“‘They’re coming into our country. They’re taking our jobs. They’re dangerous people.’” From Middle Eastern war zones to African refugee camps to European elections to American airports and border walls – the migrant has never been a more controversial figure! Mission-minded Christians want to tell a different story: “God has brought the nations to us. We’re called to welcome the stranger. And we have good news to share with them.”
But what if, without knowing it, we’ve been spinning our own migrant myths? What if, because we love mission so much, we’ve created our own “us/them” mentality? What if we’ve assumed all the foreign families moving into our suburbs should be the objects of our evangelism when God wants them to be our mission partners?
Here are some myths we might have bought into:
Myth ##1: “Nearly everyone migrating across borders is from another religion.”
Christians make up 49% of the world’s 214 million international migrants . Many of these are settling into far more secular, non-Christian corners of the world than where they came from – Canada, Europe, and US cities on the east and west coasts. The largest church in Europe is led by a Nigerian immigrant .
Myth ##2: “There are far more Muslims coming into America than Christians.”
Over 60% of immigrants coming into America each year are Christians. 74% of the 43 million foreign-born living in America are Christians . Even among refugees taken in 2016, the US still took virtually as many Christians as Muslims . So, most of those “strangers next door” are already our brothers and sisters in Christ!
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Myth ##3: “If I don’t share the gospel with the non-Christian migrants in my neighborhood, no one will.”
If your neighborhood has a large immigrant ethnic group, there are probably already Christians among them meeting for worship and doing evangelism – you just haven’t found them yet. If your neighbors are, say, Chinese, you may also have 1200 Chinese churches nearby . Or if they speak Arabic, you may even have an Arabic church with members who have become Christian from a Muslim background and who love to reach Muslims(!) .
Looking out on the migrants God is bringing into our cities and suburbs, we may need a change of mindset. Beside a foreign well in Samaria, Jesus told His disciples to open their eyes to the harvest God was going to reap among this strange ethnic group. But here was the twist: a disgraced Samaritan woman was already doing the hard evangelistic work for them! (John 4:35-39). It must have blown their minds. Here are three ways we can change our own thinking:
1) Look for partners before converts
See Christian migrants as people we can get alongside, God-given partners that we need to reach their ethnic group, including the non-believers in their families and community networks. Our prayer must be, “God, give me a partner who understands this language and culture better than I do and has a heart for Your Kingdom.” As a principle, don’t reach migrants without the help of migrants. When you cross cultural barriers, get help from brothers and sisters who’ve already crossed them. Find the migrant believers and migrant churches first. Think too about “cultural closeness”: You might not know a Somali Christian to help you reach the Somalis, but do you know an African believer who might help you? Some of us have tried cross-cultural evangelism by knocking on doors without a translator and unfamiliar with cultural norms – it’s pretty hard! What if God has just the mission partner (or set of partners) for you – and, likewise, you are just the partner He has for them?
2) Be a catalyst not a hero
Don’t dream “how many people can I personally lead to Christ from among this ethnic group?” Dream “how can I be God’s injection into these believers so that they can multiply their witness among their own people?” Think medium and long-term, not short-term. And don’t underestimate the impact you could have. Your encouragement might reignite a desire among a group of Nepalese Christians to reach their Hindu family members. What if a church already has a “Samaritan woman” among them just waiting to be unleashed as an evangelist? You don’t have to give up on evangelizing cross-culturally. If you desire that honor, I imagine God will delight to give you many chances to do it. But don’t pursue it at the expense of mobilizing His church and having the gospel go out in the mother tongue of a people group.
3) Be a mission-receiver too
What if God has brought Christian migrants to our city to reach secular westerners? Isn’t this just as worthy a task as us reaching immigrants? What will we do to help? We may have a lot to learn by bringing a Kenyan believer to our churches and small groups and sitting at their feet to listen. This, in fact, is the future. In fifty years from now, 40% of Christians will be from sub-Saharan Africa, and you can be sure they’ll be sending many missionaries to America.
- http://www.pewforum.org/2012/0 3/08/religious-migration-exec/
- (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki /Embassy_of_God).
- (http://www.pewforum.org/2013/ 05/17/the-religious-affiliatio n-of-us-immigrants/#affiliatio n)
- (http://www.pewresearch.org/fa ct-tank/2016/10/05/u-s-admits- record-number-of-muslim- refugees-in-2016/)
- (http://l2foundation.org/2009/ how-many-asian-american-church es-in-the-usa)
- http://www.arabicbible.com/dir ectories/arabic-churches.html)
For more on this topic, see “New wine in old wineskins: A critical appraisal of diaspora missiology.”, Matthew Krabill and Allison Norton.Missiology 43, no. 4 (2015): 442-455.