Look almost anywhere in North America and you’ll notice an ethnic, cultural, and demographic change. The vast diversity of our immigrant population stirs discussions of deportations, barrier walls, and marginalization.
But what’s the view for the follower of Christ?
Can we see things through a different lens? Can we see the loving hand of God in bringing people to a place where they can hear and experience the Gospel? Can we see how “the people who once were exclusively ‘across the sea’ are now across the street in our neighborhoods and across the cubicle in our offices”? (from the book Missions Have Come Home to America).
One publication cites that the USA is now the only country on earth with residents from every other country on earth. A Chicago urban worker reports over 100 languages spoken in the school system. A campus pastor at Ohio State reports over 4,300 international students from over 130 countries – including countries like China, India, and Saudi Arabia where traditional missionaries are not allowed.
How do we respond? Do we lament the changing face of our communities, echoing the words of cartoon-character Bart Simpson as he shouted to a boatload of immigrants from the Statue of Liberty, “Go away, America’s full”? (Remember the inscription on the Statue of Liberty to get the full irony: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” Read the full poem here).
Do we reply with irritation to the new citizen whose broken English is tough to understand in the supermarket? Or do we welcome the outsider as Jesus himself (Matthew 25:31ff) – into our communities, into our homes, and into our churches? The Old Testament teaching on how to treat “the alien and the stranger” doesn’t leave us with a choice. Moses commanded grace and generosity to outsiders because the Israelites had themselves been aliens in Egypt (Exodus 22:21). In other words, remember where you came from and treat others as you would like to have been treated.
In the United States especially, where almost all of us are the children of immigrants (some of whom came here against their wills) and refugees, we ought to be the most generous and welcoming to foreign visitors and new residents.
Look at it this way: missions in the past was going into all the world. Missions in this world of migrating peoples is going into all the ethnically-different people in our midst. The Thai Buddhists who run the restaurant in the center of our town, the Turkish Muslim family who own the “Sir Speedy” a few miles from my house, and the Gujarati Hindu who works at the lab with my wife – all of them deserve an opportunity to hear and experience the love of Jesus through us.
In Revelation 7:9, John the apostle sees in the future a great service with people from every tribe, nation, and language worshiping Jesus. Maybe we can see this verse’s partial fulfillment by organizing a prayer meeting in the Chicago school system – or better, by opening our homes and churches to the cross-cultural mission field in our midst.