Wednesday, November 19, 2014

How Your Church Can Welcome the Internationals Among Us



Lately, I have become aware of a matter that many of our congregations need to pay attention to. I know that some already are. I mean making an effort to reach beyond the walls of our church buildings and welcome our international friends in our communities, to our fellowships. Now I know that that some of them may belong to congregations "of their own kind." After all, as I was often told when growing up, we ought to "stich with our own kind." But is this the way that Jesus has called us to do things?

In my personal experiences in local congregations and in my research, I'm keenly aware of the lack of racial and ethnic diversity in our congregations. Sadly, from looking at many congregations, you would think that Christianity fits the stereotype of white, middle-class and "religious right wing" type demographics. You and I know that when God appeared on Earth in Christ, that He hung around with all types of people, including the diseased, the disabled, the demon-possessed, the outcasts, and even gross sinners that everyone else despised. What would His ministry look like today? Whom would he be hanging out with? I think we know the answer.

I'm convinced that God, in Christ, would be spending much time with those among us who are often called "illegals." He would be reaching out to Muslims, including radical Muslims. He would be reaching out to Buddhists, Hindus, and to those involved in Mormonism, Jehovah's Witnesses, Scientology, Freemasonry, and other religions. He would be hanging around with Native Americans, Blacks, Hispanics, Jewish persons, and others. I don't think I need to tell you who that He wants us to do the same. The question is how. How can we get our local churches to become more diverse?

1). Pray about this matter, about what God would have your congregation do, and pray for the internationals in your community, that they would come to know Jesus through your efforts.

2). We cannot expect them to come to us; we need to go to them. This means that we need to find internationals in businesses owned by them, in international student ministries, and at global supermarkets. Listen to them and talk to them. Make friends. But a good idea is to buy the book REACHING THE WORLD IN OUR OWN BACKYARD, by Rajendra K. Pillai, and learn about interacting with internationals BEFORE taking doing this.

3). Set up small groups for internationals to answer the questions they may have about God, about Christ, and about Western culture.

4). Set up English as Second Language classes for internationals; this was done at a local congregation I used to belong to.

5). Invite international Christian Pastors and others in leadership, to speak to your congregation.

6). Pastors and others in church leadership, prioritize church funding for international ministry.

7). Once or more times a year, host an international dinner, as has been suggested in a cross-cultural ministry book. I went to such a dinner many years ago. What a blessing.

8). If you have international neighbors, form friendships with them, introduce them to Jesus and invite them to your local church.

9). Offer members, who have the option, opportunities to host an international student in their homes. Such a student can learn about Christ's love through a family's hospitality. My former congregation offered members this opportunity at little cost to the host family.

10). Allow internationals Christians in your congregation to contribute of their time and talents, even filling leadership positions. This will benefit everyone.

Many internationals are from countries that are closed to the Gospel or from areas that are hostile to it. Those who come to Christ often return to their homelands to share Jesus with their own people. We can do more for world missions by reaching the internationals among us than we can by trying to send our own to restricted countries or hostile areas where Western missionaries are not welcome. We can be missionaries right where we are!

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