Church planter serves unemployed refugees during pandemic

“Who am I?”

The question is an ever-present hum in the mind of many refugees who are forced to leave their country due to unrest.

Abraham Diyali, church planter and lead pastor of International Fellowship Church (IFC) in Cleveland, Ohio, knows this well.

“I’m a former refugee, and I lived in a refugee camp in Nepal from 1992-2009. I arrived when I was 4 years old and left when I was 21. There were 120,000 other refugees there,” Diyali said. “I’m from Bhutan, but back in the refugee camp in Nepal, I didn’t know who I was or how I should identify. Am I Bhutanese? Or am I Nepalese? The government wouldn’t allow us to say we were Nepali, though, since we didn’t have Nepalese identity.”

The refugee experience varies from country to country, but it usually affords few options, small portions, many unknowns and more questions than answers.

“We got enough food that was supposed to last us two weeks, but it usually lasted us 10 days. For those who crossed the border to work, they were treated differently and paid less. There was little privacy, and I often walked to school with no shoes on,” he shared. “It took us almost 17 years to leave the refugee camp in Nepal and come to the U.S.”


Diyali worked at the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants (USCRI). USCRI helps refugees to the U.S. with resettlement and placement.

“When refugees came to the U.S., we picked them up from the airport, we found housing, we scheduled their doctor appointments and ensured they had everything they needed to begin looking for a job,” he said.

About two years ago, Diyali stopped working at USCRI and planted International Fellowship Church. His skills are two-fold: he provides spiritual guidance for those in his community, but he also gives practical solutions for the many questions refugees have when they come to the U.S.

Although he no longer works for USCRI, many refugees in Diyali’s community still come to him for help with many things Americans take for granted.

“I still do a lot of what I did working for USCRI as a pastor serving my community. Since many refugees are losing their jobs because of the pandemic, they don’t know how to apply for unemployment benefits because some of them are non-English speaking,” explained Diyali. “I also help them navigate through their day-to-day lives, like reading bills, writing checks and helping them schedule doctor appointments.”

For refugees, the pandemic has come with even more unknowns and questions. Diyali prays his ministry of helping refugees and spreading the gospel will expand beyond him (and the pandemic) so he can have a greater impact sharing Christ.

“It’s hard to balance life sometimes being a husband, father, pastor and meeting the needs of others. I can also see people are worried about how they will feed their families, and I realize their worry is much bigger than my rest,” he said. “My goal in the future is to build a community hub, and I’m trying to find the proper way to address the issues of the community in an efficient way. Ultimately, I want to train other people like me to practically help refugees and share the gospel with them.”


Many people are feeling the economic strain of the COVID-19 pandemic—especially church planters. Some have been counseling their members during a season of unemployment and others have experienced reduced giving.

As a new church plant, the pandemic has also brought about financial strain for Diyali’s church. But this hasn’t prevented them from serving others where they have opportunity.

“We were glad to help about 46 families in Nepal and 20 families in India, providing rice, dal, oil and salt during this pandemic” Diyali said.

“The best time to give and be generous is when you’re in need. It doesn’t matter how much you have, but it matters how much you give,” he added. “As we know, the Father gave His only Son to save humankind. As a new church plant serving immigrants, we have our own needs, but God wanted us to give to represent Him to people in need.”

Published May 6, 2020