by Helene Schulz

Imagine spending five years or more without a home. It sounds incredibly tough, even unbearable. And yet this is the reality for millions of refugees across the globe.

Refugee numbers continue to increase – they have more than doubled in the past 10 years and the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) now estimates that more than 90 million people are living as refugees. More than 90 million people fleeing war and persecution and human rights violations; more than 90 million people looking for a place to call home. The top five countries of origin are Syria, Ukraine, Afghanistan, South Sudan and Myanmar.

How can we reach out and respond to help refugee families? In Australia, about 17,875 refugees will be accepted on humanitarian visas in this current financial year, including 1,400 people who can be welcomed through a new community support program. And that is one way in which we as everyday Australians can respond.

The Community Refugee Integration and Settlement Pilot (CRISP) program, introduced by the Australian government in 2022, is testing whether locally based community groups are interested in supporting our refugee intake by offering time and financial support to people in their first year of arrival. In Canada, a similar program has been successfully established for some years and has almost doubled the number of refugees that have been resettled each year within their local communities.

The LCANZ’s Cross-Cultural Ministry Facilitator, Craig Heidenreich, is passionate about CRISP and has been following the development and implementation of the program through the LCANZ’s involvement with the Australian Council of Churches Refugee Taskforce. This initiative is also supported by the church’s newly formed Refugee Action Group, which is part of the Commission on Social and Bioethical Questions.

Craig says that, as Christians, ‘we are to show love to the poor and the stranger’. ‘The CRISP program is an ideal way for church communities to become actively involved with helping a refugee family, starting from meeting them at the airport and guiding them through the issues and challenges of their first year in their local community’, he says. ‘It only requires a group of at least five people to come together to support a refugee family to settle in their local area.’ A not-for-profit organisation, Community Refugee Sponsorship Australia (CRSA), has been funded by the Australian government to provide information, training and support for local community groups.

The basic requirements for acceptance into CRISP include:

  1. The group needs to include at least five adults who live near each other.
  2. The group needs to nominate a leader to liaise with CRSA.
  3. Members must participate in two half-day training sessions.
  4. The group agrees to support a family selected by CRSA (you can nominate a preferred religious background).
  5. The group needs to commit to about 10 hours per week for a year for tasks such as arranging interim accommodation, transport from the airport, registering with Centrelink and Medicare, setting up bank accounts, arranging school enrolments, English lessons, neighbourhood orientation, understanding our medical system, assistance to find permanent accommodation and employment and providing social connections.
  6. The group will need to open a dedicated bank account and raise funds to cover some basic needs, such as temporary accommodation, secondhand furniture and whitegoods and initial food requirements. The family will be eligible for Centrelink and to work, so financial support is supplementary. A minimum fundraising goal of $5,000–20,000 is required.

At least two LCANZ congregations are already taking steps to become involved with CRISP.

Stacey Bradtke, a member of The Ark at Salisbury in South Australia, has been inspired to see the CRISP program become part of the congregation’s service to others. She says members have been focusing on being an active part of their vibrant multicultural community. The congregation desires to reflect this diverse community and grow into a truly multi-ethnic church.

‘Sponsoring a refugee family through CRISP fits into this story of wanting to serve and engage in the community’, Stacey says. ‘It provides a unique and truly beautiful opportunity to bring God’s love to life.’

The Ark is still in the early stages of putting together its support team. ‘There are a large number of refugees living in the area, so helping a family to settle here would provide more opportunities to connect with organisations and become increasingly connected with our wider community’, Stacey says. ‘We are excited that CRISP provides a simple, clear and relational avenue to give practical support to a family who desperately needs to be shown God’s love during a difficult transition to a new country and a new home.’

Monika Tropiano, from Western Australia’s Rockingham Mandurah congregation, says one person in their home group found out about CRISP and shared their interest with other members. The group then started to explore the possibilities.

An older church, Monika says they have realised their situation can be used to bless others. ‘As a group, we feel we are uniquely placed – mostly retired with a greater flexibility with our time’, Monika says. ‘We could see that we would have the ability to care for a newly arrived family for 12 months.’

They have been assessing how they can help a refugee family settle in – from determining a fundraising target outside their congregation’s budget, how to assist with initial accommodation, working out what household furniture and goods will be needed, to finding out who can help with skills such as teaching people to drive.

Becoming involved in welcoming a refugee family was also a good fit with four of the five key areas the congregation plans to focus on in 2023–2024: worship, service, small groups, community engagement and cross-cultural outreach.

They have formed a group, attended the sponsorship training and hoped to welcome their first refugee family this month or next. ‘We constantly remember that we are not doing this for ourselves, and we shouldn’t expect thanks or appreciation for what we do’, Monika says. ‘We are excited by this opportunity and are looking forward to how God will stretch us and use us to be his people in our local area.’

Helene Schulz is a member of the LCANZ Refugee Action Group.

If you would like to support these congregations or start your own CRISP support group, please contact Craig Heidenreich at, or by phone on 08 8267 7379 or 0492 177 366. You can also make a tax-deductible donation to support Rockingham Mandurah’s CRISP involvement online at:

Already a subscriber? Click here to login and read this article.
Not a subscriber? Click here to receive stories & upcoming issues in full