A heart for the refugee

By Julie Newsted, Photos by Daniel Yu | Jul 13, 2022

Jennifer Tompkins (second from right) is executive director of Tucson Refugee Ministry and a recent Gateway Seminary graduate.

It’s easy to see how excited Jennifer Tompkins, executive director of Tucson Refugee Ministry, is about how Gateway Seminary has helped her in life and ministry.

“Tremendously,” she said, when asked about her seminary journey that began many years ago. She graduated this past May with a Master of Divinity degree.

“I have gained confidence and knowledge, and have had great mentors,” she said, referring to her seminary professors who have invested time and knowledge into her through her classes. Her favorite class was evangelism, which is a primary focus of her work with Tucson Refugee Ministry.

“I still ask Dr. Eddy Pearson, my evangelism professor, questions regularly,” she said. “Tucson Refugee Ministry exists to build bridges between the church and the nations at our doorstep, for the purpose of growing Gospel-sharing believers. We want to tell people about Jesus and especially tell refugees who need love and the freedom found in Him.”

In 2006, Cherie Gray, a member of Casas Church in Tucson, began Tucson Refugee Ministry as a Mission Service Corps volunteer through the North American Mission Board. Gray was the executive director of TRM until she passed away in October 2019. It was then, after many years of volunteering and serving with Gray at Casas Church and TRM that Tompkins accepted the call to be the executive director. In the past two and a half years, the ministry has gone from two to seven employees and from three to 15 programs serving refugees.

Tucson Refugee Ministry has a variety of programs for refugees of all ages.

“These programs include tutoring, English classes, driving lessons, family partnerships, baby showers, and move-in days, to name a few,” Tompkins said. “There are more than 2,000 Afghan refugees in Arizona right now, and many Ukrainians are on their way here. Most of them are young families in need of help that we can provide.”

After many years of praying for a community center in which to host these programs, God answered. Building Bridges Community Center is in the First Church of God facility in the Amphi neighborhood where many refugees reside. The church has offered to rent their space for the purpose of providing the programs and meeting the needs of refugees.

“We have more than 150 youth a week in our programs, and this summer we will be hosting our annual Kids Kamp,” Tompkins said, “so this space will really help us accomplish our goals and see people in relationships with our volunteers and staff.”

Under the leadership of Jennifer Tompkins (far right), Tucson Refugee Ministry has grown to include 15 programs serving refugees, including tutoring for youth and adults, separate men’s and women’s social groups, International Kids Camp, baby partnerships, driving practice and more.

Currently there are more than 67 churches, including several Catalina Baptist Association churches, that partner with Tucson Refugee Ministry. They recently added two more churches, with the possibility of a few more coming alongside this ministry, Tompkins said. The need is great and the need for partner churches and volunteers is immense.

“We need you,” Tompkins said. “We would love for you to volunteer and take part in meeting this great need.”

Next Steps

  • Pray for the one-in-95 people in our world who are currently displaced. Pray for Tucson Refugee Ministry to minister well and share the Gospel boldly.
  • Volunteer in one of the many programs Tucson Refugee Ministry offers for babies, children, mothers, fathers and families.
  • Invite Tucson Refugee Ministry to your church to give a presentation and to hear the heart of Jennifer Tompkins and many more who are serving in this area of great need.
  • See more on the Tucson Refugee Ministry website: tucsonrefugeeministry.com.
  • In greater Phoenix, check out Phoenix Refugee Connections at phxrc.org. This ministry connects churches and equips Christians to love their refugee neighbors across the Valley.
  • See a video of Jennifer Tompkins being interviewed by David Johnson, Arizona Southern Baptist Mission Network executive director, here.

Julie Newsted, a freelance writer living in Tucson, is a member of 22nd Street Baptist Church, Tucson.

Daniel Yu, a member of Tucson Chinese Baptist Church, is owner of Daniel Yu Imaging.

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