees] has regular information meetings that tell you a lot more about what is involved, so you can gauge whether it’s something you and your congregation are up for.” HFR’s biweekly informational Zoom meetings are every-other Thursday at 5pm. To request an invite, send an email here.

If hands-on support is not possible for an individual or congregation at this time, “then financial support is great,” said Christiansen. “People who may have the time to volunteer may not have the financial resources, but even if you can’t provide the legwork and personal support, then the financial support would be a way of supporting a team that does have the people power but not the resources.”

For a fun (and tasty!) way to find out more, consider attending the Home for Refugees Fundraising Gala at St. Mark this October 8. Registration for the Gala (as well an opportunity to donate items for the silent auction) can be found here.

Notes Christiansen, “It will be a nice sit-down dinner catered by Zov’s with speakers, both a refugee family giving their perspective and Minda [Schweizer]. It’ll be a good opportunity to learn more about the ministry.”


Courtney Ellis, Associate Pastor at Presbyterian Church of the Master in Mission Viejo, is an author and storyteller. Courtney will be reporting over the next few months on the presbytery’s mission partnerships.