by Andy Johnson
Would you be surprised if told you that Americas are increasingly inhospitable to international visitors, and that Christians can thank God for that? One university reports that 80 percent of their international students never see the inside of a local U. S. home. Longer-term immigrants seem to fare little better.
So why can Christians thank God? If unbelievers have lost interest in showing hospitality to foreigners, we have all the more opportunity! We can welcome foreigners, show compassion, and so commend the gospel right here in America.
Some numbers will illustrate the scale of this opportunity. Since 1970 more than 35 million individuals have immigrated to the United States. And that’s not counting the more than 700,000 college students who come here to study each year, or the millions of illegal immigrants living in the shadows of our cities and towns.
You don’t need to live in New York or Los Angeles to reach out to newcomers. The largest community of Kurdish people in America is in Nashville, Tennessee. The biggest community of Somalis is in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Springfield, Virginia hosts the second largest community of Afghans in the Western Hemisphere.
And, of course, there are hundreds of thousands of college students from all over the world—a new flood every year. Even many smaller universities have substantial programs for international students. You might be surprised what nations God has brought to your doorstep.
AN EXAMPLE TO ENCOURAGE
The members of my own congregation, Capitol Hill Baptist Church, have embraced this evangelistic opportunity in our community. And I want to share some of what those faithful saints have been doing, not to say others should do exactly what we do, but to encourage similar kinds of faithfulness.
Our outreach to internationals started when one of our missionaries came home and spent a year living in Washington, D.C. During his time with us, the one thing we asked was that he help us survey the population of internationals living near our church. At the end of his time he concluded that students were the only significant resident population of internationals nearby. Most longer-term immigrants lived out in the distant suburbs. So our most significant ministry would be among students.
It so happened that there was a man in our church from Singapore who had himself been converted as an international student in the UK. One of our elders began to meet with him and asked him to think about how he might encourage more outreach from our church to international students. He began to host a Bible study in his home for international students. Later, English language classes were started in our church and on a nearby campus. More members got involved and began to meet one-to-one for practicing English by talking through the gospel. They were open and above-board in telling students this gospel conversation was our aim right from the start. As a result they had more opportunities to meet up with international students.
Eventually the effort grew until so many church members were involved that our elders decided to create the position of Deacon of International Outreach. This deacon would coordinate and give leadership to all the activity already happening: teaching English, hosting international students for meals, spending leisure time with them, picking them up from airports, and, most of all, meeting one-to-one to study through the Gospels with an interested student.
In the course of the following years we’ve had the joy of baptizing and adding to our church body several men and women who came to trust in Christ through these efforts. Others have believed and joined other churches in the area. Many have returned to their home countries where they are now witnesses for the gospel. Praise God!
ENCOURAGEMENTS FOR INTERNATIONAL EVANGELISM AT HOME
So here are a few observations drawn from our own these experiences.
1. Be willing to give pastoral leadership, but probably lightly.
First, be willing to give pastoral leadership, but probably lightly. As elders, we want to encourage the initiative of our members. We don’t want to press for top-down programs. But that doesn’t mean there’s not a role for our leadership, prayer, planning, and a few strategic decisions or conversations.
Certainly praying openly before your congregation that God might use your church to reach internationals is an obvious way to start. In addition, a few well-placed conversations with likely leaders in your church may stir up wonderful results. Growing in your own awareness of unrealized opportunities in your community cannot hurt either.
2. Let your international investments inform your local ones.
Second, let your international investments inform your local ones. We hope our church will find ways to reach out to Muslims, especially from nations where we have long-term missionaries at work. One of the best ways we’ve been able to do this is hosting our overseas workers for long-term stays when they are back in the States. And we want them spending months here, not days.
Having missionaries here with us who speak a people’s language and know their culture has been super helpful for building inroads among internationals. And if we are going to spend a lot of money sending people overseas to take the gospel to a particular people, we should certainly encourage our members to cross the street to reach the same people.
3. Be happy with unexpected fruit.
Third, be happy with unexpected fruit. As a church that is heavily invested in mission to the Muslim world, I wasn’t expecting that most of the fruit of our local work with internationals would be from secular East Asia. But as God would have it, that’s been the case. And that’s great! As our members have gotten to know students on local campuses, this has been the wonderful result and we’re delighted. Be strategic, but realize that the Spirit moves wherever he will.
4. Remember that all peoples need the gospel.
Finally, remember that all peoples need the gospel. Perhaps the best way to encourage a love for strangers is to keep reminding our people about the implications and imperatives that flow from the gospel. The only bridge we need to reach out to men and women from distant cultures is a reminder of our common state before God.
We all share the same parents. We all share in their sin. We all use our various cultures and man-made religions to hide from the true God and our guilt before him. We all need a savior from outside ourselves and from outside our culture. In short, we all need the gospel.
I know this may sound simplistic. But I’m convinced that, more than any program or effort or idea, the faithful preaching and careful application of God’s Word to the topic of cross-cultural evangelism is what God has most used to bring about the international fruit our own church is enjoying.
So pray for your own church. Lead them gently to embrace the nations around you. But build your church’s outreach all on a foundation of solid, gospel-informed love for every sheep who would come to hear Christ’s voice and follow him.
Andy Johnson is an associate pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, DC.